Newsletter Time Again

Here it is, again. Time to produce a missionary newsletter. Actually, it is more properly called a prayer letter, because we want you to pray for us when you get it. Prayer letters are great things, because they help keep us connected with our partners, serve as reminders that we are still doing the work of the Lord that He has called us and our partners to do. I say us and our partners, of course, because there is no way we can do all of this ourselves. One, we couldn’t afford it, financially. Two, we probably could not stand the heat of the spiritual battle without prayer backup. We were, in fact, partially self-supporting when we first started in full-time Christian ministry, but once our savings were depleted in about 2001, that stopped being the case. Now, we have just the Lord to rely on for our physical needs. Fortunately, He is faithful, and He has called some wonderful friends to partner with us and keep us going. Praise the Lord!

Now, what do I write about in our prayer letter? Lori and I have, since the beginning of our missionary journey in 2000, tried to keep our official prayer letters under 2 pages. We figure that one 8.5 x 11 inch sheet of paper, written on both sides, using pictures liberally, and without resorting to itty-bitty type, is about the attention span of most of the busy people we send these to. That may or may not be true. We get, and read, longer newsletters, but it is also true that the really long ones tend to pile up somewhere to be read later. They may or may not actually get fully read, even if they are from dear friends. The space limit forces us to focus. It is hard, though. So much is going on in our lives and our ministry that it is hard to condense it all. In this journal, I allow myself the luxury of rambling on longer with no set space limit, but I also know that much fewer people will read it. That is OK. I feel better sometimes for having written it.

If you were to ask Rachel what our biggest news is, lately, she would probably tell you that we now have a kitten. His name is Puma. Rachel named him. Mostly, she calls him “kitty.” Rodents beware! This animal will be a mighty hunter in our house.

We were asked by one church to provide them with a 1-2 minute video presentation that they could use to promote missions during a Sunday service. Many of my friends asked me what we could do to condense our lives serving the Lord here down to two minutes or less. Good question. I tried, anyway. The result of my effort in that respect is posted at for your viewing pleasure. It is a huge (109,199,360 bytes) file, so great patience is required in downloading it, but I wanted to keep it high enough resolution that it would look good projected on a screen in front of a church. I even put the slide show in a format you can create a video DVD from, if you are familiar with zip files, ISO images, and burning DVDs. That file is huge (86,037,612 bytes), too. Fortunately, I managed to upload these files just before the rates went up for Internet usage, here. Internet access in Ukarumpa is outrageously expensive. It is actually about $9000/month for the satellite connection, which gives us about 200 kbps download capacity. We share the bandwidth and the cost among 262 users. Instead of just dividing the monthly cost per user evenly, which would result in a charge of about $34.35/month, the SIL PNG Branch powers that be have decided to divide the cost proportional to usage in megabytes. It used to be, up through March, that the only bytes metered for billing were HTTP downloads on ports 80 and 443 (regular and secure web browsing). Those bytes were charged at $0.25 per megabyte. Starting in April, all FTP and HTTP uploads and downloads are now billed at $0.225 per megabyte. That means that it would have cost me $43.92 to upload those two files to our web site. I probably would not have done that. Our budget is too tight. This billing scheme obviously keeps our usage down and our bills high– especially at a time when we are doing college search work for Ben and trying to find bargain air fares for Nate and Ben. I hope you enjoy the show, and can download it for free (even if it takes a while).

Speaking of money, someone asked how we were doing financially. Since we computed our fundraising requirements for living here, the U. S. dollar has dropped 11.8% against the PNG kina. Our support has dropped by 2.6%. We have had some unexpected extra expenses and price increases. Our savings are depleted. And it will cost about $4760 to get Nate here and back for a visit/mission trip, and Ben back to the USA for college, just in air fare alone, not counting stuff like food and lodging on the way. Then there is the matter of college tuition at the Christian college Ben has chosen to attend. In other words, if the Lord moves on you to help with any of this, please do. If not, you can still pray for our needs to be met. Don’t worry, though. God is faithful, and will not let us down.

One thing I always want to know when I support missionaries is what they are actually doing, and if they are still doing it. I still have my 40-hour-per-week job at SIL PNG Branch Aviation, doing computer support work, plus various other “side” ministries, like leading Bible studies, working on the World English Bible, etc. Lori still has her teaching and HIV/AIDS task force chair jobs, and still takes care of our children. Household tasks always seem to take longer, here. Stuff like having no automatic dishwasher (and not being able to afford one at the outrageous prices they cost, here) make a difference. There is no ordering out for pizza or anything like that. We do eat pizza, but it is a lot of work to make them. Naturally, Rachel keeps us busy, as you would expect from an active 3-year-old. The adoption paperwork saga continues. How long do you think it should take for the Social Services office in Port Moresby to fax a copy of a letter of consent to finalize the adoption to us? An hour? A day? A month? They got it in January, and it is now May, and I’m still waiting, and still calling periodically and getting new excuses. A friend of mine, also working on an adoption, spent a week in Port Moresby, in person, trying to get some papers moved about one block. It did finally work. Rachel, however, is still blissfully unaware of her precarious legal status. She knows that beyond the shadow of a doubt, she has a mommy, a daddy, and three big brothers that really love her. She knows that her name is Rachel Brianna Joy Johnson. We will keep at it until we get the required court decree to make that her legal status as well, opening the door to get her USA citizenship.

Also on the subject of waiting for the PNG government, all of our resident visas expired on the 31st of January. The PNG government has had our passports and visa renewal applications since December 2007, and still hasn’t finished processing them. Apparently, it is OK for us to stay here as long as the government is working on them, but if we try to leave without a valid visa, it is a crime. This has caused excessive stress to many people in this community. Of course, if the government should deny any of our visa applications, we would have to leave immediately. That would also be stressful, of course. I don’t think that will happen, but please pray that Ben’s visa gets processed by June and the rest of ours by November, at the latest.

Lori would like to go to a teacher’s conference in Hong Kong in November. That requires a visa. That also will require money for air fare, etc. Professional development for teachers is still important, here, but not very available in PNG.

We certainly have challenges, here, and I haven’t listed them all. I don’t intend to. Instead, I want to focus on some progress. I just started leading an inductive Bible Study for the current Translators’ Training Course. This is for about 49 people from 15 language groups. It is a joy to see how they pick up the Bible study techniques, and want to go back to their villages and show others how to do it. I got a little choked up, though, listening to one man lamenting how his grandparents didn’t know any of this. You see, the Gospel didn’t get to his village until after they had died. What can I say? We are working to fulfill the Great Commission, but I don’t think all of us fully realize how urgent the task is. At least the Gospel is going out to his village, now, and he is working on a Bible translation for his own language.

Translating a New Testament is a long task. It can take years, often decades. This year, the task finished for the Kube language in March, with a Bible dedication for those people. More dedications are coming up in June and August. Praise God!

Now, for my next trick, I’ll condense this to a few bullets, add some pictures and an article Lori wrote, and produce a proper prayer letter. It will lack many details, but it will probably be read by more people than this article.