He radiates: You are worth it.

What no one tells you about Bible translation is that the closer these faithful soldiers get to completing a translation, the more unbearably awful it gets. And not because the editing and publishing process is so grueling (it is). Rather the closer these heroes get to completion the more intense the disaster-inducing stones thrown at them by the enemy army. I even hesitate to share the details of the stories I’ve heard because they are so devastatingly sad, the most recent involving a translator who lost his three year old to drowning.

The stories of destruction at the enemy’s hands have destroyed me.

The translation team is fierce. The majority of the team consists of nationals (native people who share a particular language group) who commit to voluntarily working on the project. Many of these groups begin without a written language (only 12% of PNG lives in urban areas – the rest live remotely and rurally in villages). The village languages are without clear boundaries which means that the first missionaries begin by immersing themselves in a village, making note of every word they hear, and then walking through the village to find the invisible line where the language changes to another.

Most of these projects take decades. Pioneer Bible Translators has been in Papua New Guinea since 1977. They have only completed three New Testament translations in that time. There are 7 others in the works, two of which are in the very early stages. For these missionaries, this is a life work. There is no instant gratification to offer momentum. Almost exclusively, they are sustained by extreme prayer.

The translators make tremendous sacrifices for the sake of completing a translation. The nationals commit voluntarily. Because they live in remote parts of the country, they leave their families behind in the village, and one month at a time, they stay in national housing provided by Pioneer Bible Translators. Think frat house minus beer pong. Every other month, the translators spend five days a week, 7 hours a day, confined to a conference room while going through the entire New Testament. Word by word, verse by verse, they review it. At the end of the month, they return to their villages with a few basic goods given to them by PBT (PBT also covers their living expenses during their stay in national housing). This is not a for-profit commitment. It is purely sacrifice. The current translation nearest to completion was ready for print last December. One week before publication they discovered hundreds of inconsistencies in the text. Just when they thought the 34 year project had reached completion, they were back to month-long stays away from their families in national housing. It will most likely be another 18 months of sacrifice before they can dedicate this book.

As I have spent much of my time learning from this team, one thing keeps coming to mind. All this work – all these man hours – all these viscous attacks from satan – all of it is worth it knowing that precious souls will hear about the love of Jesus for the first time in their history. The people living in tiny villages all throughout Papua New Guinea are worth it. Every single one of them is worth it.

God says so. And these missionaries and these translators share God’s value for these people.

The people are worth it.

Pioneer Bible Translators and the other translation organizations in the area have only scratched the surface. There are over 800 languages in PNG. 12% of the world’s languages are on this small island (PNG is the size of California. Whereas California’s population is almost 40 million people, PNG’s is 7.) That’s 7 million people, most living remotely, speaking over 800 distinct languages. The numbers are overwhelming.

But these people – these missionaries and these nationals – they don’t talk about that. The numbers don’t discourage them, not a one of them exudes even a hint of fear. Rather every single one of them does not hesitate to offer the same response to my question, “Why?”

“Because I love these people – deeply. If it wasn’t for how much I love these people, I’d be long gone. But I love these people.”

The people are worth it.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear no, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. Matthew 10:29-31

God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

He brings good news to the poor.

We pull into the primary hospital serving Madang, a province of a half million people, and the dirt parking lot is empty. Though the hospital is not short on patients, most visitors travel by foot or bus. My modern assumptions about healthcare are mocked as we begin our walk to the maternity ward – the entire hospital is built around outdoor pathways covered haphazardly in various metals. Along the paths are mismatched bedding and towels, the hospital’s laundry clasped to clothespins hanging out to dry. A man wearing no uniform – only his latex gloves identify him as a hospital worker – carries a large yellow bucket to an open sewer canal that perimeters each ward. He stops and overturns the bucket, vulgar-colored fluids spill into the canal only a couple feet away from the entrance to labor and delivery. We pause momentarily before crossing over the sewage and into see the mommas.

The door is left ajar, light and insects enter the room as we do. There are 30 metal beds, stacked two feet apart, each with a thin plastic mattress housing a momma, her newborn, and a watch person. Those admitted to the hospital receive minimal care. The nearby mess hall serves only one thing – rice and tin fish. If a patient is fed beyond that, it is thanks to a watch person, often a family member, who commits to visiting daily. Often that person traveled with the patient and while the patient is treated in the bed, the watch person sleeps on the cement floor directly underneath.

Today the room is full. Mommas are curled up on their sides, baby still latched to nurse, both asleep. Only the babies in neonatal care are given bassinets. Co-sleeping is expected. My heart swells as I consider my co-sleeping years with both my daughters, a practice often shamed in America.

We begin making our rounds. Sharon, my guide, has been given full access to the ward. Several months ago Sharon came to this hospital to visit a national who delivered here. During that visit Sharon was overwhelmed by the need for baby items as the mommas and the hospital have nothing to offer the newborns. Sharon started by teaching herself to crochet a baby hat. She then taught her village momma, and together they made hats. Word spread and Sharon recruited friends from the States to send baby hats, blankets, and money for formula. Since then Sharon has also realized additional needs including underwear and food for the mommas. It was her genuine heart and generosity that prompted the nurses to allow Sharon complete access to the ward.

The native Sharon first visited here has since lost her baby to heart failure. Baby Joni, as she is called, is still very much alive in this place. When Sharon distributes the hats and blankets, she tells the mommas, “Someone in America made this for a Papua New Guinea baby. God loves you.” When she gives the mommas food, she tells them, “Please eat this, it will help you produce milk so you can feed your baby.” Lately she’s been giving each momma a brand new pair of underwear and a bar of soap, a recommendation by the postpartum nurse. “Sharon, what you are doing for the babies is very wonderful. Thank you. But what these mommas need is something to make them feel like a woman.” I’m humbled remembering the weeks before I delivered my first baby. I packed my hospital bag with a brand new nightgown that would allow me to nurse and still feel pretty.

I never met her but I am so grateful to Baby Joni. Her legacy here is tangible. As I walk between the rows of beds, my prayer is that these precious babies and mommas feel the love of God in these small gifts. My prayer continues, that one day these beautiful mommas and their beautiful babies will come to know Jesus as Baby Joni now knows Jesus – as their Papa God for eternity.

Jesus said: “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in Heaven always see the face of my Father in Heaven.” Matthew 18:10

Jesus said: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19

He became poor.

People and potholes confetti the roads, cars and buses weaving between. The Pacific’s power bursts the rugged shore, children sprint with laughter, playing tag with the waves. Women carry vibrant woven satchels and scrawny-limbed babies. We pass a field scattered with men joyfully in the throes of rugby. In front of us, the door of a moving car opens, blood red spit splatters the road, the excess juice from chewing betelnut stain pavement and teeth. Everywhere I turn clothing boasts colorful patterns though shoes and hygiene are optional.

This is Papua New Guinea.

Its tropical climate overwhelms the landscape with nature’s finest – birds, trees, and plants exotically varied in species and beauty. A rich backdrop to a culture only one generation away from its tribal ancestors still tucked away in the mountain villages.

Our first morning graces us with Sabbath, the community gathers down the street for worship. We arrive on time. The open pavilion is empty. I’m told time doesn’t matter here.

The church stage is filled with instruments and musicians young and old, three small boys stand near a microphone, one sings occasionally while the other two just stare. A dog runs up the stage’s stairs, finding a shaded spot near the drummer to rest.

Though humidity beats thick, men are dressed in white button-up shirts, slacks, and ties. Some wear loafers but most are in sandals. Women wear oversized blouses and long skirts, thick afros made thicker by today’s heat.

We sing and we stand and we hallelujah and we amen and we tithe and we praise and on and on and on for three glory-filled hours.

By the time we dismiss, every bench in the pavilion is packed to overflowing, families filling the surrounding lawn.

I don’t want it to end.

It is true what they say. The less you have the greater you must depend on God, if you know Him at all. These people, the ones who call Him “Papa God,” they are rich – rich in joy, rich in faith, rich in love. I don’t know their wealth and they don’t know mine. My heart cries out, “Teach me what it means to be truly rich.”

Today’s message in a language I hardly understand was about humility. These people with nothing encouraging one another to pour it all out for Jesus, as if they have anywhere lower to go. But I take notes because no matter the tongue, it’s God’s Word and it washes over me and for the first time in a long time my soul feels fuller than my wallet.

I don’t want it to end.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9