I have posted nothing here since the 29th of September, 2010, twenty-one days after Eunice Mae (Eunie), my dear wife of forty-seven years died in a hospital in Brisbane, Australia. It is not because I have been idle that I have not written. I have published much in my other journal. I have grieved, mourned and survived. I have done more hard work than I have done in years, much of it very unhappy business. Mostly though, I have thought about my future, or my seeming lack thereof, and prayed for guidance and relief. Loneliness was crushing me. I have suffered the worst depression of my life with no relief. Let me illustrate my state of mind and mood with an image I published in October of 2010. This is the face of a man in despair.
Me in October of 2010
I don’t like looking at this image. I can’t imagine that it is me. It is probably the most revealing and honest image of me that I have allowed anyone to see.
So, what is different now? The difference is that I have been run over by a freight train. The name of that train was God.
After Eunie’s death, aside from the grief and mourning, I concluded that I had two major issues in my life that had to be addressed. The first was being alone. The second was to discover if I really had any further purpose in life. There seemed to be no way to address the first issue. My service to Pioneer Bible Translators in Madang, Papua New Guinea, a ministry that Eunie and I shared for nearly thirty years, gave me a purpose, but living in Madang in the familiar environment I once lovingly called home was proving to be very difficult, as everything there reminded me of my loss.
From the time I was nineteen my love for Eunie and my status in life as her husband defined me as a man. From 1981 onwards my position in Pioneer Bible Translators and my work in Madang define me as a servant of God. These were the cornerstones of my life. With Eunie gone I felt like half a person and certainly no longer the same man. I knew that my time was coming to a close in Madang. My leadership was no longer needed and my IT skills were stale and old-school. I was close to a burn-out. Still, how could I leave behind a life’s work to which my dear wife sacrificed herself?
God pushed all of these problems aside in a matter of weeks.
Addressing the issue of loneliness, God provoked me to begin a courtship (I don’t know what else to call it.) of a friend of nearly half a century. Grace Mary Preval was a childhood friend of Eunie since the age of four. I had known Grace since she and I and Eunie were students at Lincoln Christian College in the early ’60s. We have always been good friends and, through our mutual best friend, Eunie, kept in contact with each other through the decades. Euinie used to joke with me that if anything ever happened to her, she knew that I would run to Grace. How prophetic that was! After an appropriate demurement period Grace began to warm to the idea that we might discover that we could become more than good friends. I would call what followed an explosion of romantic love. It did not take us long to decide to marry, no matter what else developed. We will wed in early April of next year. Grace demonstrated her sense of humor by selecting April 1st. Well, it IS a Sunday, isn’t it? Sunday weddings are good, eh?
The decision to marry put in place a dilemma concerning my future service. Grace, newly retired from a lifetime of public service in the areas of teaching, early childhood development, aid to developmentally challenged persons and speech therapy, was not eager to relocate to Madang and begin working again. This is entirely understandable and in agreement with my feeling that God was plotting a new course for me, the destination of which I was as yet unaware.
Again, God pushed aside the issue by presenting me with another golden opportunity to which I could not say no. Grace and I decided to investigate whether the International Service Center of Pioneer Bible Translators might have significant work for me. We contacted the administration of the international organization and we were invited to go to Dallas for discussion. In Dallas we enjoyed two days of consultation with the President and other administration officers. The result was an invitation to join the staff as a Media Arts Specialist. My duties will include, but not be limited to, web site design, photography, HD video production, writing and international travel to cover significant events in the progress of the mission. If I had sat down to design a dream job, I could not have done better. God has been reading my mind for the last few years. All of the skills I have worked hard to develop over the last couple of decades will now be put to use.
All this comes at an appropriate time, as you might imagine. What you probably do not know is that we have a new razor-sharp young IT man in Madang who is quite handily taking over my job as we speak. I certainly do not want to get in his way. We have been praying for several years to God to send someone to relieve me so that I can take on new, fresh responsibilities. Now is clearly the time for me to relocate my wrinkled body and expand my service.
Me in August of 2011
So, this is me in August of 2011:
I think that many changes are reflected in my face. During the weeks after Eunie died I set a goal for myself not to languish but to keep moving in whatever direction God seemed to lead me. I had no other guide and could not even formulate hopes for the future. I told myself that, no matter what happened, I needed to find a way to be happier in a year. For many months that did not seem to be a realistic goal. Then, over the next few months I began to be blessed by small victories. I sold a house and a car. I settled all of Eunie’s medical bills. God allowed me to accomplish many other things for which I was ill-prepared. During this time it was the help of my friends who kept me functioning and helped me when I seemed helpless. Gradually I regained competence and confidence. Still, the big issues remained. Then, within a matter of weeks, God eliminated them. God confronted me with decisions for which the choice was crystal clear.
The marriage will proceed next April no matter what else happens. We are looking forward to a new life together for both of us. We are both glad that we are not leaving Eunie behind. I am very hopeful concerning the expanded service which the new position offers me. I have notified my supporting churches of the developments and now await their response. Most of these supporters have been partners in our work for over thirty years. They see Bible translation as an essential part of the strategy to build self sustaining Bible based churches and nurture believers who adhere to scripture. I am confident that I’ll be able to continue in service as long as my talents are useful.
I’m not a great theologian. However, I do occasionally have an insight into my relationship with God. I have recently been reflecting upon the powerful way which God interacts with us through the expression of prayer and the creation of situations. I got no messages from God, though I prayed for guidance. Guidance did come, though. God simply set up a series of offers which I could not refuse. I don’t know how it can get any plainer than this. One does not say no to golden opportunities.
I’m now awaiting further orders.
I see that the last post here was on the second of July. Much has happened since then. This site was to be primarily a place where Eunice could tell people about our lives and our work. Now it is my sad duty to bring you up to date.
Earlier this year, beginning in about April, Eunie began complaining of abdominal pain. Our first response to this is usually to self-treat ourselves for parasites. If that does nothing, then we go to see a doctor. After a couple of parasite treatments with no improvement, we consulted our doctor and he diagnosed, very reasonably, a duodenal ulcer. She seemed to be responding to treatment, so the doctor decided to give her the eradication treatment for the Helicobacter pylori bacteria which causes these ulcers. After the end of the treatment, Eunie became quite jaundiced. Everybody was alarmed, including our doctor, so we evacuated her to Cairns, Australia in the first week of August to find out what was wrong. At that time, she was still reasonably well.
I’m not going to go into the details of the course of events which began with a CT scan in Cairns and ended up in the oncology clinic of the Wesley Hospital in Brisbane. It suffices to say that my beloved wife of forty-six years, Enice Mae Messersmith, left her body behind and passed on to her reward on the eighth of September.
Eunice Mae Messersmith 1944-2010
Eunie had become more and more ill over a period of only a very few weeks. All of us were shocked at the rapidity with which gall bladder cancer ravaged her. She was experiencing very little pain, even up to the last day. Her only pain medication was paracetamol. Eunie was lucid and communicative until the last couple of days, when the bile began to diminish her ability to think and talk clearly. At the end, she was experiencing pain and she was given stronger pain relief so that she could sleep. During that sleep, God brought her home. From the time we arrived in Cairns it had been only about one month.
After we left Cairns, we stayed at the home of our dear friend Val Jerram in Gympie, Australia. After Eunie passed, we sadly made our way back to Gympie in the company of close friends who had flown in from Madang and Vanuatu and had been present in Brisbane for several days assisting and comforting in every possible way. There we held a memorial service for Eunie which was attended by about twenty people who came from as far as Sydney.
My friends at the PBT office and in the community are arranging a memorial service here in Madang on October 9th. We expect to have several hundred people in attendance.
As Eunie had always specified that she wanted her remains to be in Madang, I set about to keep my promise to her. It would have been impossible to bring her body to Madang, so we arranged for cremation in Gympie. When I returned to Madang, I brought her ashes in my backpack. She will be buried on Kranket Island next to Bob Peaker, an MAF pilot who died in the service of our Lord. This is where she wanted to rest.
Needless to say, I am devastated, along with many others. Eunie did so much for so many that it is hard to think about what we will do without her. In our office, an amazing spirit is at work. We will carry on. In the broader community, where Eunie took on many tasks, plans are being made to continue the work. My own path is clear. God gave Eunie and I important work. We always promised each other that, no matter what, we would continue that work as long as we were physically and mentally able. Eunie kept that promise. She kept her hand on the plough until her body ceased to function. Even near the end, she insisted that the doctors fix her up so that she could get back to work.
How can I ignore her example? It is unthinkable. God gave me a job. He hasn’t indicated to me in any way that the work is no longer mine. I will keep my promise to God and Eunie. As long as I have strength to do so I will continue the work – to honour God, to honour our Lord Jesus and to honour my dear wife.
Pray for me.
I will write occasionally in this place. If you wish to keep a more detailed and wide-ranging view of my life, you can visit my personal journal at Madang – Ples Bilong Mi. It’s a little off the wall, but I keep it honest. I am trying to post there every other day. If you want to contact me, please leave a comment on a post; I reply to every comment. You can send an email to me by selecting “Contact Us” in the sidebar. I am also on Facebook; simply look up my name. Comments left here on Messersmith News may not be answered as promptly.
Eunice, Eunice Messersmith and her mother Maureen
In Papua New Guinea it is culturally correct to have a woman help with taking care of your house. I have had the same person since 1984 working for me. Her name is Juli and she has four children. All of her children have grown up in our house. When Juli started working for us, her oldest daughter, Dorothy, was about three years old.
Jan and I have always felt one of the best ways for us to help our PNG friends is to help with school fees. There is no free education in PNG. School fees are the largest expense a family has.
We have paid for all of Juli’s children to attend school. Maureen attended all the way through grade twelve. This is not the case with most PNG children. Maureen is now married and has a daughter of her own.
Her daughter was born in 2009, while I was in the USA. Jan wrote me an email and said there are now two Eunice Messersmiths living in Madang. Maureen has had a baby girl and her name is Eunice Messersmith. I thought Messersmith was her middle name and so I asked what is her last name and was told that her name was only Eunice Messersmith.
Eunice lives in the village and her father works for a mining company here in Madang. She is very smart for her age.
Seven indigenous translators, six men and one woman, of the Mum language group have been labouring for about ten years to translate the New Testament into their language. The first draft is nearly finished. It is difficult to describe what a daunting task this has been for these dedicated people who have made great sacrifices to bring the Word of God to their people in the language of their hearts.
As an example of the difficulties, consider that nearly all of the work of translation has to be done at night. The daytime is consumed by tending gardens and caring for their families. How do you do paperwork in the dark? Working by candlelight or the dim beam of a flashlight with nearly exhausted batteries for hours is not particularly good for the eyesight.
Each member of the translation team takes a portion of the New Testament and creates a handwritten first draft. These are studied and discussed in the village to review and improve the quality of the translation. From the handwritten draft, our usual practice is to have a Madang staff member type it into a computer file so that many readable copies can be produced. Then, some of the translators come together in Madang for a final checking of the first draft before it is returned to the village for checking sessions with larger groups of Mum speakers. For the last two weeks, five of the translators have been in Madang at our Translation Center to review the book of Matthew in preparation for its return to the village for checking.
Here is Paul, Kamilus and Daniel, three of the men who left their families and gardens to spend two weeks in Madang working on Matthew.
This process is followed for each of the books of the New Testament. There will be several consultant checking sessions also for each book before they are ready for publication. Those final checking sessions are conducted by our Translation Consultants who have specialized training in exegesis and linguistics. The amount effort that is poured into a translation is staggering. The need for it is obvious. Our goal is to help deliver God’s Word to the indigenous people of Papua New Guinea. This is work that requires patience, precision and love.
The Mum translation team and all of the people of the Mum language group look forward to the day when they will have the published New Testament in their language.
A Few months ago I wrote about Springfield Illinois, my home town. Today I want to write about Madang, my new home town. Comparing Springfield to Madang is, however, grossly unfair. So, I won’t do that. What I will try to do is tell you why Madang has become my adopted home.
If you flew in a spaceship over the North coast of Papua New Guinea, you could look down and see our house in Madang:
Our House as seen by Google Earth
If you were landing at the airport in Madang towards the West, you would see our house right here:
Our House as seen landing at the Madang airport
Much is made of the beauty of small South Pacific towns. I have seen a few myself. Each has its own particular ambiance. For my money, Madang is one of the most beautiful.
The main reason I love Madang is the work I do and my home. Here are a few pictures of my home. My work with Pioneer Bible Translators over the last almost thirty years has been varied. I started out as the bookkeeper and moved on to Administrator of Finance to Director of Support Services and now I am the PNG Branch Director.
Our kitchen and our dog, Sheba
Sheba spends a lot of time in the kitchen with me in hope that something tasty will fall on the floor.
Dining area at our house
After nearly thirty years, I finally got all of my little treasures from the past to our new home and put them in a cabinet made by a local woodworker. I love to cook for friends, so I have a table that seats twelve.
Lounge area in our house
The lounge area is a little less orderly. Sheba sleeps on one of the couches, so we keep it covered with a blanket.
Our house is no mansion, but God has blessed us with a safe and pleasant place to live.
I love the scenery of Madang. Madang is on a peninsula. There is a bay on one side and the Madang harbour on the other. Across the bay there is a range of mountains that come right to the ocean. We have beautiful gardens and there is a lily pond that also has a crocodile or two.
Lily pond near our office and a frangipani tree
The home of our local crocodiles is a beautiful place to visit, but not a good place to swim.
Machinegun Point and Astrolabe Bay
Machinegun Point is a favorite swimming hole for local residents – no crocodiles here!
The beautiful gardens of The Madang Lodge Hotel and Restaurant
The main tourist attraction is the Coastwatchers’s Lighthouse. This is a real working lighthouse for shipping and a fitting memorial to the men that reported the whereabouts of the Japanese during WWII. Many of these men were Australians that were living in Madang at the start of the war.
The Madang Coastwatchers Monument
The Population of Madang and the surrounding area is about 40,000 people. The town center is not very large. There is a good sized outdoor market where you can buy fresh fruit and vegetables. The shops are all small – no shopping centers or sky scrapers. You can walk to the post office, the bank and grocery store in less than five minutes.
The "veggie" house at the Madang Town Market
I love the sky above Madang. It is never the same. It seems to change every five minutes. The sunrises and sunsets are sometimes spectacular. When there is a full moon it seems to set in the sky just outside our front door. Here is the sun rising as seen from our front yard.
Sunrise over Madang Town as seen out our front door
As we drive to work each morning, we pass Coconut Point. The sunrises there are breathtaking.
Sunrise at Coconut Point
At another place on our drive in to the office we can look out to see one of the most dangerous volcanoes on Earth, Kar Kar Island:
Kar Kar Island, an active volcano, in the distance
From our house Jan can take our dive boat out on a Saturday and have a dive with many friends and acquaintances. He has become a professional photographer and enjoys underwater photography especially.
An actual photogrpaph of Nemo, the famous fish, taken by my husband
Life is simple and nothing moves fast. There are some frustrations living in a place that is not quite in the 21st century yet, but most of the time that is one of the main reasons life is so good in Madang.
There is an expression in Tok Pisin (the lingua franca of PNG). Gutpela sindaun. It means “It’s a very nice place to live.”
At the Annual General Meeting of The Pioneer Bible Translators Association of Papua New Guinea, Incorporated my wife, Eunice Messersmith was unanimously elected as the Director of the association.Eunice has been my boss at the office for many years, since she was elected as the Director of Support Services a long time ago. As for who is boss at home, I’ll just say that we don’t have one. It’s been a partnership for forty-five years and that’s not going to change.
Eunice now holds three positions in the organization: Administrator of Finance, Director of Support Services and Director. She seems somehow to be able to juggle all of that, especially as she is learning that she can’t do it all herself and needs to delegate many tasks to others. This goes a little against her grain, but it leverages her management skills perfectly.
I can’t let this go without making a couple of personal remarks.
First, I wish that I could sit down and have a conversation with all of the people, mostly financial supporters, who have told us that we’re getting too old and need to “come home and retire”. Here in Papua New Guinea we live in a culture in which age is greatly respected and many people don’t really hit their peaks until they are well into their seventies and eighties. My question has always been, “Retire to do what?” Eunice and I have never been in better health, both mentally and physically. She does a gruelling aquarobics routine three day a week. I go SCUBA diving every Saturday and get plenty of exercise during the week. We are both working at least two jobs. Our lives are full, productive and interesting. Why should we possibly want to retire?
Second, who gets to control when you want to stop working, if you’re financially able to do so? I’ve seen too many people killed by retirement. Our culture here in PNG is a much better atmosphere for promoting a long, healthy and productive life.
Please, stop telling us to quit when we’re just hitting our stride.
God will tell us when it’s time. Some people may not want to spend their mission dollars to keep “old people” productive, but I’ve got news for them. God hasn’t told us to quit yet and we like what we’re doing. We’ll make it somehow, with God’s help, if even some no longer appreciate our contributions to the work.
Yesterday I went out to a village to visit with people with whom I’ve been working for a few months. I took some pictures along the way. It’s a bit of a wild ride out to the mountains between Madang and the Ramu Valley. The road dates back to a trail that went alongside the first power lines. It’s twisty and very rough for much of its length. Maybe you’ll see something interesting. Here is a shot about twenty clicks out of town just as you are coming up on the mountains:
Road from Madang
The road here is pretty flat and stays in relatively good shape. Here is a ford that is right before you start up into the mountains. You can see the first steep hill on the other side. It’s a 20%+ slope:
The Ford at the start of the Mountains
That means a long slog in 1st gear, even in my diesel 4WD truck. I can remember when we first started driving to the highlands in 1981. There were 21 rivers that had no bridges. If the water was too high to get across, we had to either wait for it to go down or drive back to town. I was driving a Suzuki 4WD jeep across a river similar to this when it fell into a hole and went floating (mostly) downstream. Fortunately I had a long rope laying on the passenger’s seat. I jumped out into the water and hooked the rope around a bumper while the Suzuki tip-toed over the rocks. I swam over to the side and threw the other end of the rope around a tree. Fortunately the rope held. After retrieving the car from the water it took several hours to get everything dried out enough to get it started.
This is a Bailey bridge. You find them all over the world in difficult, out-of-the-way places. A Bailey bridge is a portable pre-fabricated truss bridge, which can be carried by a few trucks and erected with simple equipment. The only problem with them is that old ones tend to sag quite a bit in the middle and do not inspire confidence. This one has a steel road bed. I have been on a couple of them which had wood plank beds and most of the wood had been pilfered. We once crossed one by carrying the remaining planks from the other side to our side, laying them down in front of the truck, driving the truck to the end of the last planks and then moving the planks from behind the truck to the front. It made me think of an inchworm creeping along a branch.
A Market along the road
A market on the way to Usino Station. This is near where the meeting was.
Woman carrying Betel Nut
The Woman has a bag of betel nut on her head. I had a little chat with her about the evils of buai (the Tok Pisin word for betel nut). She just kept laughing at me. At first I couldn’t figure out why. Then I noticed that she was looking at my hair, which I had braided Indian-style. I don’t think that she had ever seen a man with braided hair. I was happy to give her a few minutes of fun.
A Group of Children at the Market
Here is a mob of kids that were hanging around the market. When kids see a camera they automatically line up for the photographer. How convenient: I kept trying to get them to look at me, but they were too fascinated by the woman with the bag on her head who was still laughing at me.
Jan on a Bamboo Couch
I asked one of the fellows to take a photo of me, since that hardly ever happens. I don’t know why those bamboo ‘couches’ are considered high-style. It is extremely uncomfortable. I’d rather sit on the ground. However, if you are (for the moment, at least) a VIP, you can’t sit on the ground; they won’t let you. I have been to several villages in which there was exactly one chair and they would always drag it out for me to sit on. This is a holdover from the days of the Kiap or Patrol Officer who was like a travelling sheriff, judge, census taker and general overseer of the Australian Administration. I believe that people did not understand that white people were capable of sitting on the ground.
Erustas Otairobo Teaching the Leaders
Note from Eunice: Jan and Erustas Otairobo (our consultant from the Salomon Islands) in a meeting with village leaders talking about what the Bible says about sorcery. This is a big problem in this area. Jan has wanted to do this kind of work for many years and now has the opportunity to do it. He is very happy with the results of his two meetings with the Sumau Garia language group leaders.
On the seventh of November Jan performed the wedding service for our very dear friend Trevor Hattersley. He married Karen Simmons. We were so happy to be a part of this service as Trevor has been a close friend for many years.
They wanted a small casual wedding. The wedding was held at the beach house we go to many Sunday afternoons. It was a beautiful setting. Trevor’s son and two very close friends came from Australia for the wedding. Karen surprised her close friend Clare, who came for a visit by telling her that she was to be the maid of honor.
It was a great day enjoyed by all.
The Wedding Ceremony
Cutting the Cake
Happy Day, Happy People
I have taken the librety of using an email update that Lori Witham one of our co-workers wrote. She is the Admisntrator of Publications for Pioneer Bible Translators here in Madang. She was the person that typeset the book that was dedicated.
1) Lori Witham and a few other Pioneer Bible Translators missionaries flew to Samban village to attend the dedication of the Ap Ma Book of Acts. John and Bonita Pryor, the translators that worked in the language for many years came from the United Sates to attend also. Traditional dancers met them at the airstrip to welcome them to the celebration.
Sing Sing (Dance) Group
2)The books of scripture were carried from the airplane to the stand where the ceremony took place.
Ap Ma Book of Acts carried to the Village
3) The books were symbolically handed from the PBT representative, William Butler (front left), to PBT translator, John Pryor (front right), and to Maso, the Ap Ma translator (front cent.
William Butler, Maso the PNG translator and John Pryor receiveing the book of Acts
4) Lori was invited to the dedication as a recognition of her role as one of those who enabled the book to be completed.
Lori Witham welcomed to the village of Samban
5) The book was gifted to each pastor, and soon events such as Bible studies will have the Ap Ma Acts put to use by other Ap Ma speakers.
Pastor receiving his copy of the Book of Acts
This is the second book of the New Testament that the Ap Ma people of Papua New Guinea have. The whole new Testament is a few years away from being printed. The book of Acts and the book of Luke are being used to teach the people how to read in their language and how to use the scriptures in their lives.
My Dad has passed away. He’d been very ill for quite a while and his quality of life was so profoundly affected by near deafness, lack of mobility, and finally, near blindness, that his passing was undoubtedly a blessing to him. My nieces, God bless them, who have cared for him and my severely ailing mother told me that he was in no pain and probably never realised that he’d arrived at the end of the road. That too is a blessing.
There are many reasons why my emotions are confusing at the moment. You either know about it, or don’t really need to know. So I’ll not say much about history.
Here’s one of my favourite photos of my Dad:
Dad was a dance teacher (tap, adagio, ballroom), an incredible acrobat, a highly accomplished amateur photographer, and a master craftsman jeweler. I owe many of my modest talents and much of my athletic ability to the tutelage of my father. That’s not to mention that I know my way around a dance floor fairly well. Here’s another image of my Dad during WWII:
As you can plainly see, he was a very handsome guy. I got my dark skin partly from him and partly from my Mom’s Cherokee grandmother, something that has served me well in the tropics for three decades.
In our “About Us” page in the sidebar. The first thing that I talked about was my Dad’s time in New Guinea during the war and what an influence that was on me. Dad, myself, and my son, Hans were all in the US Army National Guard 38th Infantry Division, a peculiarity of our family history.
It’s appropriate that I make some small offering of honour to my Dad as I close this post. Since he developed in me a life-long interest in the wonders of light and the images that are our primary emotional connection to the world in which we live, the best honour I can present is an image.
Dad, this sunset is for you:
Rest in Peace – Arnold William Messersmith