BY: Jan Messersmith
UPDATE – August 2011: I have debated with myself whether to write a new “About Me” page. I’ve decided to leave the original as it is. My dear wife Eunice and I built a ministry in Madang, Papua New Guinea during a thirty year period from 1981 to 2010. I want to honor her love for me as her husband of forty-seven years and her service to the Kingdom of God through her partnership in our ministry. I think one way I can do this is to leave the “About Us” page as it is.
WHEN I WAS A KID my Dad often told me fascinating stories of his adventures in New Guinea during World War II. He didn’t have much to say about the war, as such, but he had many tales of his forays into the mountains of the Milne Bay area and his contacts with the villagers. He had a big box of treasures that held my attention for many hours. There were bone daggers, Cat’s Eye sea shells, bits and pieces of soldier paraphernalia, photographs, and many other items of wonder for a small child. Like many young men of many nations, Dad was a soldier because he felt it was his duty to defend his nation and the principles of his culture. I honor him for that, as do the sons and daughters of other fathers and mothers who have taken up the sword for honorable causes.
In my wildest dreams, it never came to me that I too would someday take up a sword and journey to do battle in the same land in which my father’s comrades-in-arms spilled so much blood. The sword I carry is the Word of God. Our enemies are fear, pestilence, and evil. The prizes of the battles are spiritual and intellectual freedom, a life made healthy by the grace of God and knowledge of the nature of his creation, and a peaceful society living in harmony within his will and according to his laws.
God saw fit to mate me to a fellow warrior. Together we have done battle here since 1981. It has been a good fight. With God’s blessing and the loving support of our fellow warriors in our supporting churches, we hope to continue as long as we have the strength. Eunice and I have found our home. It’s right in the middle of a WAR ZONE.
IN THE MID ’70s Eunice and I were working hard at building a business in Brownsburg, Indiana. We had a son in grade school and life was chugging along. As time went by, we became less and less happy with our situation. Our business didn’t provide the stimulation and satisfaction that it had in the beginning. Feelings of unease and discontent began to dominate us. Finally, we found it impossible to continue on a road that seemed to have no direction or purpose. By 1978, we were seriously desiring to get off the planet. We began the tedious process of selling our business with no clear idea of what was coming next. We knew we wanted a drastic change. That’s just what we got. I had gone back to Lincoln Christian College to finish a BA degree in Church Growth & World Missions which I had started sixteen years before. Eunice stayed in Brownsburg to manage the business while I spent four days a week going to school and living in a dorm with what seemed to me to be children. One of my professors told me about a small Bible translation mission that had just gotten started. He was also the vice-president of operations for the board of directors. He knew that I was interested in computers and that Eunice was a bookkeeper and office manager in our business. He suggested that we apply for support positions in the mission since those were the positions they were wanting to fill.
I HAVE TO SKIP NOW, over a lot of tedious preparations that aren’t very interesting. By April of 1981 we were in Madang, Papua New Guinea ready to start our work. As I look back at the pictures today, I think we look awfully young, but we were in our mid thirties. Suddenly, and somewhat overwhelmingly, life was exciting again. We found ourselves seeing and doing things of which we never dreamed. Most of it was stimulating and just plain fun. A big part of it quickly became the daily grind – actually the part that felt normal. Some of it was just plain misery.
We quickly found that God knew what he was doing when he put us in a town situation. We really didn’t like life in a village setting. We needed quite a bit of training before we could be effective. Most of it took place during a four month long ‘Jungle Camp’ session conducted by the Summer Institute of Linguistics. We did, however, enjoy learning the common language of PNG, Neo-Melanesian or Pidgin, as it is commonly called. Many of our experiences during that time taught us lessons that were valuable to us in the coming years. One thing we did appreciate about our training experience was that it gave us time to experience being a family in a situation in which we had to function together as a unit. Some of the things we did as a family, while not being much fun at the time, still provide us with a storehouse of memories that are even more valuable to us now that we are separated from our son by half a world. I have clear memories, for example of the day we spent waiting for our plane in the “Bunapas International Airport Departure Lounge.” A fourteen year old boy mowing an airfield with a tractor and a ‘bush hog’ may not seem unusual if you live in the country, but for us city folk, it was worth a picture. That tractor is the source of many memories for us. A village a few miles away needed the tractor to help build an airstrip. Our job was to find a way to get it there. A few miles doesn’t sound like much of a problem for a tractor, but you can hardly even walk through virgin rain forest. The roots of the giant trees are so high off the ground that you have to climb over them every few feet. The villages we