A helicopter and two pioneers
Note: I wrote this post last night (April 24), but technical difficulties prevented it from appearing until this morning (April 25).
I hardly know where to begin writing tonight. So many amazing things have happened.
Today, I had my very first ride in a helicopter, and I sat in front with the pilot. As the rotor began spinning faster and faster, the whole aircraft started to shudder. Like a water bubble working its way off the bottom of a glass, we felt lighter and lighter, until we no longer rested on the ground at all. We floated backward through the air, turning as we went to line up with the runway. Then we tipped forward and picked up speed.
Less than 10 minutes later, a crowd of faces watched us descend as freshly cut grass scattered in every direction.
Des Oatridge was the second Wycliffe man to arrive in Papua New Guinea, back in 1956. Jenny, the woman he would later marry, arrived a short time later.
After they married, the couple began living among the Binumarien people to learn their language and translate the New Testament.
The Binumariens used a language called Kâte in church; it was the language of early Lutheran pastors from far away on the coast. The people understood almost nothing of the gospel, believing that salvation depended on a list of works and that the Bible was mostly stories of spirits and magic rituals.
They believed that the first two people were men, and that God turned Eve into a woman as punishment for eating the fruit. Consequently, women, family relationships, and childbirth were considered dirty and unclean.
Much has changed in nearly 50 years — but then, I can’t tell the whole story tonight.
Today, the Oatridges went to visit the Binumarien people. I went with them.
Flying in, we saw Binumarien hamlets nestled in the rainforest. The people build their homes on stilts, which is common on the coast but unusual here in the highlands.
The helicopter takes off again, leaving us in the village. Des and Jenny left here in 1985 after dedicating the New Testament the year before. They have been back to visit a few times since then, most recently in June 2005.
Des and Jenny built this building for translation and literacy work many years ago. Today, the young woman in the pink blouse uses it as a school room, teaching 60 pupils with no pay and very few supplies.
An elderly woman weeps as she greets her old friends. She could barely speak, but she waved her hands in excitement when she saw Des and Jenny approaching.
When the Oatridges began living among the Binumariens in the late 1950s, community was dying out. “There were only about a dozen children,” said Jenny. Sickness and fighting had driven the population down to only 112. Today, the Binumariens number over 500, and we saw dozens and dozens of children. (Oh, and can you find the big spider in this picture?)
Jenny greets another old friend. The people kept telling Jenny she was a big old woman, which is actually a compliment.
Des speaks with the people in Binumarien. Sometimes Jenny would tell us what he was saying. Binumarien has two tones — rising and falling — but the whole sentence falls in pitch as you go along so that a rising tone at the end of a sentence is lower than a falling tone at the beginning.
A few hours after landing, we were in the air again. This is our Canadian pilot, Bev Preater. In the 1960s, the Oatridges had to be taken out of the village by military helicopters for medical treatment. That incident was one in a series of events that led to SIL-PNG purchasing helicopters of its own.
This valley lies between the Binumariens’ valley and the Aiyura Valley, where our center is located.
You can read more about the Oatridges and the Binumariens in Hidden People by Lynette Oates, another of our pioneers.
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