Land of the Unexpected

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When it comes to traveling in a country where travel options are limited, God cares about taking care of the details.

Papua New Guinea doesn’t get its nickname, Land of the Unexpected, for no reason. We have become accustomed to delays here because they happen quite often, usually due to things beyond our control: rough terrain, lack of roads, landslides, washed-out bridges, fuel shortages, vehicle breakdowns and commercial airline flight cancelations. All are common here, and expecting delays has become a part of the culture. If we complain about a canceled flight, people just laugh and remind us, “This is the land of the unexpected!” Even when things happen as expected, we all laugh and jokingly exclaim, “Land of the Unexpected!” because we weren’t expecting things to happen as planned.

Time and again, we have witnessed God’s providence working things out at just the right time. God’s timing knows no haste or delay (The Desire of Ages 32.1).
“Steve, I’m not going to believe any of those hardship stories about travel in PNG!” Conrad exclaimed with a smile on his face. We were privileged to have the AFM president visiting our project and were about to board the plane that would take us from the Balimo airstrip back to the capital city, Port Moresby. Conrad, Laurie and I had left the mission site at Kewa that morning in our dinghy, heading downriver to Balimo. At the Balimo waterfront was a vehicle ready to drive us the mile and a half to the airport. Fifteen minutes later, we were driving through the airport gate. We had no time to sit down in the terminal before our plane landed, and we had to board. Later, in thinking about it, I realized that if we had left our house a few minutes later and if the vehicle to take us to the airport hadn’t been at the waterfront right away, we would have missed our flight back with Conrad. The next one would have been four days later. But as it was, things worked out better than expected. Praise God for His mercy!

Besides being missionaries on the Gogodala project, Laurie and I are field directors for the Ama project on the North side of PNG. We were planning to accompany Conrad there to see our colleagues, Orion and Keren Lawrence. But Laurie had developed a tropical ulcer on the top of her foot, which was quite painful and made it difficult for her to walk. After discussing together whether she should make the trip, we all decided she would be better off staying back and resting at our transit house on the campus of Pacific Adventist University near Port Moresby. Our friend, Rosemary, agreed to check in on her and do some food shopping while Conrad and I were away.

Getting to the Ama project from Port Moresby requires a three-legged journey, first by air, then over land on bumpy roads for six hours and, finally, a twelve-hour ride on the Sepik River in a motorized dugout canoe. Our one-hour flight to Wewak went without a hitch. We spent the night there with Orion at the AFM-built transit house and left the next morning at 3:30 a.m. with the help of a hired driver and Land Cruiser. Orion had been hoping to drive us to the waterfront in his pickup truck but wasn’t able to because of mechanical issues on the truck. However, this would be a blessing to us later that morning. There had been a heavy rain that night, causing creeks to swell.

We had cruised along for about three hours in the dark, and just as the day was dawning, we approached a couple of buses full of passengers that had stopped along the road. Up ahead, we could see people milling about on the road. Was there an accident? I wondered. Looking again, I saw something that made my heart sink. The bridge across a small creek was washed out, making it impossible for vehicles to cross. People could get across by foot on a little path around the side of the road.

Our hopes of getting to May River now seemed ready to vanish. Our schedule was already tight, even if things went smoothly. We had planned to have three days at May River before returning to Wewak and Port Moresby so Conrad could catch his flight out of the country. Standing at the edge of the severed pavement, peering down into the chasm that separated us from the continuing highway on the other side, it seemed like this was the end of our road. Thoughts of changed plans haunted me. Would we now have to turn around and return to Wewak? Would Conrad not get to see the May River station and Orion’s wife, Keren, who was waiting for us there? We prayed.

Within a few minutes, we spotted something which brought a glimmer of hope. Coming into view on the other side of the washed-out bridge were a couple of empty PMVs (people-moving vehicles). It was obvious that they were there to pick up the stranded passengers and help them get to their intended destinations further along the highway. We thanked our driver, unloaded our bags from the Land Cruiser, and hauled them gingerly across the narrow portion of the culvert, careful not to lose our balance and fall into the rushing water.

Once safely on the other side, we started loading our cargo into the back of one of the empty PMVs, which was not exactly considered a luxury carrier by Western standards. The flat-bed dump truck with a canvas roof and a pair of wooden benches facing each other in the back was ready to welcome thirty people or more to crowd together like sardines in a can. Three hours of sitting on a hard bench surrounded by thirty smelly bodies would be challenging for those unaccustomed to this, but at least we could continue our trip.

Just then, one of the locals informed us that a ten-passenger vehicle was coming to take us. Sure enough, within a minute, a white Land Cruiser pulled up. We piled in and were on our way again, hardly losing any time. As we continued our journey, Orion remarked, “Now I know why my pickup truck is broken. If I had driven us in that, we would have had no choice but to turn around and return to Wewak because there is no secure place to leave a vehicle here.”
God knows the future and orchestrates all things for good.

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