Copyright ©1998 by Dan Philgreen - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
PAPUA NEW GUINEA: MEMOIR OF JAN. 1981 TRIP
by Dan Philgreen, all rights reserved
It's January, 1993 as I'm starting to write these stories. Almost exactly twelve years after our trip.
Claude Bowen, a Chicago businessman, was involved with the ministry of Wycliffe Bible Translators as a volunteer. He was asked to coordinate the making of a recruiting film in Papua New Guinea. He wasn't a filmmaker, but had helped on a previous project. As the owner of the Dale Carnegie organization in Chicago, he had given some very valuable help with content, but the fellow he had worked with on the technical end was not available. He had no idea how he was going to get the film done. He bowed his head in his office one day to pray about it and as he was praying the phone rang. It was my father calling about some business. As they talked, Claude said "Didn't you tell me your son was finishing up schooling in film production?" That led to a meeting and his prayer was answered. He came over to my folks' house while Esther was up visiting. We were engaged at the time. He showed us the earlier film called "Mountain of Light" and challenged me to make the next one. I accepted. We didn't even talk about money until much later. I just knew it was the right thing to do.
We were married in November, 1980 and spent our honeymoon in a little cabin on a deserted lake about an hour's drive from Birmingham, Alabama where most of the places had been closed up for the winter. Three months later and we were off to Papua New Guinea to shoot the recruiting film for Wycliffe. We were to be in country for a total of about a month.
Both going to and coming back from Papua New Guinea we found ourselves in Honolulu, Hawaii. We had almost no money at all. In fact, on the way back we stayed with a woman who someone at Wycliffe had told us about who had an apartment. But, we had several days in Hawaii on the way out and about a week on the way back. Once again, it's amazing how God provides in ways to delight us beyond what we expect.
From Honolulu we flew to Port Moresby, capital of Papua New Guinea, on Air Niugini. (I think that's how it's spelled) They make the flight once a week. The 707 looked great from the terminal. When we got in, I realized that they only did the nice paint job on the fuselage. The wings were a patchwork of different shades of aluminum skin. It was an old Quantas jet. But it flew just fine.
We stayed in a guest house in Port Morseby and I only remember the dirty, crowded market in an open field and the meals we enjoyed with other transient folks. One young gal was engaged to an MAF pilot in Irian Jaya and was on her way to see him. Morseby is unique in that it has just about the only paved roads in the whole country.
From Morseby we flew to the Wycliffe translation center at Ukarumpa in the central highlands. In these parts Wycliffe is known as the Summer Institute of Linguistics or more commonly, SIL. The airplane was a JAARS Cessna 206, which would be our taxi while in PNG. (JAARS is the Jungle Aviation and Radio Service, the logistical support branch of Wycliffe.) As we loaded into the airplane, I realized that this might be Esther's first experience in a light airplane. I asked her, and sure enough, it was. We flew over jungles and swamps and crocodile infested rivers and she had no problem at all. A few years later when I got my pilot's license I managed to get her scared of little planes over the threatening terrain of Gary, Indiana.
We spent four or five days at Ukarumpa the first time we passed through. We were feeling the effects of trans-oceanic travel, new water, and being newly married, no doubt, and both Esther and I were feeling a little sick. We were laying down for a nap in our guest house room one of those afternoons when we were awakened by an earthquake. The first that either one of us had ever experienced. The first thing that hit my senses was the pounding of the feet of the bed on the floor as the earth shook. I've been through a lot more earthquakes since then out in California of much greater magnitude, but that one was the only one I can remember that had that vertical component to make the bed jump up and down like that.
Papua New Guinea was my first real foreign trip, not counting Canada and Mexican border towns. It didn't feel very foreign to me, though. When you wake up in Taipei or Moscow and walk out onto the street, you really get that "I don't think we're in Kansas anymore, Toto!" feeling. New Guinea felt to me more like a giant jungle cruise ride at Disneyland. The huts and canoes and natives are all real there, but it just doesn't seem so somehow. It may be because in PNG you're always out in the country. The few "cities" are really small towns. In a big foreign city, the civilization is more equivalent to America, only everything is different, giving that "foreign" feeling. I like the boonies more than the city, generally, so I really enjoyed PNG.
Clothing was optional for Papua New Guineans. Most folks seemed to prefer clothing most of the time. It keeps the sun off and helps against mosquitos. Mostly, though, I think it is a status and fashion thing just like in our culture. Going naked I think is seen as more of a country hick thing to do. But some just prefer it.
Being newly married, it was a little weird to see women going around topless. But, after a few days the shock wore off and it was a pretty normal state of affairs. It doesn't take long for gravity, the tropical sun, babies, and probably poor nutrition to take their toll on the shape of these women. So the topless thing isn't very provocative. Interestingly, keeping their bottom parts covered is very important to New Guinean women. I saw one dad in a village tenderly but compellingly instructing his little daughter about the importance of keeping her knees together while sitting.
One day while riding along in a car, we saw a man walking along the road wearing nothing but a bright red rubber ball. Mind you, it wasn't on his nose! Esther and I looked at each other and broke into giggles. Over in Irian Jaya guys wear long gourds sometimes. I guess this was the hip high-tech equivalent.
Our first night in a village was spent in a place called Madang. It was a few miles down the coast from a port town. Actually, Madang may have been the name of the larger town. Or it could have been Wewak, or maybe Lae. Anyway, the first night there was blazing hot and 100% humidity. Esther and I, the newlyweds, couldn't stand to even touch each other lying in bed. Now you know that had to be hot! We were drenched in mosquito repellant and were still getting eaten alive.
We got up before dawn the next morning to shoot the sunrise over the Pacific. Yes, that's right, sunrise over the Pacific. It was beautiful. People were on the beach fishing. Some going out in outrigger canoes. Others walking along the beach with the night's catch on their heads. We went swimming in the afternoon and the ocean was smooth as glass. I guess that's why it's called the Pacific.
The fellow who was the translation helper was also the chief of this little village. We shot him fishing and chopping up a coconut that he was feeding to his pig. The translator, who's name I think was Mike something, told me about the time he had been working with this fellow on Matthew 19:23 which says "it is hard for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven." Now you and I would consider the way Mike lived in the village as being quite primitive. But his grass house had sawn lumber floors. He had plywood cabinets in the kitchen and a solar charged battery powered radio to talk to Ukarumpa and other translators. He had a beat up Toyota van with a zillion miles on it. But this chief, who was in the upper crust of his local social strata, measured his own wealth in a few pigs, a couple of wives, and some beetle nut trees. To him, Mike was extraordinarily wealthy. The chief told him, "I am worried about you white people. You are so rich. How will you ever get into heaven?" It does give one pause, doesn't it? Tribal people can really offer us a perspective on life.
As we flew into Madang, or maybe it was Wewak, looking down into the little bay and the water just beyond I could see the hulks of sunken Japanese war ships just under surface. At one little airstrip we landed on there were the hulks of an American fighter, maybe a Grumman Hellcat, sitting on it's nose and a B-25 bomber all stripped. Pilot friend Bill Cristobal says he often spots airplane wrecks in the jungle, some of which appear to have never been reached by humans. He told me he's thought about trying to get to one on his motorcycle sometime, but he is always working and never has time for such things. Now that they have GPS (global positioning system satellite based navigation) units in the aircraft it would be a lot easier to find them. Just take a hand-held GPS into the jungle with the same coordinates punched into it that you marked while flying over.
I bought a T-shirt in Wewak with a PNG flag on the front and a bird of paradise (the national bird) and "Wewak" on the back. I still have it, but only wear it when I really feel like being international.
We found most New Guineans to be very warm, friendly and easy to love people. They smile easily and love to laugh. Just like anywhere, some were very outgoing and gregarious. Others, especially most of the women, were more shy. They love their kids. Sadly, they seem to suffer a pretty high infant mortality rate.
We ran into lots of very bright folks. Guys who had learned western construction skills or outboard motor repair very quickly when shown how to do it. Many New Guineans are very involved with the Bible translation programs. These people learn very quickly when motivated. And it seemed that just an opportunity was all the motivation they usually needed.
These are outdoor people. The highlanders farm. The river people, whose land is under water half the time, can't farm so they are hunters and gatherers. They fish and make sago paste from the inner pulp of the sago palm tree. There is certainly not an abundance of food. We saw no fat people. Most are sinewy and muscular. But they seem to age fast. Some people we ran into who were what we would consider middle aged looked very old. Life expectancy is much lower than in the west.
A common practice in PNG as well as on many other south Pacific islands is the chewing of beetle nut. I'm told it gives a bit of a caffeine-like effect, only stronger. Like super-coffee, I guess. The stuff is very acidic by itself, so chewers carry around carry around little tins of white powder which is the ash of ground up seashells or something like that. Kind of like soda ash. It is alkaline and neutralizes the beetle nut juice. The chemical reaction turns the juice and spittle blood red. You see what look like little pools of blood all over the ground where people spit. A chewer's smile looks hideous; like he's bleeding from the mouth. The stuff also causes their teeth to rot, which adds to the effect.
Sugar cane is grown in some areas and in those places everyone seems to have a piece of cane constantly in hand to chew on. This also rots their teeth. I tried chewing some cane. It's nice, but candy is nicer and certainly easier.
Another unhealthy thing people do is to build smokey fires in their huts, which generally have no chimney, to keep mosquitos from bothering them as they sleep. This technique works, but also causes lots of respiratory disease.
We spent a week in Hauna Village on the Sepik River, about 175 miles from the nearest electrical outlet, making the film "Come By Here." The translator there working on the Sepik Iwam New Testament was Marilyn Laszlo from Valparaiso, Indiana. She is a dynamic, fun, "let's go for it" little lady and was a delight to work with. Her sister, Shirley Kiloski joined her after a term or two and has assisted her ever since.
I was shooting with a spring-wound Bolex camera that used 100ft. daylight loading spools of 16mm film. We had a suitcase full of about 200 little cans of film. I used the old Kodak ECO and EF color reversal stock. The ECN negative became popular just after this time. The camera had a Vario Switar zoom lens and I purchased a 10mm wide angle for the project. I still have that little lens somewhere. I also bought a small, used Miller fluid head that leaked and a Gitzo tripod. I made a tripod and lightstand case out of a fiber tube meant for forming concrete pillars. I put a rifle sling on it. I took two photo flood lights and a couple of crummy Smith-Victor stands. I also had a Zero-Haliburton case of Nikon still photo equipment. I used a little Sekonic incident light meter.
The Bolex had belonged to David Colvin, who had shot "Mountain of Light" in Hauna village about five years previous. He had since died of a heart attack. His widow, I believe her name was Harriet, loaned me the camera.
The house we stayed in at Hauna was unusual for PNG. It was very large and had two levels. The lower level had about seven or eight small rooms that were normally used for translation teams. These were all along one side. One of these was fixed up for our bedroom. During this whole trip, we kept getting rooms with twin beds, except for this one and the one in the little village on the coast. The rest of the downstairs was an open area used as a classroom.
Upstairs was a big open area that was kind of like a community center and a library. In two corners were two small rooms which were Marilyn and Shirley's bedrooms. In between their rooms was a kitchen complete with a breakfast bar with stools and a couple of kerosine refrigerators. They fed us very well out there with canned food and even frozen meat.
One night we watched slides up in the big new church building on the hill. Some fellow had come through for a visit on an around-the-world tour. He sent back copies of slides from his trip of cities in many countries. Everyone had a ball watching these. There was constant chatter as they speculated and made up stories about things like elephants and skyscrapers and what they thought they might be used for. Marilyn translated some of this and we all laughed a lot.
As friendly as these folks are most of the time, they can be fierce fighters. The old ones remember the days of cannibalism. The people of Hauna are now missionaries, not warriers. But we heard of fighting in other areas started by border disputes or by simple fear or mistrust. Something happens and then an ongoing Hatfield and McCoy style feud starts with endless retaliation back and forth. From what I could gather, fighting generally seems to be small raids, ambushes, and revenge killings rather than big battles.
Retribution is very much a part of the culture. We were told that if you accidentally hit someone with your car or get into any kind of an accident, you get away as fast as you can. If you stop to see what you can do to help, the person's relatives or neighbors will drag you off and beat you up or kill you. It's a tooth for a tooth kind of mentality.
The first film that was made in Hauna was purely documentary. Dave Colvin was in the village on several occasions installing a generator and doing some other things. He shot all the footage that went into "Mountain of Light" strictly as the events happened. He was fortunate in that some dramatic things happened while he was there. For my film, Marilyn wanted the people to reenact a number of things that had happened in the village over the previous five years. The people had a concept of acting things out as they did this through dances in their sing sing celebrations. The men would come home from a big wild boar hunt or a battle and they would dance and tell the stories for their own amusement and so the women would hear what had happened. But, this wasn't quite the same as acting out a scene for a camera.
Marilyn had electricity available from a generator, and she had a 16mm projector. She got hold of a print of the film "Peace Child" which had been shot over in Irian Jaya. She showed this to the people and explained how they had acted things out. Well, these guys thought it was a real hoot because the Irian Jayans dressed and painted themselves up so funny and they thought the way they made canoes was ridiculous. It was all very similar to their own way of doing things, but the differences made them hysterical.
It was to the big room upstairs that the men would come at night and hang out. One night, Marilyn showed "Peace Child" again. Esther and I had heard about it, but had never seen it. A group of fifteen or twenty of the guys watched it with us. They chatted the whole time. They couldn't understand the English, and even in the heavy, serious parts they were pointing, cackling, elbowing each other and laughing. It was really incongruous and funny.
So, these Hauna fellows had said to Marilyn, "We can do a lot better than those guys!" They understood exactly what needed to be done and they really put on the dog for us. They wanted to outdo those Irians! They were hunters and gatherers and everyday they helped us on the film was a day they had less to eat. But they went all out for us. One day, Marilyn distributed rice to everyone helping out from a couple of big sacks. This helped them through the week of filming.
The biggest scene was a reenactment of a "battle" on the river. Actually it was a big ambush. Six or eight big canoes all dressed out in battle decoration were hiding in the weeds. Then a couple of guys came up the river, actually the Sepik tributary that flowed through the village. They were playing the unsuspecting enemies. All the guys decked out in war paint and feathers came full-speed out of the weeds all waving spears in the air and yelling. They chased the two guys in the little canoe up the river, then pretended to spear them. The guys fell in the water. I was using only one camera and there was a lot of action. I asked them to go back down the river and chase the little canoe back up so I could get some different angles to cut together. After about the third time, they came up and were very upset. They told Marilyn that I better stop making mistakes and get it right this time! They would only do it one more time! They were waving spears and yelling, so we agreed absolutely.
Speaking of intimidation, the night before this we had just gotten into Hauna. Long into the night we heard chanting and war drums all around us in the jungle. It was spooky. We found out the next day that the clans had all been practicing for the filming.
I shot some close-ups of the guys getting "speared" in the water. It wasn't very realistic because they were being so careful not to hurt each other. Wounds are very bad news in the tropics; much worse than in drier, cooler climes. An open wound can quickly become ulcerated and you can easily die from infection. Anyway, I asked them to have the two in the water get out of the way and then just spear at the water vigorously thinking that I could get some more realistic action to intercut. Well, they would have none of that. "That's not how it happened!" they said. Okay, okay, forget it. We ended up not trying to pass it off as an actual war scene but as a reenactment for a sing sing day. We were just a little short of having the goods to be convincing.
After the big river scene, they put on a whole sing sing celebration. The men all started out in a line and danced around in a circle, waving knives and spears to show what they had done in battle. More and more joined the line that turned into a spiral and soon there were several hundred guys in all their scary paint and regalia dancing in a huge group that went around and around in a circle chanting and hollering.
The Bolex camera had no provision for sound. In order to gather sounds to be used in the editing later on, I took along a professional cassette recorder and taught Esther how to use it. She faithfully gathered sound effects everywhere I filmed. During the sing sing, somebody grabbed her and said to get good sound she should be out in the middle of the circle. So here was this blonde mop of hair on top of a bright green shirt out in the middle of hundreds of painted, dark guys with spears who were making a huge racket and looked like they were ready to eat somebody at any moment. I had to shoot around her, which wasn't much problem because there was so much going on. She ended up in a few shots and there is actually a frame or two that ended up in the film where you can see her blonde head and part of the green shirt in the upper right of the frame. I think it is cropped out in the video version, but if you look carefully at a film print, you can see her in there!
Coming into Hauna, we had flown in a JAARS Cessna 206 and landed at a catholic mission station up river. It took about an hour by motor canoe to get down to Hauna Village. It was terribly hot and I remember that Marilyn brought a thermos of lemonade for us that was great. She had one of hot coffee for herself. Her theory was that the air would feel cooler compared to the coffee. I didn't buy that. Apparently she hadn't been able to sell anybody else either, so she went ahead and brought lemonade.
By the time we were ready to leave a week later, the river had risen several feet, being the beginning of the wet season, and the airstrip was underwater. We had to go down river in two large dugout canoes with outboard motors of, maybe, twenty or thirty horsepower on them. These canoes were about thirty feet long and would hold maybe ten people each. It was about a seven hour ride to Ambunti where there was an airstrip.
We got up before dawn, got into the canoes, and got going down the river. It was beautiful as the sun came up. Of course, the motors were making a racket. But, just the beauty of the jungle with villages going by combined with the motor noise was such that nobody really said much for several hours. We wimpy white people were sitting in lawn chairs wedged into the canoes. Marilyn was sitting in front of me and Esther was sitting behind me.
After several hours of no talking, several of the guys started chatting in the front of the canoe in Sepik Iwam. After a bit of this I heard Marilyn starting to laugh in front of me. Over her shoulder she told me, "The guys want to know how much you paid for Esther!" When I was in graduate school I owned two motorcycles: A Honda 450 street bike and a Husqvarna 250 motocross bike. I sold both of them in order to buy Esther's diamond ring. So, in response to the question I immediately said, "Tell them I paid two motorcycles." Well, these guys live in an area where the water level rises and falls twenty feet between the rainy season and the dry season. It's all jungle and swamp and river. There are no roads. There is no place where any vehicle with wheels can operate. Most of them had been to one of the central highland towns at some point or another and had seen motorcycles. A couple of them had even ridden one resulting in a dangerous but hilarious story. These guys thought that a motorcycle was the ultimate possession. They said, "We wouldn't give even one motorcycle for any woman!" Their normal bride price was, maybe, a few pigs. They said that Esther must be really special to be worth two motorcycles!
In general, women are not regarded very highly in PNG culture. They are not included in many things. And they work most of the time while the men sit around and socialize in the men's house quite a bit. In the evenings groups of the men would come to visit us in Hauna, but the women never came. They only came around to do work.
The men's house, also known as the spirit house, was a fixture of most PNG villages. At night, the medicine men (or witch doctors or shaman if you prefer) would do their incantations in there and go into trances and such like to call up the spirits. Some pretty weird stuff goes on in there. In the daytime, though, it's an innocuous place. It basically serves as the men's club where they hang out and shoot the bull with each other while the women work. Of course, the guys do the heavy work like cutting down trees and carving canoes, spearing fish, and hunting wild boars. But, they seemed to have a lot more time to goof off than the women, who were constantly mashing sago paste, cooking, tending to children, washing clothes, etc. Just like our culture, I guess.
When women would go out fishing in their canoes, they'd have a little fire and cooking pot going in the canoe to cook the fish immediately. It was a curious sight to see a lady paddling down the river with smoke coming up from the back of her canoe. When I got into editing, I called this the "canoe with blown engine" shot.
Women were never allowed in a spirit house. They would be killed if they set foot inside. No questions asked. This seemed to be a nationwide norm. I'm told that some are painted inside with all kinds of fertility drawings that they don't want the women to see. Their equivalent of the Playboy culture, I guess. But white women don't count. They are somehow considered neuter or something. Marilyn and Esther visited the men's house in Hauna with me. There wasn't much to see. Just a big room in a thatch structure.
There was also a young men's house. It was kind of like a fraternity house. When a boy reached puberty he would live there with the other young men until he got married. Then he'd go to live with his wife's family's house, if I remember it correctly.
The men can get pretty serious about their spirit houses. In one village, I started to take some pictures of one that was very colorfully painted. The chief of the village came out and became very threatening. He didn't want any pictures made of the house. When I asked him if I could take a picture of him and his son, though, he softened and I was able to take all the photos I wanted.
Polygamy was an accepted practice, but didn't seem to be very popular. The consensus I gathered was that it was more trouble than it was worth. Several guys I talked to felt sorry for their friend who had two wives. They said he always had problems.
Christianity has always elevated the status of women wherever it has gone, despite those who believe "submission to your husband" to be degrading. The men who we met who were the most committed and mature Christians also seemed to treat their wives with much more tenderness than the norm. Joel Yebawe, Marilyn's first translation helper, was an example of this.
It was in Papua New Guinea that we met Bill and Sue Cristobal. I met Bill at Ukarumpa at the hanger early on in our trip. Later we caught up with him at Maprik, which up to that time had been called Wyambungee. This is a small SIL base in the Sepik region. They were living there with their newborn first daughter, Jodi. Ukarumpa, by contrast, is a bigger place with a few hundred people at any particular time and you don't get thrown together quite as much. We've kept in touch with Bill and Sue through the years. We've gotten together during their last two furloughs, the first time in Michigan and the next in California as they passed through. We started supporting them about eight years ago.
There was a Hiller helicopter based at Maprik in a little shed on the top of a hill. I shot some footage of Bill taking off and landing there, but we didn't fly out of there. The Hiller has only three seats including the pilot. We took a Toyota Land Cruiser and drove forever to some airstrip when we left there.
We flew one time with a pilot named Dave Mace, who was a Moody graduate. Dave taught us to play hearts, a card game that is a big favorite at Moody, or was when he was in school anyway. One day we were going to shoot in a village near the Irian Jaya border. There were three or four families living in a compound fairly near the airstrip. The idea was to keep them where they could be evacuated quickly because there were ongoing border disputes that could occasionally endanger their lives.
We were going out to a village on the opposite side of a mountain with one of the translators who was quite a brilliant a anthropologist. It was about an eight or ten mile drive in his ancient Toyota Land Cruiser with bald tires. The road was nothing more than a cow path around the base of this mountain. It had huge potholes filled with water and mud. Esther and I were riding along in the front seat and he was driving and waxing quite eloquent about Bible translation, anthropology, the culture of these people and so on. We were having a delightful discussion, but at the same time it was a little strange because he was looking over talking, gesturing, and all the while we were ambling and lurching down this road. It was the most rugged four wheel drive ride I'd been on up to that point. But he was hardly paying any attention to his driving at all. I thought it was kind of funny, but it made Esther get kind of nervous.
About two or three miles from the village, we came to a spot where there had been a mudslide across the road. It covered about fifty or seventy five yards or so of the road and was two or three feet deep. It was slightly downhill and in four-wheel drive we barely made it through.
We shot in this man's village all day long. They had a little tractor in the village (I think it was a Ford) which the translator had gotten along with a portable saw mill to put this village in the lumber business. They would use the tractor to drag logs into the village and then saw them up. They had built a school there and were very proud of the building and all the desks and chairs they had built out of their lumber.
When it came time to leave, we piled into the Land Cruiser again and headed up this hill. The village was in a very hilly area and the road into it went down a very steep ridge. Well, it was so slick that the Land Cruiser started to slide off the road and almost tipped over and rolled down the mountain. It would have gotten into a tangle of jungle, but it still would have rolled once or twice first. But, it barely stopped at about 45 degrees. I piled out the side in a hurry and everyone else came out slowly behind me. They got the tractor fired up but it promptly got stuck even worse than the car. We got around the side of the Cruiser and with the help of some of the village guys manually pushed it back upright and back onto the road. The translator then backed it down the hill.
Alone behind the wheel, he tried several times to get the thing up the hill, but could never make it. Finally one of the New Guinean guys he had taught to drive wanted to try it. This guy got a running start and had the thing screaming wide open in about second gear. I thought he was going to hit a tree or fly off the mountain and kill himself or at least throw a rod in the engine. He was sliding and careening all over the place, mud flying from all four wheels. It appeared to me that he had no concept of the danger he was in or how close he was to dying. He was out of control. In my youngest, most foolhardy days of driving I would never have done what he did. (And I survived some pretty stupid things in cars, but that's another story!) Anyway, much to my surprise, he made it to the top. We all climbed up the hill and got in. Our party of five (or maybe it was six) was a tight fit inside. Then about seven of the village guys climbed on. They were hanging on the sides and the back. None of these people wore shoes. One stood in his bare feet on the trailer hitch ball. Ouch! They were coming along to help push us through the mudslide. As we bounced along, every once in a while one or two would fall off. The others would holler and we'd stop until they ran to catch up and jumped back on.
At the mudslide, now a slightly uphill proposition, we all got out except for the driver. He got a long run at it, but about halfway across the Cruiser sank in to the axles and was good and stuck. The village guys went to work, but it wouldn't budge. Then all of us except Esther waded into the mud and helped, but it was no better. All of us got covered with mud from the spinning wheels. We tried putting saplings and stones in the ruts and digging out in front of the tires but after a couple hours it was obvious that the thing was going nowhere until the tractor could come or the dry season hardened the mud.
It started to get near sundown and the guys all left to go home. They were afraid of evil spirits and didn't want to be in the jungle after dark. So, here we were about eight miles from where we needed to be at night in the jungle. I had two cases of camera equipment with me and a tripod. We could have had more help carrying, but one of the fellows who was going out to the village with the translator misunderstood and thought that they were going to stay for a few days. He had brought a big trunk of stuff, so he had to carry that out. I ended up carrying my camera cases, one in each hand the whole way.
Esther walked barefoot because the mud kept sucking her shoes off. It was a beautiful night and because of the altitude, I guess, there were no mosquitos. It would have been lovely, actually, but for those blasted equipment cases. After a couple of miles my arms began to ache and toward the end I thought my shoulders would pull right out of their sockets. They have never been so sore before or since. About half way when the group got a bit strung out, I remember collapsing with one of the other guys and just laying there on our backs in the middle of the road looking up at the stars. I wanted to just go to sleep right there.
As I recall, it was about 8:00 PM when we started walking. We got back to the station at midnight and within minutes of our getting indoors a huge storm hit and it poured the rest of the night.
In the morning we had to cross a river to get to the airstrip. The day before there had been about a foot of water flowing over the concrete causeway. When we got down to the river the water was about eight or ten feet deep. A rushing torrent. Big trees that had come loose were floating down stream. We had gotten up at about 5:00 AM to make our flying schedule. Well, no one was going to get across that river for a while. We went back to the compound and that's when Dave Mace taught us how to play hearts, which we played all morning long. It was a beautiful day with blue skies. A couple times we heard airplanes fly over and it drove Dave crazy that he couldn't get to his.
By noon the water was down to about three feet or so and we were able to make a human chain across the river. I remember handing camera cases to these New Guinean guys who were strung out across the river and wondering if they were going to get wet or make it at all. But everything got across safely. Then we all waded across ourselves.
They snagged a little Suzuki pickup truck from somebody who came along; a tiny toy of a thing with a two-stroke motor. It sounded like a whiny motorcycle. We got a lift over to the airstrip.
Another day we were flying with another JAARS pilot whose name I can't recall. We flew to another area of the mountains where the PNG jungle camp orientation is run. We shot a few things around there and then one of the wives who lived there made us a lunch. I remember there was a fabulous fruit salad with these tropical fruits that I had never tasted before and have never tasted since. It was out of this world.
Well, in the rainy season it rains every afternoon in Papua New Guinea. And as the rainy season progresses, the rain starts earlier and earlier in the afternoon. With the rain, of course, comes huge thunderstorm buildups that make flying extremely hazardous. Our pilot was enjoying the lunch and the fellowship very much; having a great time. It was getting on towards noon and we knew that we were going to be closed in shortly by the weather. Several people expressed their concern to him and wondered if we should get on our way. Well, he knew exactly how much time he had to get back through the mountain pass we had come through on the way in. He looked at his watch and said, "No, we have fifteen more minutes," or something like that. Then, at the exact minute he said, "Okay, time to go, right now, we gotta go." So, we went back to the airport, loaded up and took off. We headed up into the pass. There were clouds all around. I remember we were only a few hundred feet above ground level as we went through the pass and I looked behind the airplane as we cleared it and the clouds were closing in. Even five or ten minutes later and we would not have made it through. The man's sense of timing and understanding of the weather patterns were either incredibly precise, or he just got lucky that day.
There's another story I remember in Hauna. Marilyn Laszlo, the translator, had told us about some people visiting their village. They brought a prized gift of some roasted grub worms for her. She found herself in one of those uncomfortable social situations where in order to be gracious you have to eat something that is absolutely horrible. These grubs were not little guys like we have in the States. They were about as big as your finger and had segments like a caterpillar. But, she said that they really weren't all that bad. They tasted like smoked sausages. So, when we went to film that story, she had some of the people get some grub worms for her, and she was going to eat them again on camera in order to recreate the scene. She did that, but this time the worms were not cooked nearly as much as the first batch had been. She said they were squishy and as gross as you would imagine them to be. She told me later that she almost upchucked on the spot. We got all this on film, but it really was nauseating. So much so that we ended up not using that footage in the film for fear of making people sick.
Bill flew out in the helicopter and met us at Hauna to get aerial shots of the village. Then he, Marilyn and I flew over to the village that built a church waiting for someone to come to tell them about God. This is the little story that is featured at the end of "Come By Here." As we were returning to Hauna, I spotted a man under us standing in his canoe and paddling along, as is the custom of men in those parts. I started shooting him as we passed. At that Bill said, "Oh, do you want a closer look?" and he cranked around and dove down to the river for another pass very low. Then he banked the helicopter over and headed straight for the trees at the river's edge which he popped up over. I got a little taste of Bill's Vietnam-style flying. He's an incredibly good helicopter pilot. At that time he had about 8,000 hours and that was twelve years ago.
Bill told me a story from his Vietnam experience. At some point during the war or after he read an account in a military magazine about a particular battle in which by some quirk of chance an enlisted man and his officer son ended up fighting together. The son was killed during the action. When the helicopter lifted off carrying his son's body away, the father was seen standing at attention and saluting. Bill realized that he had been flying that helicopter and had wondered why the sergeant had saluted him during the takeoff.
One thing that struck me about the Wycliffe people we saw in PNG was the diversity of the group. At the church services in Ukarumpa there were of course New Guineans and Americans and Australians, but there was also represented many different denominational backgrounds. There was everything from bonnetted Mennonites to hand waving charismatics. And all seemed to get along together with a wonderful spirit.
Wycliffe folks do not consider themselves to be church planters, though churches usually spring up in areas where they provide the Bible in the mother tongue. Their policy is to cooperate with whatever mission group is active in an area. Having recently been a student at Bob Jones University and under the influence of their very narrow oppinions of what is acceptable affiliation, I was momentarily taken aback by a tiny "official" certificate in the Hauna church that declared it to be Assembly of God or something along that line. Then I got to thinking that these people had no concept of the petty disputing between American fundamentalists and evangelicals and the subgroups of each. All they knew was that Jesus had died to save them from sin and they wanted to praise, worship, and serve Him. All that squabbling back home seemed so far away and meaningless. I have never taken any of it very seriously since and pity those who waste their time and energy in that mire. That is not to say that there are no issues of theology I would go to the wall for. But the real battle lines are far removed from the fighting that goes on at places like BJU. (In my humble, but accurate opinion!)
One Mennonite lady and her daughters invited us over to their place one evening and taught us to play Dutch Blitz, a game our family has enjoyed ever since. Another family had us over for dinner and offered the use of one of their motorcycles. Esther and I made several trips into town on it and had fun exploring around a bit. The man who owned the bike was there working on vehicle maintenance. He was a body shop guy and referred to himself as a "panel beater."
I rode one day with the two sons and we went out to the little track the young guys had laid out. I had the dad's bike, which was the biggest, so the racing wasn't very fair. I felt bad because one of the boys fell and hurt himself. I had let the competitive urge reign and I think I pushed him a little too hard.
I drove a right-side drive car for the first time at Ukarumpa. I don't believe I've driven another one since. It belonged to Kirk Franklin's dad, who was the director for PNG at the time. Kirk was a liaison for us and also the still photographer on the project.
While we were in the guest house, Dr. & Mrs. Ken Pike were staying there as well. We had some spirited discussions about the use of film technology and the portrayal of things that were going on there. As I recall we had some small disagreement on some point of the philosophy of it all, but it was all very civil and friendly. I had no idea at the time who he was. Turns out he's probably the brightest shining star linguist ever to be involved with Wycliffe. He's highly respected in their ranks. He ran a service one night that featured the high school kids and everyone seemed to love him. He's very animated when he gets going. I've heard that he does a wonderful demonstration of linguistic technique for learning a new language when you have nothing to go by but people who speak only that language.
When we first got to Ukarumpa, we found out that we were in the middle of a political football game and we were the football. The Wycliffe U.S. Home Division wanted another film on Marilyn Laszlo very badly. She was very dynamic and popular with the supporters. We found out, though, that like most people who try new things and push the envelope, she had her share of detractors. These included a majority, it seemed, of the leadership of the Papua New Guinea Branch of Wycliffe. They didn't like her style.
Some of the anthropologists thought her methods to be manipulative and therefore wrong. Seems they had a problem with westerners coming in and changing the culture. I could never figure out how they thought the Word of God wouldn't change a culture. Others criticized her development programs as being non-representative of what Wycliffe does because the large funding she had due to her notoriety in the States allowed her to do things that no one else could afford to do. In any case, some of the Australian leadership in particular, it seemed, were just plain ornery fellows who didn't like her rocking the boat. Or maybe it was because she was a woman. Or maybe they were jealous. Who knows? Bottom line was that we had a problem.
We were there to gather footage from all over PNG, but primarily our mission was to make a film about Hauna Village; Marilyn's village. The PNG branch leadership were not at all happy about another film being made featuring Marilyn. When they caught on that this was what we were really there for, they called me in for a chat. This was all a bit of a shock. I was sweating it. They seemed to want to grill somebody.
In the end they were gracious, because I was an outsider. Kirk's dad realized we were unwittingly caught in the middle. They ended up letting us proceed because our church at home had put up $10,000.00 to get us there and get the film shot. I'm sure that if the funding hadn't come in this way and/or if we had been members of the organization, the plug would have been pulled on the whole project. In fact, after post-production was almost completed back home, I recall there was a long-distance effort by somebody over there to squash it. By then it was too late. The U.S. Home Division people would have none of it and the film premiered at the big Urbana missions conference run by Inter Varsity. Marilyn Laszlo was a keynote speaker that year.
That premiere was a little story itself. I had been working day and night to get the film ready in time. I recall that I had been up for three days and two nights working on the final preparations to get the film into the lab. I was hallucinating as I slowly drove the mile or so home to our little apartment. As I pulled in the driveway, I thought I saw our beloved cat run under the wheels of the car and I really lost it. I came into the little apartment above Mrs. Baughman's garage distraught and raving. I really came unglued. Esther tried to calm me down. She looked outside and there was the cat, still sitting peacefully in the yard. She put me to bed and I slept all day and all night. That was the longest push I ever did with no sleep. Nowdays just one all-nighter wipes me out for about a week.
After a few days of rest while the lab cut the original and struck a print, it was the day for the showing at Urbana. I picked up the print as soon as it was ready and my dad drove Esther and I down to the University of Illinois. We were doing okay until a huge freight train held us up for about a half hour or so. We had some trouble finding the right building. When we finally got there, they had lost hope for us and had started showing "Mountain of Light," the earlier film about Marilyn and Hauna village. When we showed up, they stopped the projector. There were probably six hundred students crammed into a lecture room made for about half that many. Marilyn was sitting down front. When she saw us, she gave us big hugs and everybody cheered. They ran "Come By Here" and it was a hit.
I had recorded people in Hauna singing various songs to use as background in the film. One happened to be "Cum by ya," the campfire favorite. I remembered that it meant, "come by here." That idea fit perfectly with the end of the film, so I used it there. In the final stages of narration recording, I suggested to Claude Bowen and Marilyn that either "Cum By Ya" or "Come By Here" would make a good title. We settled on "Come By Here" and wrote it into the ending narration at the last minute. It turned out to be simple, but powerful.
By the way, I'm not telling the stories here that are in the film. I'm assuming that you can get hold of it on video and watch it. Those stories are much better in the film than I could tell them on paper.
Back to PNG. We shot quite a bit of stuff around Ukarumpa. In the print shop, at church services, etc. A few rolls of this stuff featuring one young New Guinean fellow singing and working disappeared somehow. Either I lost them along the way or the lab lost them. It was a mystery. I was supposed to make a film out of the "module" stories we shot all over PNG, but it never happened for lack of a good script idea. I tried to put it together in a rough "a day in the life of a jungle pilot" structure featuring Bill Cristobal. I even shot Bill's college roommate and pal Franklin Graham (Billy's son) at the Graham Center at Wheaton College doing an introduction. But there wasn't much interest in this and no funding, so it never was finished. Years later the communications folks at Wycliffe HQ in Huntington Beach, California asked me for the footage and I shipped it all out to them. I think they may have put some of it on video and used it some way. I seem to remember giving Bill Cristobal a video copy of a very rough transfer of the work print. He may have gotten some use out of it.
I remember that Kirk Franklin was very big on a New Guinean fellow named David Gela who was the director of the PNG national Bible translation organization. They called it the Bible Translation Association, or BTA. We shot some stuff of him. This was one of my first exposures to an attempt to nationalize a ministry.
On another outing I went with Jim Parlier to his village in the mountains. He had been on furlough for a year and this was his first time back. There wasn't room for Esther, so she stayed at Ukarumpa. Jim was finished, or almost finished with the Monagolasi New Testament. Jim, Kirk, and I were invited to dinner at the home of Jim's translation helper who was a prominent citizen. That night we walked through the village. It was eerie as the whole village was enveloped in a cloud. There was no light at all except from our flashlights and the cooking fires that could be seen through an open hut doorway here and there. But people were talking and there were disembodied voices all over.
No women or children were present at the dinner, though curious kids peeked through the doorway once in a while. We sat on the floor of the hut. There were no furnishings of any kind. The meal was the driest I have ever eaten. There were several kinds of yams, one of which was purple and kind of sweet. They grow a dozen or so varieties in the PNG highlands. We also had corn on the cob that tasted dehydrated. Also there were some kind of bitter greens. There was no butter, no spice, and nothing to drink. Not even water. It was a gagging experience to choke it down, but the fellowship was warm and I really enjoyed the time. Afterward we were served hot tea. It was wonderful just because it was wet. I could have drunk a half-gallon, but had to be content with one cup.
Jim Parlier took a fancy to airplanes as he rode in them during his years as a translator. I heard that he wanted to get aviation training and return as a pilot. Don't know if he ever did.
We bought some souvenirs around Ukarumpa. Some carved masks and a few decorative spears. The spears are made in two pieces that are bound together in the middle. Especially for tourists to take home. I also bought a big bunch of arrows that someone had brought to Ukarumpa from their far-off village. As I recall I paid a nickel a piece for them. I also got a few pencil holders carved from big bamboo and a bilum, or woven string bag which is the universal carry-all in Papua New Guinea. We also got a miniature of a drum they carve out of logs. It's played by hitting it with a rod not like we would use a drum stick, but by ramming the end of the rod into the side of the drum.
These things were all purchased for Kina, the colorful PNG currency. You find the vendors along the roadsides near towns. The trade language is Pidgen English, so it's not too hard to pick up enough words to be able to haggle. I still say "ha mas?" to Esther when asking how much something costs.
At some point in transit by car, we stopped by a crocodile farm. Unfortunately it was closed at the time, but we saw hundreds of the critters through the fence. We tossed some cookies we had over the chain link to try to get them to move. The cookies would bounce off the animals and they would just sit there like statues. Finally one of them decided he wanted to sample a cookie and up he went on his feet and went like a shot after it. It was startling to see him go from stone still to lightning fast in the blink of an eye. A few others eventually moved into the water or whatever. They are strange and fascinating creatures.
Speaking of crocodiles, something far more dangerous has been let loose in Papua New Guinea. Kirk Franklin has sent us his prayer letters for years and one a few years back spoke to the issue of the influence of mass media on tribal people. He said that violent and pornographic movies from the west were having a devastating effect. He said that it seemed in every little village, somebody would somehow manage to get a generator, a TV, and a VCR and every little trade store out in the boondocks was starting to rent videos. In a culture where people run around naked, things like rape and domestic violence were practically unknown. After the video invasion there was a dramatic increase in this kind of crime. Kirk made the appeal that we need to use these powerful tools for good. I appeal for the same thing.
We flew out of Moresby to Brisbane, Australia on Quantas. Esther was very tired and got sick during the flight. I got some medicine for her, but she was still miserable. I was enjoying the meal and all of a sudden she was throwing up all over everything. End of meal. It was a mess. She was so embarrassed, poor thing.
We had to clear customs at Brisbane. We were the first ones off the plane and the last ones to get through customs. They were very pleasant and smiled the whole time, but they went through everything. I think we looked like drug smugglers or something after a month in the jungle. I hadn't shaved the whole time in PNG and I looked like a real dirt bag. We had hundreds of little tin cans of 100 ft. 16mm film rolls that must have looked very suspicious. Then they said one of my spears had borer holes in it and they wanted to confiscate it. They cheerfully said they'd burn it for me! I said "no way!" They then said they'd have it fumigated if I'd pay the postage to have it shipped to me afterwards. So I gave them a few dollars and the thing caught up with us in Sydney just before we left for the States.
Because of all the delay we were pressed to make the Anset connection to Sydney. It was in the domestic terminal about one quarter mile away. We had all our gear and there was no way to walk and make it in time. We jumped into a taxi and I believe it was $25 to go that quarter mile. The guy saw us coming and had no mercy.
We had a delightful week in Sydney with old family friends Les and Martha Nixon. Martha took us to a concert at the Opera House one evening. Les took me to an airplane dedication a little ways from Sydney one hot afternoon. (It's summer there in January, don't you know.) We flew with a friend of Les' in the man's Beechcraft Bonanza. He had some trouble with the brakes and I recall waiting around the airport for a couple hours or so as they replaced the brake pads. This was the V-tail version of the Bonanza and in the hot, thermally air over the desert landscape we experienced the classic Bonanza yaw dance. The thing would sway from side to side constantly and there was no way to stop it. It eventually made me start getting motion sickness nausea.
Nixon's middle son, John, took Esther and I for an outing down the coast south of Sydney. Gorgeous country. John borrowed an extra board and tried to teach me to surf. It was a short, high performance model designed for experts, and I didn't do too well. I couldn't stand up for more than a few seconds, but I had fun riding in on my belly. The surf there is powerful and the undertow in a couple of places just about did me in.
The water and sun made me get really hungary on my outings with John. He introduced me to Australian fast food: Chinese dim sum and chico rolls. I developed a ravenous appetite for them during that week.
All too soon it was time to leave Australia. As I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, we had an enjoyable week in Hawaii on the way back. Did a lot of the tourist things. I really wanted to get over to Kuwai, but the flight cost too much. Anything costs too much when you have no money! Ohau is disappointing after seeing Hawaii depicted in travel posters as a tropical paradise. You have to get to Kuwai or Maui for that. But we had a great time visiting the Arizona memorial, the Dole pineapple factory and wandering through the endless tourist shops. And, of course, laying on the beach. We also had a wonderful Italian dinner with some friends of my parents who lived there.
Just in case you are planning a trip to Hawaii for the first time, I'll mention here that Waikiki is a great tourist trap, if you're into that kind of thing, but it's a really lousy place to go swimming. The shallows are full of coral and even wading is difficult. I almost lost my brand-new wedding ring there. It slipped off my finger and into the water. Somehow I managed to see a shiny reflection down in the coral and after several reaches was able to retrieve it. I had it sized down as soon as we got home.
Work on the editing of the film was interrupted by film shoots for Bethel College in Minneapolis and a six week trip shooting in Taiwan and China. When the film was finally finished, Wycliffe ordered something like seventy or eighty 16mm prints. (This was in the days before video cassettes became common.) Then they ordered more to total about 140 prints. A few years later it became inconvenient for me to take care of their print orders, so I turned over all the materials and rights to Wycliffe in Huntington Beach. I don't know if they ever ordered more prints. I do know that the Chicago area office in Oak Brook had about 40 prints. Bob Beaversdorf, who worked in that office, called me about three years after the film was in circulation to say that most of their prints had been booked in churches every Sunday since. That's a lot of showings! That little film, the first thing I did out of school, has probably gotten more exposure than anything I've ever made. I run into people all the time who have seen it.
The story I was told when we started into the project was that for several years Wycliffe was just maintaining parity in the number of translators on the field. They lost about as many to health problems or retirement or whatever as they gained each year in new recruits. They had a goal of getting ahead by 400 translators. This was the impetus behind making the film. Two or three years after the film was finished, I was told that the recruiting goal had been met. The film was credited with having a lot to do with that.
At some point, unknown to me, someone in Huntington Beach entered the film in the Religion In Media (RIM) festival that is sponsored at least in part by Dale Evans Rogers. The thing won first place in it's class, the "Angel" award. The only film that won overall above it that year was "Ghandi." Bernie May, director of the U.S. Home Division at the time, was urged to attend the awards presentation banquet to accept the award. He really didn't want to take the time but reluctantly went. It turned out to be a big deal and he had to go up and make a little speech and all. He was surprised at how much was made over it. Claude Bowen called me weeks later and mentioned it. I was happy that the film had won, but was incredulous and just a little put out that nobody from Huntington Beach had called at the time to let me know about it. Since I made it, I thought of it as "my" film. They obviously claimed it as their own. I guess that means I did a good job.
The award was put on display in the lobby of the Huntington Beach headquarters building. We visited there once years later, but I don't recall whether or not I saw it. Seems I may have. Looks good in my resume though!
Other rewards were far more important to me. One time in Dayton some friends of ours wanted us to meet some friends of theirs who were going with Wycliffe. These folks had done all their linguistic training, had their support raised and were ready to leave for the field. We all got together for a little bar-b-que one evening. When this couple found out that I had made "Come By Here," they were really surprised and excited. They told us that seeing that film was what made them decide to become Bible translators! That was an awesome peek at what God had been doing through that little film.
Just this last year my father-in-law told me something that kind of stunned me. When the film was first made he just loved it and asked me if he could have a copy. I got him a 16mm print and later a video copy. After over thirty years planting churches on the island of Curacao, he has been the Southeast area representative for TEAM, The Evangelical Alliance Mission. He speaks in lots of mission conferences and loves to show the film. He still uses it to this day and tells me about the showings from time to time. Well, the news he told me was that in the years to date he has had over 250 decisions for Christ and for full-time missionary service as a result of the film showings. This is just one man who works with another mission board! That number alone was a zinger to me.
Then I started thinking about the hundreds of other prints and video copies that have been circulating for over a decade. I'll never know until heaven what the accounting is in terms of lives effected directly or through the ministries of missionaries who were nudged into service by the film, but I've seen enough little "peeks" at the results to believe that the ramifications are staggering. There is no way I or anyone, except maybe Billy Graham, could have such an impact on a personal basis. It really demonstrates the power of mass media tools when produced and used effectively. Sometimes when I've been discouraged about my work and ministry, I look back and think that if I never did anything with my training and career of experience except for making that one film, it would all have been worth it.
But, of course, it's not healthy to rest on laurels. I've been pushing on, trying to use what God has entrusted to me as effectively as possible to influence the world for Christ. Sometimes that path leads to the back side of the desert, the way it did for Moses, and I wonder "What in the world am I doing here?" But God continues to work out his great plan for this world and I am trying to follow the small part He has for me to play in it. "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Eph. 2:10) To God be all the glory.
Copyright ©1998 by Dan Philgreen - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED