By Nikki Wheeler
Mission Partner in Papua New Guinea
Kapuna, in the swampy jungle isolated bush, has a captivating nature to it – life is more simple. We thirst for rain if there hasn’t been any for a few days because we are conscious of how much water we use on a daily basis and how the tank water levels are slowly dropping. And there is a palpable relief when the humidity reaches its peak and the skies open and the droplets start falling. The cool it brings is a relief, as well as the sound of water rushing off our steel rooves into the pipes leading to the water tanks. I find myself pausing every time by the window mesmerized by the sight of water rushing into the tanks.
Harvesting fruit you have planted and watched grow for months is not uncommon to many of you in NZ and, when it allows the family to have fresh food at lunch time, I appreciate the process of growth and how valuable each piece is.
We had a wonderful time back in Wellington connecting with all our amazing supporters and prayer warriors and meeting our two new nephews for the first time. We were blessed to fill our love tanks and fuel tanks before heading back to PNG, quite a few kg heavier in all cases! The response of our PNG friends when they saw Scott with a bit of extra weight ‘on board’ was hilarious. Culturally they celebrate being more well-rounded as a sign of wealth and being able to feed your family, so Scott’s tummy was openly celebrated by all we saw. Of course, this is quite an uncomfortable experience from our Western viewpoint!
We were welcomed back with open arms and rushed straight into work! I’m not sure we have sat still since the dinghy arrived (February Nikki is nodding!). The kids settled back into their friendship groups and school classes quickly and we are now nearing the end of the school year so they are preparing for their exams.
The shop work here for me (Nikki) is taking a life of its own. Within this last year a computerised system has been introduced to assist with stock taking and also an EFTPOS system. This is because with the upgrade of the hospital some of the staff can now be paid by the government electronically instead of in cash through the hospital funds/lack of, and so we now need a way for staff to access bank accounts. There are no banks in the jungle! So EFTPOS is trying its best in the shop. The poor internet makes this system only functional for 1hr per day which has its own challenges, but we’re getting there.
There are a lot of volunteers leaving Kapuna this month and next as the hospital rebuild has come to a close. This leaves many gaps, some of which are being filled with some local staff however there are some roles which need people with higher levels of education to fill. We are in need of someone with accounting skills to help straighten up and manage the finance system for Gulf Christian Services and also someone who can work beside me in the shop and who can be trained up to take over when we leave. There is also a need for more teachers here for our Kapuna Life School, so please pray about it if you have a nudging for this kind of adventure (and get in touch with NZCMS!). Don’t be put off by all my stories of spiders. I’ll issue evacuation notices to all offenders if they are a deal breaker for you!
We had a cool weekend trip recently to a village nearby, Ubuo, which is three hours by boat). One of our friends who does Bible translation with S.I.L. has spent seven years living and working with a particular language group and has successfully translated the Gospel of Luke into the Kope language. It was wonderful being part of celebrating the dedication of this book and knowing that these people will now be able to hear the stories of Jesus in their heart language. S.I.L. works mainly in Bible translation but we also have friends creating teaching resources in one of the local languages. This is the first time kids can be taught with resources in their mother tongue.
We went to a youth convention in a neighbouring village largely organised by Kapuna. This is partially to encourage youth in the area to focus their attention on wholesome things and Christian virtues prior to the school holidays when many people and bad influences come back to the villages from Port Moresby and risk leading them astray. Scott shared with the people several times across the event and came back very encouraged by the response by the Youth. There was a similar convention for the men in the region earlier in the month, hoping to strengthen them as good leaders and role models in their families. Domestic violence and witchcraft are still major issues facing the people as well substance abuse so positive responses to these Christian events is very encouraging!
On the home front, it is lovely to be back in our house. I never get tired of looking at the silhouette of the coconut trees against the sunset in the evening and watching the plants grow fast in the heat and humidity. Gardening is very hot and hard work, but very satisfying.
Abby had a fall in October and fractured her wrist (both the distal ulna and radius) and I feel very grateful to be at a hospital where we could run around, just as the power was going out, and find the medical team who could X-ray her wrist and plaster it. Blessed to have some Plaster of Paris, but unfortunately it was poor quality and went soft every few days so we needed to repeat the plastering much more often than you should need to. All seems to be healing well so far.This is where November Nikki stopped and hasn’t come up for air since!
As I read back I see that I mentioned that a lot of volunteers were leaving at the end of the hospital rebuild. That there is the main reason we’ve been so busy. Less people on the ground, as I said, fewer with education levels high enough to manage the jobs the involve spreadsheets, computers and cash flow issues. We are doing our best to train local people up into these roles but it’s hard with such low levels of education. You can see why having a good school here is so crucial. Thank you to those who have given money to support Kapuna Life School. Most of the teachers have been away until this week and so we will discuss the ‘pig project’ with them to ensure their buy in before we start building pig pens! There is also talk of building a library to encourage the kids to read some books that have been donated over the years instead of sitting moulding in a corner. So growth is ahead for education for the Gulf! Praise God.
The Christmas holidays allow many people in Kapuna to return to their home villages around the Gulf which is important for them but leaves Kapuna low in numbers. Scott and I become the village engine room in most areas – refilling fuel tanks for the dinghies late at night, keeping the internet functioning, troubleshooting when keys travelled out of Kapuna when they shouldn’t have – all sorts! Thankfully the hospital still had sufficient medical staff that we weren’t called in to help with surgery!
In a nutshell, we have been very busy and I’ve personally found it stretched me very thin. The kids have been left alone at home for many weeks while we’ve been at work, so we have had a period of wrestling with this with our amazing NZCMS support crew and we have some plans for how to better care for our family rhythms in this year ahead.
Scott has many projects this year to help Kapuna, the local villages as well as the other GCS Hospital, Kikori with; toileting, solar energy systems and building projects. He is still helping with the sewing class and keeping the Days for Girls project running. To help support him and the kids I will need to downsize my role in the shop a bit (this is what we are working on) which is tricky as we are the only shop in this area. It’s not like you can go to New World or the dairy if Countdown is closed. So I feel a big pressure and responsibility to keep things functioning for the wider community but need to preserve myself and our family too.
This is a prayer point please for us as we navigate this and then also hope to recruit someone to support me and then take over from me next year. This will be our final year in Kapuna so we want to set things up well for the future and can see many areas for improvement and better systems but we need the right people. This place has been blessed by God and has grown gradually, and the hospital has helped so many people for decades. We know His plans are good for those who love Him and this is a place where amazing things are happening in His name and lives in this tough place are being turned around for good. Please join us in praying for the right decisions and steps guided by His plan and not ours.
One benefit of this email being so delayed is I can update you only a few paragraphs after you found out that Abby’s arm is completely healed! We are fortunate to be here with the X-ray machine that we could regularly monitor the healing and recast/brace as needed along the way despite terrible casting materials.
We have been really healthy after our stint in NZ, I think the good food boosted our immune systems! We are now in watermelon and pineapple season, so that’s good for the body, mind and soul! I have successfully grown nine full sized watermelons myself and we are harvesting almost one pineapple a day from our garden. It is so rewarding to literally be getting fruits from my labour!
Please keep us and Kapuna in your prayers. We will be having a short break out of Kapuna soon to rest and recuperate, then back into the new school term, new classes and teachers and more challenges, but we pray for strength that comes from the well that never runs dry.
Thanks for loving and supporting us and Kapuna.
From Nikki, Scott, Isaac, Abby and Levi Wheeler