By Jack Crabtree
I'm part of a church-planting team to the Wantakia people of Papua New Guinea. These guys number around five thousand and live high up in the central mountain range of the country. On my first trip into Wantakialand, our team decided that in one day we'd hike from Simogu, the southern most village, to Pinji, the northernmost. Did I mention these people live in the mountains?
Before landing in Simogu, I had spent the last three months learning the trade language...at sea level. Now I was landing at 4800 feet with a plan to hike for seven hours to a village at 6500 feet. Ouch. After overnighting in Simogu, we were up with sun and hiking. The first ten minutes were actually downhill, and I thought, "Hmmm, this downhill stuff might be harder on my legs than the uphill."
In the next 45 minutes we ascended more than 1,000 feet. Altitude sickness hit me like a prizefighter, and I thought I was going to pass out, puke, and soil my Exofficios simultaneously. I sat down on the trail, feeling completely overwhelmed, helpless, and humbled.
A dreadful refrain rebounded in my brain, "We have six more hours of this? There's no way." Finally, I prayed, "Lord, however you're going to get me through this...do it. Please. I'm not enough for this."
Then one of my teammates yelled down, "Jack, you want a Zofran?" Thank God for teammates! I popped one of those, and within minutes my nausea went away and my Exofficios remained safe. My legs and lungs, however, were still burning as our climb continued.
As the hours went by, all the backpacking gimmicks I’d ever seen flashed before my eyes…actually I didn't make it past the shoes…spiked lumberjack shoes, barefoot shoes, five-finger shoes, and ultralight everything…I was wishing for any hiking gimmick out there. Anything was worth a try, if it would help me make it through this hike. “Give me that energy goo; I’ll try anything.”
People have been climbing mountains for a long long time, without modern gimmicks, and what I was actually most in need of was something very foundational: proper physical training and conditioning. Then I thought about the Wantakians and other unreached people groups. They live their lives in fear of the spirits; in fear of someone working magic on them and sending sickness or death their way. Fear dominates their lives, and they’re looking for any kind of answer.
There’s a lot of gimmicky stuff in western Christianity that we could throw at them, but what they really need are the foundations: God’s Word in their language and teaching that comes straight from it. Our goal is to see a mature church planted among the Wantakian people, and we have a huge responsibility as church planters. Are we handing out western gimmicks and spiritual fads, or are we offering them something substantial that will prepare them for the climb ahead?