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Friday, June 1, 2012

What in the World Am I Doing in This PhD Program!?

This past school year has been an exciting (and demanding) time of discovery.  The purpose of this post is to briefly share the results of my first year in the Fuller School of Intercultural Studies PhD program as it relates to how I’ve shaped my research design.

The motivation that drove me to this study program springs from my experience in Papua New Guinea (PNG).  When I lived among the Wantoat language group I observed a pattern that I think is typical of many communities in PNG.  The mother-tongue language is very much alive, and it is the primary language used in most domains of life by all age groups.  Even in the church it is the preferred language for announcements, much of the singing and informal conversation.  Scripture reading, however, always occurs in a different language, even though vernacular Scriptures are available.

I know that many factors are at play in such a situation, ranging from sociolinguistic dynamics to literacy/orality issues, etc.  Wayne Dye has done a great job of categorizing the variables that affect vernacular Scripture Use.  The nature of a  PhD program, however, is not to address every aspect of a problem but to narrowly focus on a discrete portion of the situation that can be studied through the gathering and analysis of data.

My research will focus on divergent concepts of revelation in the PNG context and especially the effect this divergence has upon perceptions of vernacular Scripture.  In traditional PNG culture people gain access to spiritual knowledge (i.e. spiritual revelation) through such means as ritual, magic, dreams, etc.  Well-intentioned western missionaries entered this context and said, “We want to share the most important spiritual knowledge of all!”  Then, they introduced people to The Book.  I will use theories and methods from the discipline of cognitive anthropology to try and better understand the results of this mismatch in perceptions of how to gain spiritual revelation.  My hypothesis is that the concept (i.e. schema) of vernacular is associated with traditional views of revelation and that the concept of Scripture is associated with western views of revelation.  The result is that the idea of “vernacular Scripture” combines two things that are not normally combined in the thinking (i.e. cognitive environment) of many Papua New Guineans.  This mismatch causes the concept of vernacular Scriptures to have little relevance or meaning in the PNG context, contributing to its lack of use.

My PhD mentor, Dan Shaw, has written about the importance of communicating with people in a way that makes sense to them.  Dan’s background in cognitive anthropology and his long-time expertise in Bible translation and Papua New Guinea will guide my research.  An anthropologist at the University of California San Diego campus has also written articles that significantly influence my thinking.  Joel Robbins worked among the Urapmin people of PNG.  He notes that in traditional Urapmin culture only concrete action (e.g. ritual or the exchange of materials goods, etc.) has the ability to produce real change in the spiritual world.  This leads the Urapmin to doubt the efficacy of mere words.  (Here and here are links to two of his articles and a section of one of his books)  I think something similar is happening among the Wantoat and within many communities in PNG, where vernacular Scripture does not seem to have a meaningful role in congregational life.

The population I'll focus on is Bible school students in PNG.  The reason for this is because in my experience among the Wantoat and other communities in PNG, I have observed that it is the leadership of the local pastors that has a tremendous amount of influence on the use of vernacular Scriptures.  Other research also supports this observation.  I have worked to increase the use of vernacular Scriptures by local pastors, but I know that their attitudes and habits have been shaped significantly by their church training.  So I would like to find out more about what is going on in that environment that affects their perceptions of the role of vernacular Scriptures in the church.

I am excited about the opportunity to study this problem more fully.  The further I get into this PhD program the more motivated I become to play my part in furthering the ministry of Bible Translation in PNG.  I know that the road will be full of both rewards and seasons of feeling overwhelmed.  I am also aware that my research will not magically solve all the problems related to Scripture use in PNG.  But if the Lord will allow me and my family to serve Him by more clearly understanding how He has created my Papua New Guinean brothers and sisters and how to more effectively promote the use of His Word in the PNG context, then I’m ready to keep moving forward!

Recent Photo Albums

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Kids - Spring 2012

Some family pictures from spring 2012

Visit from Becca's Mom

We celebrated Easter with Becca's Mom. Becca and the kids also joined her in visiting ministry partners in Arizona (where they saw the Grand Canyon) and around the Los Angeles area (where they enjoyed the beach).


Visiting Legoland with Uncle David and Aunt Valerie and cousins.

Wesley's First Birthday

Friday, February 17, 2012

Anna's birthday party

Anna turned 8 years old on February 11!

She requested a "castle" cake with Cinderella inside
One of the games we played was "pin the jewel on the crown".

We also played "find the lost princess slipper".

Joshua's basketball lessons

In January Joshua joined a local community basketball team.

The name of the team is "Mighty Mights"!
He loves having a team jersey!

One of the most rewarding parts of the experience has been watching Joshua learn new skills that he thought he would never accomplish... like dribbling!

Kids playing together

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fall Carnival

Every year around October our community here in Ukarumpa celebrates “carnival”.  It is kind of like a fall festival or state fair, except that there are no falling leaves or cool days.  It is simply our attempt to create some great fun with the resources we have!  It is also a fundraiser for local ministries.  Anna and Joshua loved carnival this year.  Here are some of their favorite moments.

Joshua enjoyed the pony ride.

Anna was a brave girl and went on the “Ferris Wheel” with Daddy.

Our cute little butterfly/poodle and our ferocious tiger!

Water gun fight!

Slip-sliding on the water slide

Sharing a milkshake at the end of the day

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Anna on the waterslide at Carnival


Joshua on the waterslide at Carnival


Anna and Joshua enjoying a milkshake at the end of Carnival


Scenes from Malaysia

In October Danny attended the World Wide Scripture Engagement Consultation (WWSEC) in Melacca, Malaysia.  Over 250 participants from more than 100 organizations were there to discuss how to encourage deeper engagement with God’s Word.

One of the greatest benefits of the conference was discussing with colleagues about strategies and methods that are working well in their part of the world.  It will be exciting to share these ideas with co-workers back in Papua New Guinea and implement some of them here!

A “bonus” feature of the conference was the opportunity to see Becca’s brother, David Federwitz.  He is involved with Scripture Engagement in Ghana.  We took a rickshaw ride around the historical downtown of Melacca.

After the conference was over, David and Danny took a day to see the sights in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia.

It was intriguing to see the contrast of soaring skyscrapers huddled right next to older buildings.

It was also interesting to see the contrast of road-side fruit stands.

And then a few blocks away there was a “mega digital mall”, with six stories of nothing but electronics gear.

These are the Petronas Towers at night.  They are currently considered the second highest buildings in the world.

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sports Day

Anna is loving Kindergarten!  A big event for her recently was Sports Day, where all the kids participate in different sporting events.  The students are divided into two teams: red and yellow.

On the way to school with friends Jasmine and Tangi

Waiting with Tia… braids seem to be the style for Sports Day.

“I’m a little confused about this stretching thing.”

Off and running…

“My first ribbon ever.  Can you tell how proud I am?!”

The whole kindergarten class

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Training future pastors

Danny led a team to one of the largest Bible schools in Papua New Guinea, where they taught about the value of mother-tongue Scriptures and how to use them in church ministry.

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Happy Birthday Cedar and Brent

Some of our good friends recently had birthdays in their family.  You may remember prayer requests we sent out earlier this year about our friend Steven Ttopoqogo, who was in a serious car accident.  He has recovered amazingly well.  Two of his boys, Cedar and Brent, had birthdays recently.  It was fun to have them over for a party.

“Brent and I are both three years old now!”

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Our big school girl!

On July 22nd Anna started her first day of Kindergarten.

"Ready for my first day of school!"

All excited

A supportive brother

Getting right to work

Kindergarten is a busy place.

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