I recently received a message from the “Land of the Unexpected.”
That’s the nickname for Papua New Guinea, a tropical country near Australia, where my dad used to be a missionary and I went adventuring back in the 1980s.
The message was from Leslie Minduwa, 65, a pastor in the coastal town of Wewak.
He initially wrote in Pidgin, but fortunately I remembered enough of the language to translate:
“Hey Brother! Good morning to you and your wife. I’m asking if you can help publicize in your newspaper some things my school needs. Thank you, brother. God be with you.”
Leslie, who is also fluent in English, went on to ask if I could round up some Abeka curriculum schoolbooks to send him.
“I have started early childhood classes and elementary school here and it has been very helpful to the children, but very limited resources as we borrowed a few copies from some missionaries,” he wrote.
I put out the word, and a friend from my church, Dana Freeman, donated lots of Abeka books she had used homeschooling her kids. My cousin Ronnie Volentine of Amite County made a generous contribution to the effort as well.
Angelyn and I sorted and weighed the books: 55 pounds. Then I called the post office to find out what it would cost to ship them surface, as I used to do when Dad was in New Guinea 40 years ago. Surface might take a few months but was affordable.
I was shocked to learn there is no more surface mail through the post office. The U.S. Postal Service partners with Fed-Ex to ship overseas via air only. And for this shipment, the postage would be $750. Yes, $750 to mail 55 pounds of used school books!
I checked with UPS, but it doesn’t ship to New Guinea, Another company wanted to charge me $1 just to find out what its rates would be.
I even tried calling Abeka for advice but couldn’t get through to a person.
Next I messaged missionary David Sitton for advice. David, who now lives in Texas, introduced me to Leslie in 1985.
David suggested finding someone planning either to go over there or to send a shipping container — a long shot, to say the least.
Land of adventure
I met David in 1981 when I traveled to Papua New Guinea to visit Dad. David and I made a long trek to a remote mountain tribe and barely got out with our lives.
In 1985, I returned for more adventure, and this time Leslie joined us on a long trek in the wild mountains east of Telefomin.
In 1991, David brought Leslie here and I took him on a canoe trip into Mississippi’s own wilds, down Black Creek.
Woods and rivers are nothing new to Leslie, who grew up on the Sepik River and has hosted many missionaries there.
“I took couple of Australia missionaries up the Sepik River by dugout canoe one night. It was pitch dark,” he recalled. “We locals had in mind hunting crocodiles on the way up.
“The poor Australians didn’t know a thing as we spotted the crocodile and a hunter dove into the water in the darkness and grabbed the crocodile and threw it into the canoe.
“You know what? All the Australians jumped into the water in total darkness in fear of the crocodile in the canoe. We had to call them back into the canoe as the bigger croc was still in the water. They busted into the canoe like rockets launched into space.”
dangers, toils and snares
Things were dangerous enough in Papua New Guinea in the 1980s, what with primitive tribes, knife-edged mountains, dense rainforest, deadly snakes and tropical diseases. Now, crime is reportedly so bad that visitors are advised not to travel without security guards.
“Violent crime, including sexual assault, carjackings, home invasions, kidnappings, and armed robberies, is common,” according to the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs.
I know that travel dangers are often exaggerated, so I asked David, who continued to visit New Guinea over the years, if the crime is really that bad.
“Yes. It’s happening in broad daylight in the markets,” he replied.
“A few years ago, my youngest son and I were on a PMV (public motor vehicle) from Goroka to Hagen. Rascals set a roadblock, but the driver wisely hit the gas and broke through it. As we sped past the rascals, one raised his shotgun towards our window. I flopped over on top of Jimmy as our window was blown out and glass was thrown over us. Definitely Wild West these days.”
Another time some rascals surrounded his daughter in broad daylight at a market in Mount Hagen. Fortunately she had several New Guinea women with her and they dispersed the thugs forcefully.
As a local, Leslie has a different take on the crime situation. “It is media that makes things look bad or worse to justify their interests,” he said. “We don’t have rascals, but there are a lot of pickpocketers.”
David countered, “The locals are not the usual targets.”
Also, the town of Wewak is relatively small at 25,000, compared with the bigger cities of Port Moresby (364,000) and Lae (100,000). So that might be like comparing the crime in McComb with that of Jackson or New Orleans.
A helpful clerk
Still determined to send the books, Angelyn, a retired elementary school teacher, went through them and weeded them down to 23.5 pounds.
On Thursday I drove to the McComb Post Office, where clerk Cassandra Dillon put the box on the scales and typed in the address: Pastor Leslie Minduwa, Four Square Church, Brandi Road, Comwoks, Portion 391, Wewak, East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea.
Her computer came up with a price of $430.
When I told her what the shipment was for, she did some serious research and consulted with the postmaster. While they looked things up, I prayed silently and felt a shift in the air.
I didn’t pray about the money, just that this transaction would go smoothly.
Dillon tried again, and this time her computer came up with a new price: $270.
I asked her how she got the cost down and she said she didn’t know. It just happened.
The box is scheduled to arrive in Wewak by Sept. 9.
Keep in mind, Leslie’s school isn’t what we’re used to here. Photos show a dirt floor, thatched open-air walls, and a dog asleep outside.
In addition to regular subjects, the kids learn how to skin and cook crocodiles — something I doubt they teach in Abeka.