Volunteers help with mission air strip repairs in Papua New Guinea

By November 9, 2007

USA (Wycliffe Associates) — Collapsing . . . breaking apart . . . sliding down storm-soaked slopes . . . overrun by thick, jungle vegetation . . .

These are not the descriptive terms and phrases anyone wants to hear when it comes to airstrips–especially when attempting to land on them.

Unfortunately, these adjectives accurately describe the current condition of many runways in Papua New Guinea (PNG). And because of their present state of deterioration, many Bible translators may soon be delayed in reaching important regions of that nation.

Working in very hot and humid jungles, Wycliffe Associate volunteers will be repairing 20 of the more than 500 airstrips the country depends on for basic travel.

PNG has more than 850 indigenous languages and is one of the high priorities for Bible translation in the world. Access to these remote communities is critical. Airplanes carrying translators and their families are already being diverted from landing strips in disrepair. And in some cases, the translators must walk for miles through difficult terrain, unable to carry with them vital support supplies. On foot, these journeys can take many exhausting hours, even days to complete.

Some have suggested that helicopter travel is the answer. While this does circumvent the need for adequate airstrips, it is exceptionally costly–as much as $450 per flight hour! That's nearly twice as expensive as light aircraft travel.

The answer–the only solution, really–is to assist our Bible translation partners in mounting a massive effort to repair and refurbish the airstrips. This will mean bringing in heavy equipment to push back the vegetation, moving earth, digging drainage systems, lengthening and widening landing strips, and bringing in Wycliffe Associates volunteers to work with the local people in this work. Volunteers, like Tom Kelley, with engineering expertise will also be needed to ensure that the job is done properly. Tom and his wife, Marilynn, are making a difference. He's a retired civil engineer, after working 34 years with the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration. Currently, the Kelley's are in PNG on a seven-month stint with the Airstrip project.

As Wycliffe Associates president, Bruce Smith, explains, "Aviation is the backbone of transportation in PNG, and transportation is vital to Bible translation."

At stake is the opportunity for people who have never experienced the Word of God in their own language to encounter the life-transforming power of the Gospel.

"Their eternal destiny will be re-shaped," Bruce says. "We must press forward with this effort in order to assure continuing access to these communities."

During 2007, some 1,402 Wycliffe Associates volunteers served in 35 countries as part of the worldwide Bible translation team. These volunteers built and renovated facilities, constructed roads and airstrips, taught Vacation Bible School, helped with language development and office work, oversaw projects, used their computer skills, and much more.

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