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David Hughes, the recently appointed Marketing and Administration Manager for the Global Recording Network (GRN) Australia office at Castle Hill, New South Wales, has just returned from a visit to the Solomon Islands where he observed GRN's audio recording ministry first-hand while assisting with the production of a new video case study for a sponsoring church.
I thought I was well prepared. Equipped with my brand new mosquito net and a portable iPhone charger, I felt ready for almost anything this adventure might bring!
The journey started in Honiara, capital of the Solomon Islands. We travelled by Virgin Australia from Sydney to Brisbane and then onwards to the Solomon Islands where we were met by Jones Sanga. Sanga is the director of GRN's base in the Solomons, and he took us to his home in Honiara for local orientation. Sanga lives in a squatter settlement in Honiara. This area is primarily occupied by families from other islands who have moved to Honiara for work or other reasons. Uprooted from their traditional land and cultural support structures, they built on government land. Some, like Sanga, have later applied to the government for registration and ownership of their plots, but many have not. This has led to significant challenges to the government in providing essential services, one of which was to lead to the first of my many unexpected challenges.
I was in the bathroom trying to wash my hands, but there was no response when I turned on the tap. In preparation before leaving Australia, I was made well aware of the importance of hygiene and so was committed to washing my hands. There was a barrel of water nearby but I couldn't imagine everyone washing their hands in the same barrel of water.
I called for help to solve this puzzle and found out there is not enough water for the city, so the barrel is filled overnight when the water arrives. The solution to my puzzle was that I needed to use the small bucket beside the barrel. Dip the bucket into the barrel, then wash my hands in the bucket and tip the grey water down the drain. Easy!
I successfully solved a number of similar puzzles over the first few days. Now I was really ready! Or so I thought...
The recordings were to be made for the Lengo, a remote language group a few hours drive from Honiara in the jungle. To get there we hitched a ride on a truck that took their local produce to market. My iPhone (and portable charger) plus my video camera were all stored in my MacPac backpack -- equipped to withstand a rainstorm or any deluge short of full immersion -- according to the sales representative.
Why, then, would Sybil Shaw, the veteran GRN Recordist who I accompanied, have her equipment all packed inside a watertight barrel? I wondered about this, of course, as it was clearly a decision based on much previous experience.
I soon found out!
We were told that a bridge was out and the truck would need to drop us off on the wrong side of the river! "I'll bring a waterproof barrel next time" I thought, as I gingerly crossed the river with my backpack held high, praying with every step that the current around my thighs wouldn't get any stronger.
The walk to the Lengo community gave me my second opportunity for some video footage (the first was at the river crossing - yes I got it!). Women from the community were carrying suitcases on their heads - no hands and no issue with keeping the cases balanced. The suitcases just stuck on their heads. Here's something I'd never seen before, so I caught it on film (yes, got that too).
As I packed up my gear I hurried to catch-up with the team as they were now out of sight. Almost immediately I came to a fork in the track, with no sign of the team. What to do? My solution was to pick one track and quickly rush up it in the hope of finding the team, and if that didn't work, to go back to the fork and assume it must be the other way.
Was that smart? I wasn't sure.
But once I arrived back at the fork (having first picked the wrong track) a friendly relative of one of our translators was able to kindly point me in the right direction. I was already prepared for the 80cm bush knife he carried, having been told during my orientation to expect them.
Pretty soon we arrived at our recording destination. A beautiful community of homes beside a pristine river. By this time I knew how to wash my hands, and now I learned how to use a jungle toilet.
The trick here is to go fast. The pit was no further than ten metres into the jungle, but in that short distance I was to ignore seven or eight lizards, three frogs and a whole lot of other rustling leaves. If I wiggled, the mosquitoes stayed off my skin!
The first night I slept soundly and woke up ready for my next experience.
The Lengo are a community that desperately need Bible teaching that they can hear in their own language. The practical issue is that they speak Lengo but there are very few written materials of any kind in their own language, and almost no Christian materials. So while they speak Lengo daily, they are not comfortable about reading it. This means written Christian materials feel foreign and there is much difficulty about changing their worldview.
The goal of this GRN project is to produce accessible recordings that can be heard in any group's heart language as this will powerfully influence their worldview. Chosen for the project were two language tools: the GRN Look, Listen & Live series of 192 pictures and the Good News series of 40 pictures. Each image has a script that is translated to provide teaching from Genesis to Revelation.
The team we worked with in the Solomon Islands have been trained by Wycliffe Bible Translators. (WBT are scripture translators who GRN often work with and who we have a great respect for.) Hilda Kone, the team leader, was passionate about her people and their language group, and had applied everything Wycliffe had taught her towards completing this project.
Regina was the first language helper Sybil Shaw recorded with, and I watched as Regina struggled to read the translated script. I had learned that reading her heart language was rare and she had to repeat each sentence a number of times before it flowed naturally. Sybil Shaw patiently and expertly guided and encouraged Regina through the process and the recording started taking shape.
The language helpers who read for the recordings come from a cross section of the whole Lengo community. I learned this is very important as it enables the whole community to "own" the final recordings (not just one family). Throughout the week I got to know young, middle aged and elderly men and women as they all proudly took part in their project.
The food we ate in the Solomon Islands is also very interesting.
Beans in coconut sauce were my favourite, but I enjoyed all the local grown food - sweet potato, greens (no English name but gathered from the jungle), pawpaw and pineapple were all freshly picked and full of flavour.
Breakfast and lunch were no different to dinner - my usual diet of cereal for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch never appeared. I started to fantasize about a big barbecued rump steak, knowing I'd also be content with any type of meat or even just a bowl of muesli.
My favourite activity of the day was an afternoon swim with the village children. By 3:30pm I would find them spying on us in the roof of a nearby house, to see if we had completed our recording work. Sybil called me the Pied Piper as I headed off each afternoon with young companions. For the next hour I had the pleasure of swimming and playing with them in the river. They taught me their games and I taught them ours (well the games I play at home with my own children), and their smiles and laughter captured on video will stay with me forever.
We always finished the afternoon with a coconut. I briefly questioned whether I could ever learn to climb a coconut tree as I watched one of the boys effortlessly do so, and quickly put it out of my mind as I imagined what might be the result!
Captured, of course, on film were the children effortlessly wielding their big bush knives as they prepared the coconut for me to eat. I grinned as I thought of the fit any mother back home would have if they found their child with a knife even a fraction of the size of the implements these island children used so deftly.
But my absolute highlight was just one brief moment.
Near the end of all the recording activities, a community group came to sing us some songs to thank us for our work. A language helper was listening to her own recorded voice as she checked for any errors in what she had read out. As soon as the visitors heard her voice speaking out of the box everyone froze and listened. Then they gathered around and listened to the box tell them a Bible story in their own language.
I wrote this story back in Honiara. Sybil's job is now to edit the recordings into a finished program. My job is to go through all the digital footage, and produce some short videos for GRN's YouTube channel http://www.youtube.com/GlobalRecordingsGRN.
A local Sydney church has "adopted" the Lengo people as a mission project. They sponsored Sybil's recording trip and later intend to send a representative team from the church to help distribute the recordings for the Lengo people to listen to. The primary distribution mechanism will be GRN's Saber, a robust hand wind mp3 player that requires no batteries or electricity. They also expect to distribute micro SD cards to those with mobile phones capable of listening to the recordings.
GRN staff are passionate about working with local churches to help facilitate mission connections with practical involvement. More information can be obtained by contacting Global Recordings Network Australia online or David Hughes directly by telephone at +61-2-9899-2211 during business hours Monday to Friday.