Our intent is to answer here most of the questions that we hear often.

Q: You are living in the U.S. but you say you work in Papua New Guinea. What’s that all about? 

Our parents are at an age when they need us to be nearby, so after 25 years in Papua New Guinea, we are in the U.S. most of the time now, returning to Papua New Guinea once a year for a month or two to work face-to-face with the translators. Fortunately, John can still work with the translators the rest of the year via the Internet. The 11 translations our team is working on all use the Arop translation as their starting point, so he focuses most of his time on helping the Arop team get their translation in excellent shape for the others to use. He often works evenings because 6-9 p.m. in Florida is 9-noon the next day in Papua New Guinea. For more details about our working remotely, see this page.

Q: How can the translators gather for a month five times a year? Don’t they have jobs?

A: The translators, like most people who live in their part of the world, do not have jobs in the cash economy. They grow their own food and just about everything else they need, on their own land, and live off that. They do cash-cropping to earn money for the cash they need, but jobs that pay wages are very rare, except in towns.

Q: What’s it like there?

A: Sorry, this question is too general. Please pick another question below.

Q: What’s it like to live there? How is it different from the US?

A: Ah, that’s a lot better. We do all the same things we do in the US, but we just do them differently.

When you want to have chips with a meal, you need to take some chips out, put them on your plate, and close the bag. If you leave the bag open during the meal, all the chips in the bag will be soggy by the end of mealtime because of the high humidity.

I’ll talk about more things that are different in response to more questions below.

Q: So what’s this deal about you living in two different places over there?

Yes, we live in two different places, sometimes even at the same time. Our main work is in Arop village, where we are helping people in several language groups to translate the Bible into their languages. But we spend a good bit of our time at Ukarumpa, SIL’s translation center in the PNG highlands. SIL runs a school there, which our kids attend. While there we continue to work on the translation projects and get involved in various activities helping other translators in other translation projects. Arop village is just west of Aitape on this map, and is about 300 miles from Ukarumpa.

Aitape is on the north coast of Papua New Guinea


Q: How long does it take to get to Papua New Guinea from here and which way do you go?

We like to go straight through, not stopping anywhere along the way. That usually takes from 30 to 40 hours to get to Port Moresby, PNG’s capital city. Typically, we leave Tampa on a Friday morning, flying to Los Angeles via Dallas. Then we take an overnight flight to Brisbane Australia on Qantas. From there we take Air Niugini to Port Moresby, arriving Sunday afternoon 1:00 PNG time, which is 10:00 p.m. Saturday night in Tampa. Elapsed time is around 36 hours. Usually we fly up to Ukarumpa on Monday morning.

Q: What’s the weather like?

On the coast where we work in Arop village, it is hot and humid, like Florida in the summer. Daytime highs are typically in the upper 80’s and lower 90’s. Overnight lows are almost always about 70. Most mornings the humidity at 6:00 a.m. is 95%+ and then drops to 80% or so by 10:00 a.m. and stays at that level.

In the highlands it’s like Florida in the winter or northern Wisconsin in the summer: cool nights and warm days. Highs in the upper 70’s and low 80’s with overnight lows typically in the upper 50’s. It can get down into the 40’s overnight in July and August, which is when we have winter in the southern hemisphere.

In both places we get much more rain than most places in the U.S., and certainly a lot more than in Chicago and Florida where we grew up. We get about 100 inches of rain a year in Arop village.

Q: What do you do for fresh water?

We collect rain water on the roof of our house when it rains. That water is collected in large tanks. In rainy season we can take longer showers and not worry about it. In dry season, we always have to think about how we can save water, including taking shorter showers.

Q: What do you pack when you leave Ukarumpa to go to out to Arop village?

Food ,clothing, equipment, and miscellaneous stuff. Imagine you were going away to your summer house for two months, and when you got there, you would probably not be able to go shopping again for that whole time.

We can buy things in Aitape town, near Arop. We don’t go there often, though, and we can never predict what will be available there.

Q: Do you home-school your kids?

There is an excellent school in Ukarumpa, that is run by SIL. Our kids have attended that school since Kindergarten. When we would go to the village, Bonnie would home-school the kids in the village with materials provided by their teachers at Ukarumpa International School. While we were in the village, we’d talk to each kid’s teacher at least once a week on the two-way radio. Then, whenever we would return to Ukarumpa from Arop, the kids would go to their classes and be on the same page in each subject as the other kids. This is an excellent system, but requires hard work from the teachers to make it work. We feel that during this time, our kids experienced all the advantages of home schooling and of a private Christian school.

When kids get to 7th grade students at Ukarumpa International School are required to stay at the school full time. The school needs to do this to maintain its accreditation with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. So kids whose parents are in the village stay at Childrens’ Homes, also known as hostels.

Q: What is a children’s home (hostel) and do Eric and Brianna like staying in one?

A hostel is a large home, run by a couple, that houses kids whose parents are off working in another part of the country for a few weeks or months. They usually have space for six guys on one wing and six girls on another wing. The hostel parents may also have their own kids. Living in a hostel at Ukarumpa is more like being part of a big family than living in a dorm at a college. Kids in the same hostel refer to each other as “hostel brothers and sisters.”

Eric and Brianna have really enjoyed their time in hostels at Ukarumpa.

Q: What’s the school at Ukarumpa like?

Ukarumpa International School is a Christian school that is run by our organization. Brianna had 43 in her graduating class in 2005. Eric had around 30 in his 2008 graduating class. It’s a great place to go to school or to teach. Click here if you know a teacher who might want to teach missionary kids.

Q: Do your kids like it there?

Eric and Brianna grew up in PNG and thoroughly enjoyed life there.

Q: Do you have electricity in your village?

Arop village is about 17 miles away from the nearest electrical grid, but we do have electricity that we produce ourselves. We have solar panels on the roofs of our house and the translation center. These solar panels charge batteries that are similar to car batteries, only much larger. We convert the 12VDC electricity from the batteries to 110VAC electricity (the kind you get from the wall in your house) with a piece of equipment called an “inverter.” We also have 240VAC power, which is the kind that is normally used in PNG and in many other countries, for using things that run on that voltage.

Besides the solar system, we also have a 240VAC diesel-powered generator that we use when we need extra power.

Q: You have a computer network in your village translation office! What’s that all about?

We have found that as we work with several languages, we need to have at least one laptop for each language for the translators to type and edit the various documents involved in the translation process. While we are working, we all need to be able to access those various documents at various times. The best way to accomplish that is with a network. We have what is called a peer-to-peer network, which means that there is no central computer (server) that has to be running for the whole network to work.

Q: You have email in your village! How does that work?

Our village e-mail comes to us over a Single-Sideband Radio. The speed is very slow but pretty reliable. We share the radio frequency with a lot of other people, so we have to keep our times on the radio short. For that reason, we ask people to send us only short messages when we’re in the village. You can find out whether we’re in the village or not by going to our schedule page. We will still receive longer message, but not until we return to the Ukarumpa center.

Q: What Bible do you use as a source text when you translate?

When the multi-language project began, the Papua New Guineans that we work with would with translation materials that we and some colleagues prepared especially for them. These materials have translation and exegetical notes along with two translations–two in Pidgin (PNG’s national trade language) and two in English. They also have NIV Study Bibles that they use, both for the translations and with the notes. So that is what they translate from. Eventually we changed the way we work together on translation. See this page for more info about that.

When I check their translations for accuracy, I use my English translations and my Greek New Testament and any commentaries or other helps I want to use. We also use those tools when preparing the notes for the translators before they translate from them.

Q: What book do you translate first?

When we were just working in one language (Arop), we started in Mark. Local church leaders were ready to start translating and wanted to do a whole gospel as soon as possible, so they chose Mark. When we expanded the translation project in 2001, we started in Jonah. We had five reasons for doing that:

1. Jonah is short–only 43 verses.

2. Jonah has a great story for people who are from different ethnic groups and need to work together.

3. Jonah is short.

4. Jonah is relatively easy to translate because of the story form.

5. Jonah is short!

Q: The way you use one translation as the basis for another one in a related language sounds like the old ‘telephone’ game. Won’t you end up having a totally different message?

We start with the Arop translation, check it carefully, then use it as a source text for the other translations. We compare it to the original Greek at each step. It would be like playing ‘telephone,’ and having each kid in the line turn around and ask the teacher if they have the message right before passing it on to the next kid.

Q: How are you supported?

We are supported by interested friends and churches. See our “Partnership” page for more details.

Q: What can I do to help?

See our “Partnership” page.

Q: Do you have friends there?

Lots. We have many friends, both nationals (Papua New Guineans) and expats (people from other countries, like us).

Q: Now that you work in more than one language, how do you translate?

There’s a very good description of how we started our December 2001 Arop Lagoon Tribune. To read about how we are doing it now, click here.

Q: Do you know a bunch of different languages?

Nope. I (John) can speak three: English, Pidgin, and Arop. I am learning to read Sissano, Serra, and Malol.

Q: What is Pidgin?

Melanesian Pidgin is the main national trade language in PNG. There’s a decent explanation of it on the web here, and you can learn a lot more about it by searching for “Melanesian Pidgin,” “Pidgin English” (which is now largely considered a derogatory way of speaking of Pidgin, and “Tok Pisin,” the name for the language using the language’s own words. A quick search I made brought up hundreds of hits. The one I linked to seemed to be a good explanation of how Pidgin got started.

Q: What is a ‘furlough’ and how often do you take one?

Good question. Furlough is the term we use the most, but it’s really an old-fashioned one. We prefer to use ‘home assignment.’ Whichever term we use, Furlough is an opportunity for us to re-connect with our supporters, see relatives and friends, give our kids a chance to gain some experience living in America (which they will eventually do after high school), give ourselves a break from the stresses of living as a foreigner, have medical, dental, and other physical work done that is not always available in PNG, and re-charge our spiritual batteries. We also usually take time to have a real vacation, too.

But we also work while we are home. While on furlough we continue to be involved in the translation project by email and do various other things that contribute to our project and Wycliffe’s goals.

Traditionally, we take a one-year furlough is normal after a four-year field term. Our first two terms were 4.5 years each and our furloughs about 1 year. Because of when our kids graduated from high school and need to return to the US for college, our schedule was different for the last few years. Now that we are empty-nesters, our kids’ school schedules no longer drive our furloughs. We think. See our schedule for our tentative future plans.

Q: Do you have a store? Where do you buy your food? Where do you shop?

At Ukarumpa, SIL has its own store. Ukarumpa is in a rural area where it is difficult to get to the nearest town to shop. The store provides many services that we would not have without it, so we are very grateful to the Papua New Guineans anh expats who keep it going for us.

When we go to Arop, Bonnie buys much of our food in Ukarumpa. She also buys a lot of our food in Aitape town, which is near Arop. We buy some local food in Arop as well.

Q: What kind of food do you eat?

One of the great things about living in PNG is all the great fresh food that is available. When we are in Arop in the lowlands, there are many types of fresh fruit available. Our favorites are pineapple, papaya, several types of bananas, and mangos and guavas.

When we are at Ukarumpa in the highlands, we enjoy several kinds of fresh lettuce, cabbage, bok choy, tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, asparagus, egg plant, zuchini, pumpkin, peas, and more. But the best of all are the fresh strawberries, the best you ever tasted, and very inexpensive. Yumm!

Q: Do you have Internet access there?

When we are at Ukarumpa, we have Internet access that is very reliable but the bandwidth is limited. To ensure that there is enough capacity for everyone to get their email, our network administrators have to turn off some features, such as streaming video and audio. We are changed by the megabyte for upload and download, so we have to be careful how much we use the Internet.

When we are in Arop, we have email that comes over a slow but generally reliable radio connection.

Want more FAQ’s? Wycliffe has some really good ones here.