It has been about five months since we left Bangladesh, and during this time we have experienced many changes. We returned to Canada in July and then I (Nishant) left after a couple weeks to start work with World Vision in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Erin and Eli were able to spend some more time in visiting friends and family before joining me in PNG in September.
We now live in the town of Arawa on the island of Bougainville (part of the Solomon Island Archipelago). This is post-conflict setting that is still rebuilding after a long civil war that started almost 30 years ago. I am here on a six month consultancy to manage several economic development projects, including launching the new phase of an initiative that is funded by the Government of PNG, the World Bank, IFAD and the EU (for more background, check out Productive Partnerships in Agricultural Projects). In this initiative, World Vision is working with over 7,000 cocoa farmers to help them improve resilience through improving cocoa production and quality, crop diversification, access to markets, and trainings in a variety of cross-cutting issues from financial literacy to HIV/AIDS awareness.
Despite the many changes, we have experienced the familiarity of warmth; just like in Bangladesh, the weather is hot and the people are hospitable. Unfortunately we have also experienced the familiarity of rough roads. When we first moved to Bangladesh, the highway between Dhaka and Mymensingh was under construction and we experienced it as its worst. By the time we left, the construction was complete and the roads were smooth. Here in Bougainville, most of the roads are in bad shape, and in particular the main highway between Buka in the north and Buin in the south (with Arawa in the middle). I have journeyed on this highway several times, and I now know why the most popular vehicle here is a Toyota Land Cruiser – as this is one of the few vehicles that are capable of driving across the rocky roads, muddy mountainsides, rivers or broken bridges.
On one stretch of the highway, there are several new bridges that were built by the Japanese government. Although many of the bridges need to be replaced, these few bridges provide temporary relief from the bumpy ride as one moves towards their destination. In some ways our move to PNG was a quick crossing of a smooth bridge, on a rough road that we are still journeying on.
When we began to look for opportunities after our contract in Bangladesh, the position in PNG sounded like a good fit. However, we soon discovered that the post here was actually unaccompanied. Despite this complication, I was fortunate enough that they then offered it to me as a short-term (six month) consultancy. This was a challenging decision for us to make, so we sought the counsel of family, close friends, our pastor and experienced development professionals we trusted.
Beyond the challenges of the large portfolio of projects and the short-term nature of the contract, moving to Bougainville also presented many other challenges for our family as we would move into a post-conflict setting that is quite remote with poor infrastructure (especially medical). Yet as we sought out wise counsel and prayed this through, we felt confident to step out in faith and to take a calculated risk.
We are now past the halfway mark of my contract here, and the work has been challenging but rewarding. We have successfully launched several new projects and doubled our staff in the Bougainville office to over 50 people!
Our family’s transition has gone relatively well, but it has also been stressful. Unfortunately both Erin and Eli are on short-term visas that require them to leave the country periodically. Adjusting to a new place also takes time, so Erin has taken time off to ensure Eli transitions well. So far, Eli has done great. He is actually the first foreign baby here since the civil war started almost 30 years ago, so he has become quite famous! Erin hasn’t been able to look for work with all these changes, but she recently started to support a Nursing School that reopened this year after the civil war.
Despite the challenges, life is good. We have made new friends and seen new places. We have worked on new challenges and invested in a new community. There are still many unknowns for us but we trust that God is a lamp unto our feet, lighting our path in the darkness (Psalm 119:105) one step at a time.
The path that God has called us on isn’t easy and it has not afforded us the luxury of stability, but we still pursue it. We grieve the loss of friendships and being far away from family. As I reflect on the difficulties, I am reminded of the iconic Moon Speech by US President John F. Kennedy when he set an ambitious challenge to go to the moon.
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
(John F. Kennedy, Moon Speech, 1962).
God has not called our family to literally go to the moon, but being obedient to follow where He leads us is our “moon” and these daily challenges we “are willing to accept” precisely “because they are hard”. When we got married six years ago the bible verse we chose for our marriage was “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10) and pursuing this “goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills”.
So we know that God has led us here for such a time as this and we are trusting in Him to guide us onward. Our faith continues to grow despite the long term uncertainty. Each new day presents new challenges, whether at work managing a project or as we plan the logistics for our family. Each new day also brings with it small joys – like finding eggs after a week-long shortage, or eating ice cream to cool off in the heat, or going to the beach with new friends. We are so thankful that we get to see Eli grow up to be a compassionate and energetic little boy with a broadening worldview as we try to model a life of faith. These are just some of the smooth bridges that move us forward as we continue to journey down a rough road.
PLEASE BE PRAYING:
1. Over the next couple months we will be doing quite a bit of traveling within PNG and outside. Erin and Eli are currently in Australia to renew their visas. Pray for safety and for our family as we are apart.
2. On November 16th Eli will have a minor medical surgery (in Australia). Pray for a smooth and quick recovery.
3. There are many projects in Nishant’s portfolio that experience many challenges. The Bougainville team has also grown very quickly with the launch of several new projects. Pray for energy and enthusiasm for the staff as we get into the details of implementing the projects.
4. We have begun to explore the next steps for our family, so pray for wisdom and clarity.
Nishant, Erin and Eli
With all of our transitions it has been a little while since we shared photos. Here are a few albums from the past couple months.
Check out the full album at: May 2016
Check out the full album at: June 2016
Check out the full album at: July 2016 (Bangladesh)
Check out the full album at: August & September 2016 (Transitioning to PNG)
Check out the full album at: September & October 2016 (Life in Bougainville)