Plotinus in the Jungle

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A true family adventure – The Ascent of Ep


Dear friends and family,

Time runs forward, not waiting to be marked or meditated upon.  I used to think that at some point of my life I would reach a plateau of time to enjoy at my leisure-as it was in my childhood-but I realize now that one must be intentional about making time meaningful and not just a never-ending succession of tasks completed and tasks left to be done.  Much of the last month has been trying to get into a groove after the student insurrection, getting more ready for Zimmerbabe III (due early November), and writing chapter 2 of the dissertation (now at page 34).

Any way, three months ago, Rebecca and I’s undergrad friend Ellen Thilo visited us in Papua New Guinea for one week!  Her boyfriend Dae came as her “wasman” (watchman).  They have the honor of being our first visitors (besides the Capuchin priest that partially sponsors us).  We spent a lot of time taking them on walks, since there is not much else to do in PNG, because PNG is beautiful, and because our kids like being outdoors!  Our most epic hike was up Mt. Ep, which lies about an hour to the west of us on a northsouth ridgeline that divides the Waghi Valley in half.  We were joined on this hike by an American missionary doctor, Ted, his wife Rachel, and Carolyn, a newly minted Physician’s Assistant.

Ep is right across from Mun parish mainstation.  We had scoped this hike out before, going to mass there one Sunday with the Hendersons and going up the ridge a bit.  Here’s a photo of Rachel from that hike (perhaps from April?)

IMG_6689If you tilt your head sideways, you can see that there is ridgeline running up gradually to a peak that is open on one side.  The top is Ep and I had planned to go up the ridgeline.  I imagined a long hike, but not especially difficult.  Well, the missionaries have a saying, “nothing is easy in PNG.”  The guides that the parish priest had kindly arranged for us insisted that the ridge line was “too bushy” and that they knew a better route.  First, we walked through some kaukau fields and went over a stream at the base of the mountain:

Intrepid Ellen over the local bridge.

Intrepid Ellen over the local bridge.

We picked up more guides as we walked.  They got into an argument about our route, insisting that the way we were going would be scrambling up a ski scope (my dynamic, not literal, translation).  So the locals led us up a better way – straight up the mountain through a rain forest!  First, we had to cross a small ravine:


Annie got over just fine


Dr. Ted helps Rebecca and Tabitha over.

Dr. Ted helps Rebecca and Tabitha over.

But when Ted went back to give Rachel a hand, the log broke!  Thankfully, they were not hurt.  I was right behind then! I jumped back, and then was left with the conundrum of whether to take a picture of them in a heap at the bottom of the ravine:

To shoot, or not to shoot . . .

To shoot, or not to shoot . . .

Well, I thought it would be in bad taste to take a picture of their misfortune, which I now regret, since we joked about the Hender-plunge into the ravine for the rest of the Hendersons’ stay.  Here they are trying to find a way out:


Once our group was all back together, we continued through the foothills, which were covered in 15 foot tall grass:


Carolyn enjoys getting an insight to how a lawn must appear to an ant.

Then, it was a slow and steep scramble through a rainforest.  It’s hard to imagine that the ridgeline way was bushier, since our guides seemed to be more or less making the trail as we continued up.  Rachel carried Tabitha for Rebecca (four months pregnant) some of the way, which was a great help.  It was a good challenge and I was happy to meet it, just the adventure was a harder than advertised (by me).   I was proud of my family and friends that we made it!


Dae is now a fearless jungle trekker


The not too bushy way

The not too bushy way


The views from the top were amazing, almost 360!


Looking west towards Mt. Hagen “city” which is in the center at the foot of the first ridge.



Looking east toward our half of the Waghi Valley



Looking south. You can see the large stream that we crossed and if you look closely, the road.





We had a nice picnic lunch at the top.  I especially appreciated Carolyn’s contribution of beef jerky!  One of our guides found a newly hatched bird of paradise, which he then ate as his personal reward for taking us up to the top!

Some stories are short . . .

Some stories are short . . .

The nationals like to make themselves bush hats when they go trekking.  Our guides made them also for Annie and Carolyn, who were promoted to honorary Jungle Queen and Jungle Princess.


The Royal Family of the Jungle

At this point, I decided to take matters in my own hand, as trying to scramble back down the rain forest did not seem prudent.  The nationals wanted us to go down the originally intended path, but Ted and I devised a plan.  I would lead the group down the grassy side of the mountain, whose contours we could easily see from the top, while Ted went down the ski slope with some of the nationals.  He would pick up the vehicle and then meet us by the road.  We talked the nationals into agreement.

The way down the grassy side was a bit difficult – it was quite steep at times and some random boys lit the grass on fire, such that we could not go down the most gentle slope.  The Jungle King carried Annie and I carried Tabby and slowly but surely we made it.  But of the slowness was the breathtaking beauty of the land – everything was shining blue and vibrant green.

A controlled descent.

A controlled descent.



Some nationals have a disturbing habit of setting fires in order to entertain themselves.



After I form my rock band, this will be our first album cover . . .

Ted, meanwhile, was running down the mountain with most of the nationals.  I think he got down in like about an hour and a half, got the vehicle, picked up some sodas, and then waited for us on the dirt road that we would eventually reach.


Here is our faithful guide, Joseph. During the descent, he seemed to think that we were the slowest walkers the world has ever known . . .

At last, or in a way all too soon, given the wondrous beauty of the way down, we reached Ted, who waited for us on the other side of the best foot bridge that I have ever seen in PNG!


If only all footbridges in PNG were this well constructed . . .


Rachel was very happy to see her husband, and his landcruiser

Rachel was very happy to see her husband, and his landcruiser

This hike was PNG in miniature.  The people were extremely friendly and generous of their time, but at the same time had their own agendas.  My assumption was that the rainforest way we went was the way that our guides’ village used to get to the top, which meant that it was the best way, regardless of the actual condition of the other paths up.  The way up was hard, but the rewards were more beautiful than expected, and the way down was made easier by teamwork, rationally reflecting on the situation, and having the courage to take the reigns into our own hands.  All in all, I think we gave Ellen and Dae a good taste of life in PNG in all its variety.

In part this post has been so long because I offer it in appreciation of the Hendersons’ time with us.  They were only serving at Kudjip for about a year, and we only started to connect with them after January of this year, but they were our constant adventure buddies.  We shared with each other what we could – I planned our hikes and Ted provided the transport; I happily attended their Bible study when I could and I gave Ted materials to try his hand at learning Biblical Greek; I organized a sporting event for my students with the nursing students at Kudjip and Ted took charge and got the soccer game rolling; I set a date and destination for a caving trip and Ted found the guides and brought the ropes we needed for climbing.   Despite our many differences, it was a blessing to fellowship with kindred spirits, both in regard to our passion for the Kingdom and for adventures on this earth.  May God bless the Hendersons in whatever missions and life He leads them into.


The “lukim u bihain” gathering for the Hendersons at Kudjip Nazarene Mission Hospital.

We already have a tentative plan to take the Hendersons to Great Falls, MD whenever we are next in the US . . .


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