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The People of Papua New Guinea

A mother, her muscles tensed and straining, carries a heavy load of vegetables from her garden. A father, his eyes keen and searching, joins the hunt for a wild boar. Children, though still young, are learning what it means to work hard. This is Papua New Guinea (PNG), where perhaps 85 percent of the population depends on the land around them for food, shelter, and income. And yet, just over the mountain, lies Port Moresby with its skyscrapers, its hotels, its shopping centers, its clubs, and its busy streets.

Papua New Guinea’s people face an incredible diversity of opportunities and challenges. They always have.

The people’s history stretches back many millennia. Over thousands of years, groups of people learned to survive together, reaching an island and settling there, or finding a high valley and making it home. Archaeological evidence indicates that Highlanders developed agricultural techniques at about the same time that the better-known Middle Eastern civilizations were learning how to master their own food supplies, half a world away.

As the people spread out, adapting their ways of life to the conditions they encountered, their languages changed dramatically too. Today, Papua New Guineans speak more than 800 languages, many as different from each other as English is from Chinese. Such a diversity of languages and cultures offers a rich heritage in a changing world, but it also leaves the citizens, the government, and the church to grapple with needs for multilingual education, healthcare, natural resource management, and conflict resolution.

Most of PNG was reached by Christian missionaries in decades past, and many of the people have accepted Christianity. But syncretism and fear of evil spirits remain strong in many places, often because the people do not have God’s Word in a language they can understand deeply.

The door to Bible translation is wide open in PNG. Christians from all over the world have contributed to Bible translation in the country, and God’s Word is available in more languages here than in any other nation in the world. The Papua New Guinea Bible Translation Association (BTA) and several other organizations continue working in languages all around the country. Even so, the remaining need is staggering.

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