Missionary returns from South Pacific

Posted: Sunday, November 11, 2007

If you ask Chelsea Barry why she left her home in Alaska for the jungles of Papua New Guinea, she'll tell you that the Lord calls each person to a work of something.

Fourteen months ago, Barry left the comforts of home for a bucket shower and a house with woven walls and a carrougated aluminum roof 7,000 feet high in the New Guinea mountains to teach fifth grade. Now that she's back in Soldotna, she's glad to be home, but eager to get back to work.

"It was pretty exciting to see a group of Christians in the highlands and bush of New Guinea that are committed to the Lord," she said. "He calls each to a work of something. The Lord has been good to show himself through his word."

Barry, who became a member of Soldotna Baptist Church nearly three years ago, learned how to make a fire to keep warm, how to boil water to wash dishes and filter it for drinking. After 14 months, she learned how to speak Pidgin the language most of the natives spoke witnessed a New Guinea wedding and lived primarily off of sweet potatoes and other vegetables, many grown in gardens around the jungle, and other things made from scratch.

"We would shop once a month," she said, adding that the nearest town, Goroka, was a four- to five-hour drive away. "Somebody else would go into town 'cause it was dangerous for us girls."

Graduating from Northland Baptist Bible College in Wisconsin with a degree in elementary education in May 2006, Barry said she traveled to South Carolina to interview with the International Mission Board in South Carolina before going to Papua New Guinea. Even though most fifth-graders here in the United States are between 10 and 11 years old, kids in New Guinea start school later. Barry said her oldest student was 15 while her youngest was the normal fifth-grade age.

"(Their) favorite subject was history," she said. "They were great. They had big smiles and didn't wake up in the morning just like me. If you could format a lesson into a story, they learned it."

Almost every day Barry's students would bring her flowers, and take her out hiking in the bush. She would run into her kids and their parents at the market, and they would come visit at her house almost every day.

"They're your family," Barry said. "A lot of them we just saw walking around."

Then there was church. Barry said the church had a dirt floor, and instead of sitting in pews, the congregation sat on narrow wooden planks with no backs. But they would brave wind, rain, cold and dark with no umbrella, shiver through the service and brave the elements to get back home. To Barry, the locals' desire to hear God's word was inspiring.

"It was sweet to see nationals walking in the rainy season to come to church in the dark," she said. "It's very convicting when we don't feel like going to church in order to watch TV."

Barry said she was inspired to do missionary work, particularly in Papua New Guinea, because of her pastor's daughter. Tim Tiffner's oldest daughter and her husband are career missionaries who run Simbu Christian Academy in New Guinea's highlands. Tiffner, senior pastor at Soldotna Baptist Church, said he and his wife traveled to the Phillippines on a mission for most of the 1980s and raised their kids there. Several other young members of the church are missionaries as well, he said.

"We feel our purpose as a church is, first of all, to glorify God, to teach the believers and to evangelize throughout the whole world," Tiffner said. "That is an emphasis within our church, certainly in a matter of interest, financial and prayer support, (as well as) even being involved and encouraging our young people and our adults to look for opportunities to serve."

Since Barry became a member of the church almost three years ago, Tiffner said, she volunteered her time during school breaks to teaching children in the youth groups and help in the music program.

"She is always there serving others," he said. "That is her whole demeanor, just getting involved with peoples' lives."

Barry said her next goal is to find work as a teacher in Alaska's Bush, but in order to do that she has to go back to school to get her certification.

For anyone who thinks they'd like to be a missionary to Papua New Guinea or any place else in the world, Barry said they should pray and read God's word.

"They have to be faithful in what they're doing," she said. "They have to honor the Lord in the little things."

Jessica Cejnar can be reached at jessica.cejnar@peninsulaclarion.com.

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