Ukarumpa – Sustainable Village at 5000 Feet

Ukarumpa is not what I expected it to be. It’s much nicer. I was thinking steamy jungle, basic but functional utilities – a mother of a base camp. But its more like a self-sustaining community – the kind of place rat-race captives only dream about. Think colourful fibreboard houses with well kept gardens and pet dogs. Vegetable gardens, banana trees, orange trees, and teenagers hooning around in artistically modified vans. Solar panels, motorbikes, grassy hillsides, home baked bread, and kids walking home together after school.The community includes a store, a post-office, a clinic, lots of offices, a printing press, an auto-repair shop and an airport for mini planes. About 1000 translators and support workers live here. What’s more, living about a mile high, up in the open country is nothing like the thick heavy heat on the coast. Its cool and beautiful. While I was there it was 25C, sunny, a cool breeze and cold enough at night to get cosy. In fact, many of the houses have fireplaces. To put this in perspective – Australia’s highest mountain is about 7000 feet. Ukarumpa is as high as Denver, Colorado. If it wasn’t so close to the equator there would certainly be snow on those mountains.The people who live here aren’t doing it to appease some existential guilt regarding global warming, or to escape rapidly declining western civilisation – that’s just a bonus. No, the people who live in this intentional community do so for a much higher purpose. They are working with the local people to translate scriptures and other educational materials into the 800+ vernacular languages of the diverse cultures in this ancient nation.

It struck me that maybe this ‘base camp’ is one of the reasons workers in PNG stay for such a long time. So many translators here are on their second or third translation project. The majority have been here 20, 30, 40 years. Some people are second or third generation Bible translation consultants. Having a strong logistical base has to be a key factor for long-term sustainable work in this otherwise wild nation.

Life seems so simple here, but the conversation at dinner… tells wild stories. At the guest house, around the dinner table, people tell of emergency medical evacuations to Cairns, being held up at gunpoint on the way to the nearest town, and local people walking off into the bush with your washing machine.

But the best story I heard happened only weeks earlier. House security is a constant issue and for the first few months of this year there were a lot of break-ins. Young men from a nearby village with stealthy hunting skills would lift out a couple louvers from the window, shimmy in and leave with laptops and anything else that could be sold for quick cash to their underbelly distributor. The house residents hearing nothing. This was happening a few times a week, sometimes hitting several houses in one night. The community was edgy to say the least. Then, on Easter Sunday, a miracle. 14 young men from the nearby village came to believe in the Christ. Since then, 6 weeks and counting, not a single break in.

I know there are many more stories like this. My job is to get those stories out.

More photos from PNG on Flickr

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