Interview with CPCP’s Jeremy Sanders: "We don’t see ourselves as exceptionally brave or courageous."
When missionary trainees enroll at the Center for Pioneer Church Planting, 40% of the training is on-the-job. Trainees spend a significant amount of time getting hands-on experience in the field. Jeremy Sanders is a second year student at the CPCP who plans, eventually, to take to the gospel to remote villages in Papua New Guinea. Jeremy, his wife, Kandy, and 3 children recently returned from a trip to PNG, and we asked him a few questions about their experience.
RA: Give us a brief description of your recently completed trip, complete with where you went, who you went with, and what you were hoping to accomplish.
JS: Our family visited Goroka, Papua New Guinea to spend four weeks with the Sisson family in preparation for our move to Goroka at the end of 2013. Our whole family was able to go including my wife, Kandy, and our children, Sam, Olivia, and Everett. The primary goals for the trip were to gather information related to our upcoming move and to spend time getting to know our future teammates.
RA: What was one surprising thing you learned about PNG (the country)?
JS: I don’t think there was very much we learned intellectually that was surprising about PNG. We have been learning about PNG for several years and were well prepared for what we encountered. There is a difference between knowing something intellectually and knowing it experientially though. An example of this is the cost of living in PNG. We already knew that it was expensive but the experience of buying groceries and supplies for the month that we were there opened our eyes to just how expensive it is.
RA: On your blog (Sanders, Party of Five) you used the word “strange” to describe their culture. I’m guessing that is meant as a comparison to our culture here in the United States. What makes it “strange”?
JS: We used the word “strange” to try to express all that is experienced when you have always lived in a modern Western culture and you visit a developing culture that is torn between traditional tribal living and the encroachment of modern amenities.
Everything is different and yet there are many similarities. The villages around Goroka have traditional housing constructed using bush materials. This typically means a thatch roof with pit-pit grass for the walls and floor. Most of the men are subsistence farmers but work hard so they can afford school fees to send their children to high school or college.
The speed of life is much slower and if something isn’t available in town, you can’t exactly order it from Amazon. It just isn’t available. So in this whirlwind of technological advancement, you meet people who live in a bush house with no electricity and running water, but they have cell phones with real-time access to Facebook and Twitter. It creates a very unique culture different from the one we have lived in all of our lives.
RA: When you think of PNG (the country) what’s the first word that comes to your head?
JS: Because of the 820+ languages and so many of these are spoken in isolated groups of people.
RA: What will you be doing in PNG, eventually?
JS: There are two answers to that question. The short answer and the long answer.
The Short Answer – We will be church planting among an unreached people group with the goal of establishing a self-sustaining, self-led, self-theologizing, self-reproducing body of believers.
The Long Answer – We have identified four goals for our first term:
- Our primary goal will be to learn the culture and language. We will start out attending the Pacific Orientation Course in Madang, PNG for 13 weeks.
- Alex and I will take trips to unreached areas to research the possibility of our team church planting in particular unreached people groups. Once an initial area is identified in which to start church planting, we will continue to visit other areas to help identify additional unreached areas for future teams coming to PNG.
- Part of To Every Tribes strategy in PNG involves working with the national pastors of New Life Mission. I will be spending time with these pastors learning culture and language from them.
- We will also be assisting with the project management and construction of the next house at the New Life Mission Station in Goroka where we will be living. This will be necessary to provide living quarters for the next missionary to join us in Goroka.
RA: What excites you the most about the possibility (probability) of living and serving in PNG?
JS: We are excited that God is involving our family in His plan to take the Gospel to people that do not know Him.
RA: Now that you’ve seen the layout of the land (so to speak) and have a feel for potential ministry opportunities, what do you think is your biggest challenge?
JS: At this point our biggest challenge is getting to PNG. Once there our biggest challenge will be learning the language and getting integrated into the culture. The next foreseeable challenge will be making contact with various peoples and identifying where it is we will be church planting. It’s hard to say which of those is the biggest challenge since at each step of the way the challenge looming in front of you is the biggest at that point in time.
RA: What did you learn about yourself on this trip?
JS: We learned that we could survive at the mission station in Goroka which will be our home for the next few years. Life was very manageable there. Kandy was able to learn how she could cook, shop, do laundry, and continue homeschooling. I learned that I need to be in top physical shape to be able to go on jungle patrols to remote villages. Most importantly we learned that we will have to be totally dependent on Christ and his mercy and grace for our work there to be fruitful. As missionaries we have to remind ourselves of the Gospel daily and above all stay close to Christ.
RA: Why would a *family* leave life here in the United States and go to PNG? Isn’t this kind of remote and risky ministry just for singles?
JS: Our family has been captivated by God’s story of redemption that is woven throughout the fabric of Scripture. As we have learned more about what He has done and is doing to bring about the salvation of people from every tribe and tongue and nation we have grown in our desire to be part of this effort on the front lines.
There are two sides to the risk conversation, and one side of that conversation is taking an honest look at what risk there is here and what risk there is there. Our home city Birmingham has one of the highest crime rates in the country. So we definitely would not be in a protected bubble by staying in Birmingham. That is not to say there is not significant risk in living in a developing country on the other side of the world either, but often we relativize the risk that we encounter here because we have accepted the risk in our home communities and put it aside in order to live life without being in a constant state of stress about our personal safety.
The other side of this conversation has to do with our view of risk for the sake of the Gospel. There is a lot of sensationalism about laying it all on the line for the sake of the Gospel in the far flung places of the world. We don’t see ourselves as exceptionally brave or courageous. We are just attempting to live out our view of God and his mission in the world through the power of the Gospel in our own lives. I guess what I am saying is that when we come to terms with the things that God values and we attempt to adjust our values to reflect God’s values, we aren’t risking much at all. One could make the argument that to risk life and limb for things that aren’t valuable in God’s value system is a much riskier endeavor.
To quote someone who puts it much more eloquently than I can, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” – Jim Elliot
RA: What’s next for the Sanders?
JS: As of October of 2012, we have 8 months left at the To Every Tribe Center for Pioneer Church Planting (CPCP). We will graduate in May of 2013. After graduation, we plan to enroll in a five week missions launch course for the entire family in Colorado, called MTI, which will include pre-field training in the vitals of cross-cultural ministry and language acquisition techniques. Kandy will then spend two weeks receiving intense medical missions training at Equip International in North Carolina. Following this course, we will spend the next few months preparing for the move to PNG.
Our plan is to be in Papua, New Guinea by January of 2014 and start the Pacific Orientation Course (POC) in Madang, PNG. This course consists of 8 weeks of classroom time learning language and culture specific to PNG, and 5 weeks of village living. The remainder of our first term will be spent in Goroka, which is where other To Every Tribe missionaries are currently living. During this time, we will intentionally spend time learning more language and culture, building relationships with the nationals, and taking scouting trips into unreached villages. We pray that during this time we will receive an invitation to live in a tribal village. We hope to eventually build a bush house in that village, where we will live until we are able to build up and train national church leadership. Our first term will likely be 3 years and will end some time in 2017.
We hold these plans loosely, as we know that God can change any or all of them over the next few years. We will continue to rely on His Word and seek counsel from our pastors and leaders at To Every Tribe as we move along on this journey to the unreached.
RA: Thanks, Jeremy.
Continue to pray for the Sanders as they prepare to be Ekballoed (propelled, Matthew 9:38) into the harvest Christ has in Papua New Guinea. To Every Tribe exists to extend the worship of Christ among all peoples by mobilizing, training, and sending missionaries such as the Sanders to plant churches among the unreached. Our passion is getting the gospel to as many unengaged people groups as God enables us so that God is worshiped in the name of Jesus among every tribe and tongue.
There are 3 billion unreached people who will never hear the name of Jesus unless someone is sent to them. 3 billion unreached. 1 mission to proclaim Christ’s name to those who have not yet heard. 3 billion reasons to partner with us in the 1 mission. Will you join with the Sanders and the rest of the To Every Tribe family in mission?