Interviewed by Charlotte Wangrin, May 28, 2007
(CW – Charlotte Wangrin, NI – Norman Imbrok, BI – Bernice Imbrok)
CW: Will you tell us your name please.
NI: Norman Henry Imbrock
CW: This is May 28, 2007. I am Charlotte Wangrin and I am interviewing these nice people in their home which is west of Napoleon between Napoleon and Ridgeville. Mr. Imbrock was just telling me about an organization that might have some added material for our Historical Society for scholars. Would you repeat that please.
NI: The German Lutheran Heritage is located at the Lutheran Social Services building south of Archbold on Route 66, Archbold, Ohio 43502. Tel #419-267-5528. Henry zumFelde is the founding motivator and sometimes he has funded certain projects. He lives near Wauseon, and his address and telephone number is Henry zumFelde, 4350 Co. Rd. 13, Wauseon, Ohio 43567. Tel. #419-335-7746. Other than that contact can be made at the building.
CW: I think you said on Tuesday mornings.
NI: Yes on Tuesday mornings they usually have somebody there. Lucille Sunderman is often one of the persons that is there. She recently lost her husband Art. She is the mother of Mary Osborn at the Alpine Village. She is the administrator there.
CW: You said that they do have records in their office.
NI: Congregational and they have done personal interviews too, even on video and other things such as backgrounds of people around here. It is usually open for people to do research or what their personal interest is.
CW: That is good for people to know about because lots of times we have scholars from Bowling Green who would like to look further into some of this information.
NI: Yes please come to some of our meetings.
CW: They put out a newsletter quarterly?
NI: Maybe we should put you on the mailing list for that too, so you will have to leave your mailing address with us, but I guess it is also in the phone book.
CW: Yes, you do that.
NI: I will make a note of that.
BI: I had grown up in Detroit on the outskirts of Detroit in Mt. Clemens and graduated from a small high school there and then went on to college. He had brought me home to Napoleon to visit his family, probably for the first time in ‘52. I didn’t know very much of Ohio. Up in Detroit we thought Ohio as being the same category as the hillbillies in Kentucky.
CW: Oh! That is interesting.
BI: Of course our farming was not as good in Michigan. I had never seen such beautiful well kept farms as I saw when we drove around to see the different places. One other thing I realized later when we came back from overseas on furloughs was that there had been at that time only one farm pond that we knew of and in the time we had been gone six years a lot of people had farm ponds and in addition to the ponds that were formed by the highways going in.
CW: Oh yes.
BI: It was a changed topography.
CW: Is that right.
BI: Very different.
CW: What changed it?
BI: Because there was more water available. To go to the lake was a big deal because you had to either go over to Erie or you had to go into Indiana. I grew up in Michigan and lakes were just there.
CW: And lots of lakes too. Yes I came from Pennsylvania and I remember going to Archbold and how different life was on the farm.
NI: And the farming has changed so much. I feel that I was fortunate first of all that I had a large network of uncles and aunts and cousins that I grew up with. I was able to go to a one room school for five years, Veigel School.
CW: What did you think of that for an education?
NI: It was wonderful because you had some good teaachers. Margaret Sherman was my teacher for three years and then we came to public school in Napoleon. I had to ride the bus then where before we rode our bicycle. She continued to teach and then we saw her on furloughs and she was still active and her sister Lucille taught one of the other years and there was a Miss Frysinger taught my first year. I only had three teachers during my five years. I always thought Margaret Sherman was innovative. She would bring library books every two weeks maybe and she would lay them out on the library table where the trustees had provided her with that space and instead of that little library in the corner, which I had been reading before we had all these things that she would bring and she would encourage us to read whenever we had our homework done. We would sit there and listen to the other classes anyhow, so you know when the fourth grade arithmetic class would go up to recite and interact with the teacher, we in the second grade would be sitting there listening.
CW: By the time you got to the fourth grade you knew quite a bit of it.
NI: It was interesting and it was like an extended family. It was quite a shock coming to the Napoleon public schools because I remember especially I was taken to the cleaners the first couple of weeks in marbles. I didn’t realize how sharp those guys were. They had been practicing. Anyhow that was quite an adjustment but I had some relatives and cousins, Marvin Oberhaus went to the same classes I did in school. It was from the sixth grade on through to high school that I spent in Napoleon, graduating in ‘48.
CW: Now when you first started going to school in Napoleon, did you walk in there?
NI: No we had to ride the bus.
CW: Oh did you have a bus!
NI: Yes. The other thing about being here on the farm and having such a diversified background in farming is that every individual farmstead-homestead was almost self-sufficient. Most of them had grain farming of various types. Some of it was used for feed. I still grew up with Dad having two teams of horses and two tractors. He had a hired hand and sometimes Dad was farming three different plots, three different farms. We also had cows, we had hogs, and we had chickens, so that meant we had chores to do. And we then we did different things at home like butchering. We didn’t have freezers back then. We did home canning, which we think really helped me in my transition to New Guinea because we had to be innovative. We were provided for ourselves with certain things like canning meat, salting it away, butchering. I had a small cattle project in New Guinea.
CW: Did you teach them how to do some of that stuff?
NI: Some of it was not teachable. I taught them so they could do it under my supervision, but after I left it really didn’t continue. It was not intended to be that way. So anyhow it was an outlet for me because coming through 4-H I had a garden project when my mother was sick. She had really gone downhill with inflammatory rheumatism. I remember going across the road here at this place and trying to find enough vegetables in my garden plot in among the weeds which nobody had time to take care of, including me. I had other jobs to do other than that and so it was time to exhibit at the fair. We could just barely get three of this or four of that for my garden project to be exhibited at the Henry county fair.
NI: Later I did some heifer projects. My dad was interested in me learning something about dairy, because we had anywhere from ten to fifteen cows that we took care of.
CW: All milked by hand at that time I suppose.
NI: Yes, and he bought me a nice heifer, which proceeded after two years not to produce because she had a very difficult first delivery.
CW: Oh dear!
NI: I found her and I think she had picked up some bad, maybe an old fence, rusty bit of wire. She was down there in the water and feverish and we just hauled her out and she died. So both of those projects failed. I was able to have the outlet in New Guinea. The other thing about the cattle, we lived on 15A and my dad had the pasture here on the church road in the Barret Creek bottom, which used to be all one farm here. I would bring those cattle that were supposed to go to pasture, anywhere from eight to twelve, or more, from 15A along Route 6, down to Q1, leave them in there and then I would take off to Veigel school or to summer school which is over here to St. Paul’s Napoleon township.
CW: Oh for heaven sake! How could you get them on Route 6 – ten or twelve cattle?
NI: They knew where to go and all I did was follow them and make sure they stayed on track.
CW: What about the traffic? There wasn’t any traffic?
NI: There was some traffic but there was only one time that I know of when they crossed here at Road 16 normally and some lady at the wheel of a car plowed into one of the larger cows and she left a scar and a bit of the hide and we talked and she kept on driving.
CW: Oh for heavens sake!
NI: Otherwise we had no bad incidents. I would follow them with my bicycle. That meant I could never get to a “round town” softball game in time.
CW: What is round town?
NI: You play ball. When you come in you start on right field, then you go center field, left field, third base, shortstop, and on around to pitcher and then catcher. By the time I got to bat it was time to go in.
CW: My goodness, isn’t that interesting! I never knew how they played that. I knew there was some version where they used fewer people.
NI: Another thing that was really good for me, now theologically and psychologically, besides as I was saying we had regular church going relatives. They insisted that we go to summer school, which used to be a parochial school in the previous generation. We had it down to eight weeks of summer school by that time, morning and afternoon, Monday to Friday. That was what we had as our preparation for becoming confirmed. From the time we were eight years old until we were thirteen or fourteen.
CW: In what language was it?
NI: That was both German and English.
CW: So you had to learn the Low German as well as the English for that?
NI: We spoke Low German at home. We used English in town and we had High German at church. So we were learning High German that was written. The other was all verbal or oral. But I am saying it was good theologically and psychologically because we were a group. That was the place to be. You didn’t want to go some place else because that was fun. We were together morning before school, recess, noon hour and after school we would sort of hang around for a while and then we had to go home for chores naturally. We made a lot of long standing connections that have survived through the years.
CW: Is that right.
NI: One of the unfortunate stresses for me and I have to be careful what I say here is that St. Paul’s Napoleon township – my congregation of origin – decided to change their denominational connection. They are no longer ALC or ELCA. They have become members of the Association of American Lutheran Churches. That is their decision. They came to that decision while we were away. People ask us what we thought. We spoke our piece. They made their vote and that’s the way it is. So now we belong at Bethlehem, Defiance, which is four miles farther down the road.
NI: As I am saying the connections still remain on a personal level even though I go back for occasional services, funerals and so forth, because we had this background. Some of that continues in the Low German Club.
CW: Oh it does!
NI: Or the German choir. I have an annual worship service at Hope Lutheran Church, Hamler in August, and those people don’t bear me any ill will, and I don’t them either because they happened to have made another decision. So we do things together.
CW: You should try our church sometime.
NI: We have been there.
CW: Oh have you.
NI: Good hearing devices.
BI: This multiple language thing when I first came down to visit bothered me beause my grandfather was High German, my grandmother on my mother’s side spoke some Low German, but the only time they ever used it was if they wanted to say something privately to each other, or complain about what we kids were doing or…
CW: Something they didn’t want you to hear.
BI: That was my feeling when someone switched languages in a room. There was something I wasn’t supposed to hear. When I came down to visit Norman we would be sitting in a room and chatting and the phone would ring. Whoever answered it would immediately start talking in Low German or perhaps somebody in the room too and we would be talking, somebody would switch to Low German and I have this real uneasy feeling about that. What are they talking about!
NI: Or she comes in the room and everybody goes quiet.
CW: Yes that is another thing.
NI: I tried to help her someway and when things were starting to get serious I taught her a phrase, which was “Kann ick dein Jung freen?” and she was supposed to say that to my Dad. “Kann ick dein Jung freen?” which means “May I marry your son?”
NI: And he said “What”?
BI: Didn’t I say it right, and he replied, well I want to hear it again to see if I heard it right.
CW: Isn’t that cute.
NI: I taught her other things like “Hast du geld?” – “Got any money with you?” or something like that. Other than that we didn’t share the German language.
CW: You didn’t ask her to learn your mother tongue?
NI: I didn’t lay that on her. She doesn’t need to do everything that I do. I don’t need to do everything that she does. In New Guinea also I had to do some fairly serious reconstruction of my dream for her as missionary wife, because she wasn’t coming along in the language the way I thought she could. We tried and she finally bailed out and she said I am going to use use Neo-Melanesian, Pidgin English and that will be it. Good enough! Whereas I was required as a called missionary to learn the Kotte language along with Neo-Melanesian. Pidgin English is more like a trade language. So that is fine. We have other friends who are team mates in linguistics. Bernie went to linguistic school, but she says her hearing and her perceptions do not give her a talent in learning languages. Her niche consisted of medical work, teaching our children home school along with women’s work with the Nationals. So she found her own niche, her work in New Guinea.
CW: Good for you!
NI: I will fill in part of the history of our call to mission work. Pastor George Hueter came here in 1937, so all of sudden we had these Hueter kids in school here. Bob was the oldest, then Dorothy was in my class, and Irene was a year younger, then there was Dick who was four years younger. He came along a little bit later because he wasn’t of school age when they arrived here in 1937. So they became close friends of ours in various ways. George Hueter had been a missionary in New Guinea and they had some health issues to deal with and they decided not to go back. They were there from 1926 until 1932. They came here after a period of time in another congregation doing some mission deputation. They came to Henry County in 1937 and they stayed here until 1959 as pastor of this congregation at St. Paul’s, Napoleon Twp.
CW: And that is spelled Hueter?
NI: Yes, and he had been a missionary and spoke positively of that. We had him on Sunday. We had him in confirmation instruction and that was formative because by the time I went to summer school he was already here. ‘37 and ‘38 was when I started. So we did a lot of things together. He played ball with us. He was a good guy. Usually once a year he would allow us to convince him to bring out his New Guinea curios. He had a trunk full of stuff that he would show us, anything from a boot that a shark had bitten into and that kind of thing.
CW: And he would have a story connected to each one of them.
NI: Of course, and he would also bring it into his sermons occasionally about some of the Nationals who had been very good, faithful Christians during the time of the Japanese occupation during the second World War. He was international in that way. When it came time for me to go to seminary, people would ask me and I said no, I am not interested in being a missionary because that was a burning question. When I got married to Bernie she asked me that, too, and I said no, thinking I would have a parish in America, but we went on our year of internship in 1954. There were several things that happened to precipitate this change of attitude. Anyhow I started thinking about mission work and so Bernie called her mother. You better tell her that one.
BI: Well, since it was so far from our thoughts at the time we got married and because I had a lot of different illnesses growing up we never considered making life mission work. I said to my mother, “Norm wants to go to New Guinea, what am I going to do?” She said, “Well you married him and I guess you will be going along”.
CW: Oh good advice!
NI: I had the best of both worlds because I was the first son-in-law in the Purdon family.
CW: Oh yes.
NI: So my mother-in-law was very supportive and Dad Purdon also, but I had a real difficulty and this is very personal, and I had a real difficulty telling my parents, because they had sort of thought that we would be here nearby them here in America at least, because my older brother had passed away in 1954 when we were getting married. Going on internship some of our relatives even said, “You can’t get married just after the funeral can you?”. We said we are locked in and instead of having him as my best man, I just moved up my buddy one more slot and we went ahead and got married. It was a very trying time for my parents. So I was reluctant to tell them and I finally got it across to them. They accepted it although it was certainly quite a difficult pill to swallow. Of course we still had the last year of seminary for this change of decision and they were very helpful and supportive in what we did.
CW: I believe, wasn’t it customary at that time to encourage your family to stay close by in the area?
NI: Many people did.
CW: My mother-in-law was adamant about that, but she didn’t insist on it, but she encouraged all of her children to live nearby.
NI: That’s classic. We, of course, because we did that, we had some soul wrenching times, too, when we would talk to friends or teachers of ours, too, and say, now here we are making a decision that is going to affect the lives of our unborn children. We talked about it and prayed at various stages and we would say the Lord has come along and brought people who could be substitute parents or mentors when our children needed to make some decision which we couldn’t help them with. Our oldest son has occasionally said, well, you know when we would ask him was this a problem, could you handle it. We didn’t want to lay this on him but we thought this was a call we had to accept. He said, “Well, Dad, you can’t argue with God.” He has come through some of his stages too, but he has made a marvelous adjustment along with our other three children.
CW: Now are there other Imbrocks that are or were missionaries?
NI: No, but a cousin Arnie Imbrock wanted to be a missionary but settled for pastorates in America. Well the Hueter kids were. Bob was first, and then Dotty married another pastor. She lives in Wisconsin. Irene went as a teacher. She spent most of her career in New Guinea. She lives in Columbus. Dick Hueter, the youngest was also a missionary for quite a while. He lives in the upper peninsula of Michigan. They were good companions. I also have a second cousin Norm Norden, who was a missionary for about eighteen years. He came home and was a pastor at Hope – Hamler. He is retired there at Malinta. We have some Imbrocks in Pittsburgh that we have never really met personally. They were missionaries somewhere else and I haven’t gotten into a connection with them. I think we were really the only ones of our branch. The Hamler Imbrocks, Holgate Imbrocks and the Deshler Imbrocks are about third or fourth cousins.
CW: Now this is an abrupt change of subject, but I interviewed John Henry and he said that when he was a young man he said the farmers were each responsible for a section of the highway in front of his land. I wondered how has Route 6 developed and changed since you live right on Route 6 here?
NI: The volume of traffic for one thing. I was going to say something about the way farmers co-existed here. They had threshing rigs which of course is not the case anymore. My father had a Case threshing machine that he had bought, and he organized the neighbors around here. I don’t know whether there were eight or ten farms and they would do the wheat and the oats and do it in connection with each other and they would help each other out until everything was harvested. That was an interesting progression there. I remember from my development that when he had done that awhile then he bought an Allis Chalmers combine, then a tractor, and another tractor for the threshing machine. I remember very clearly the time when he sent me to do some combining while he was still doing threshing. It was in a period of change over. I saw the change over period from horses to tractors too. Our hired hand preferred horses. He lived on Road P, the Bales road. He would always come around and we would do work together. If there was a choice, I would take the tractor and he would take the horses. It was just a personal preference. I always thought that was an interesting change over that I wouldn’t have wanted to be without. Although I am not a horse person now, I don’t need to have horses as an outlet. I still enjoyed seeing that happen that people can do that sort of thing.
CW: The first tractor must have been pretty exciting.
NI: We had a ten-twenty.
CW: Oh I see.
NI: That was what the model was called. There are various ways in which neighbors were more dependent on each other. You would have neighborhood card parties, too, which you don’t really have anymore. You would have quilting parties, which I still remember, which are not being done anymore. People do more working out. Working out, do you know what that means now?
NI: Get physically fit. My mother worked out, but that means she went and worked as a maid for the pastor in town. Pastor Lankenau.
CW: Oh, that is what they meant by working out.
NI: Working out back then meant working out away from home. Not the regular thing for young girls or wives to do, although there was a certain limited number of jobs at that time according to their training. Fathers didn’t think that girls should go get too highly educated. I remember a really fine example down the road here was Doris Whiteman. She was a nurse and she had gone to Columbia University and was a nurse most of her life, but when her mother needed care she came home and took care of her mother. Charlie her dad was a blacksmith. He did his work, but Doris came home and took care of her bedridden mother for a number of years. When her mother passed away she went back and taught in a nursing school, I have forgotten where, somewhere in the West, Colorado I believe.
CW: She was so talented and could have done so much otherwise.
NI: She did. She was a perfect example. When she retired she was an example for me beyond my own family as something to strive for.
CW: Yes. I remember the expression, “A womans place is in the home.” A woman should not get an education as it would be just wasting the money because she is going to become a wife and mother. She is not going to use that education. I am sure there were many young girls that gave up a lot of what they would have been capable of.
NI: My sister went through high school and she was a secretary for a number of years until she got married and they had their children and of course her husband went away to the Second World War. He was reclassified after they already were expecting. They bought a house in town. He was a carpenter and that was a change for them. My brother was not interested in going on to school. He wanted to opt out in junior, after his sophomore year, take an early exit from high school, but then he changed his mind and continued high school, and he became a mechanic. (Cuckoo clock loudly announcing the top of the hour can be heard in the background) He was going to be the farmer. My dad’s plans sort of centered around him and my dad encouraged me to go to college. I thought that was okay if I could hack it. I always did that and he encouraged me to come home and work for him during the summer rather than for a money job somewhere else. He said you work for me and I will pay the bills. I took part time work at college too, of course. That was a fine encouragement for me. I always appreciated that. I don’t think my dad felt it was a waste of time for me to go overseas to another country, but they came to visit us in 1976 when they were 81 and 78 years old.
CW: That was a long trip for them.
NI: Bernie’s sister, Roberta came to visit us in 1960 and again ten years later in 1970. My sister and my brother in law visited us in 1986, which happened to be the anniversary year of our mission work, 100 years. So they saw a lot of special festivals, plays, and singing groups that we normally didn’t see. Those were the nice connections and I think by doing that they showed their support for our work. In many cases we were off by ourselves. We had to make our entertainment. We had our family things when the kids were home from school. They were at boarding school most of the time. That support was important for us.
CW: What do you remember about New Guinea? Do you remember any interesting little events or things that happened?
BI: There are six hundred million of them. From the time you arrive there, in spite of anything you have been told by other missionaries, or read, it is just a whole totally new experience. First of all the heat and humidity at the coast is really overwhelming. You just wonder how anybody manages to live there. They all keep saying you live here for six months, you adjust to it, but I thank God we never had to. I am not sure I would have.
CW: It is very hot then.
BI: It is the humidity.
CE Oh the high humidity.
NI: The islanders are tolerant of it.
BI: Somebody recently who had gone back on a visit said that when the plane landed and when the pilot opened the door for us to go out it was opening the door to an oven was the way she felt.
CW: Oh my!
BI: It was just very difficult all the times we had to stay at the coast, but first of all there was no network of roads. There were very few cars, but what was available were old Army vehicles. This was right after the war. The missions bought up as much of the Army equipment as they could. They bought their hospitals. They bought any offices and furniture, and whatever they had to rebuild the mission after the war. We rode around in things called weapons carrier, and took all of us to stores, which was the contrast. Here we were riding in this old weapons carrier and going to church in New Guinea when I figured these things hadn’t existed. We got stationed in the highlands and after a few years of Norm doing some language work and I did some teaching. They put Norm in the front line of evangelistic work in an area where people were just out of the stone age. It was a really primitive people.
CW: How did they live at that time?
BI: They had their sweet potato gardens and their natural greens and they fished in the river. Crayfish and small fish, what we would classify as minnows, but they ate them. They ate small birds. They had pits for special festivals. They cooked on open fires and washed in the rivers and they didn’t even yet at that point have steel axes or cooking utensils or anything, and I said I never could figure out how New Guineans could have survived like other stone age cultures that you study in social studies. How did they never get around to inventing a wheel, or something like the American Indian. They would just drag their things. The women carried a lot of things in net bags that they wove and piled these net bags on their head, across the top of their head and down their back. They carried all their stuff that way. Mostly the men would carry just a small bag of their personal things like tobacco, or something.
CW: Now all of this was in about what year would you say?
NI: 1959 – The people had been very restricted. In other words the government had contact with them about 1955 to 1956 on a regular basis. This was in the interior in the
highlands, the southern highland and so they said we don’t want to have outsiders in there. So they kept people out which was unfortunate for our mission work because our policy and our technique was always to permeate, instead of to jump in. Our neighboring area that had been under contract with their missionaries and their national evangelists, pastors, and teachers. They would gradually go in there over a period of five or ten years and then move to the next area. But here they held everything back. Then they said okay it is now 1958 and de-restricted the area, anyhow they said now you can go in. Naturally other missions wanted to go in, the Catholics, the Evangelicals, and some other Wesleyan-Methodists, they all wanted to go in so the Lutherans got a whole group of about thirty or thirty-five evangelists along with one missionary who was to be stationed there. They had five or six other experienced missionaries who traveled through the area, contacted the people and said we want to place an evangelist in your village and this man will help you and so forth. That is what they did in one short period of time.
CW: How did the people react to that?
NI: In September to October of that year they brought in the second wave, so by the time that missionary had been there for a year he had done foundational work in helping them establish themselves there as Christian workers, and working with the people and making sure that they were happy with him too. But he wasn’t learning the language. He didn’t have talent in that area. We came in by designation from our mission board and said you trade stations with Rev. Clark. He would come to the school station where I had been and I would replace him at Wabi. I was to keep the team of evangelists running smoothly, along with learning the language and keeping in touch with the people. So that was what had to be done. The only trouble was the budget for establishing our station buildings and equipment, kitchen utensils, refrigerator, and things like that was half gone and nothing was built.
CW: Oh My!
NI: That was by this time of the year. So we had to go to Wabi and naturally deal with the situation. They gave us an Australian carpenter whe helped some of my national carpenters and he put our house up in frame and under roof and left. Then we were supposed to work with everybody else and complete those building projects. Meanwhile I was building an air strip. Our congregation here provided me with a check. We were still in a semi-permanent house and kitchen.
CW: What do you mean by semi-permanent?
NI: That means it had a grass roof, woven walls of a type of bamboo. There was a solid floor, which was better than the previous house and a kitchen that had a corrugated iron roof on it, and a kitchen stove in it, and a solid floor so Bernie wouldn’t put her feet through the floor.
CW: Oh for heavens sake!
BI: We could catch water off this little bit of roofing iron into a big tank for drinking water.
NI: There we were opening the mail that had come late that afternoon. I remember it was already after dark so we had pressure lamps and here I open this letter from the president of the congregation who is about a first cousin once removed. George Drewes was the treasurer at that time and here was this check. We had an idea that it was coming but we didn’t know that they were going to do that much. They had provided for money enough to buy a tractor, a Massey Ferguson 35, with a trailer which was made by our workers in the workshop on the coast, and a plow and a scraper and I think there was a dump scoop too.
BI: It was a scoop. I remember we used to transport sand with it and the boys took rides in it sometimes.
NI: That set of tools with a hydraulic lift made it a well-equipped modern tractor, Canadian made. That was what we were going to use to build the air strip, which we needed for communication. The roads were not done as yet. You couldn’t drive through to where we were. You could drive about halfway to Lalibu, which is thirty miles away. So when the tractor came I said, okay, give it to Bob Hueter because he needs to build an air strip at his place. We had the connections from back here. I helped him sometimes when I could. I would fly over to his place, work for a couple of weeks and come back, and then after that, after a year…
CW: Did you learn to fly then?
NI: No, I was a passenger with the Lutheran aviation program, the mission aviation program. After a year of that he had the use of that tractor and he brought it half way to our place and then we came through the undergrowth and left it, and he went back home, and in another couple weeks after, when the weather was more favorable we brought it there. We had to bring it very slowly because some of the ditches weren’t done with bridges. We brought that in and built the air strip in the early 1960’s, just before we were coming home on our first furlough.
BI: When we moved from Rintebe where they had a bit more education at the school station. The people of Wabi were often called kanakas, a demeaning term. We didn’t like to have persons from developed areas thinking they were better simply because they had advantages and access to trade. Sure, educated people were usually cleaner, just a big difference in having a little more civilization. When we went into this area of the Southern Highlands, the people were absolutely dirty, and their hair just tangled with dirt and mud and the women were fixing sweet potatoes with that gooey sap which would get on their hands and then more garden dirt. Their hands were just encrusted with dirt, and any clothing that they had was all kind of tan colored. A few people had a shirt that they might have gotten somewhere but by the time it had been washed in river water and worn for a while everybody just what they had was tan colored. The women wore grass skirts and then they they had woven pieces that they could put on their heads when it rained along with a raincoat. They had a blanket, and they put that over their heads if they wanted to cover up their top. The dirtiness of the people is really hard to get used to.
NI: To her credit she did not step back from that. She said we had a tradition we had to step into. Our predecessor had a houseboy to help with kitchen work, and we tolerated that for about a year. Then we said this is not good. Bernie wanted to have girls in the house with her. She scouted around and asked some parents and they provided two or three or four for her to consider. She started with that and she continued with that. She always kept working through that sort of medium to train some local girls to be helpers with her in the kitchen. Also she taught them reading, some writing, and storytelling, and baby care and all that.
CW: So it was a combination school and housework.
NI: The first thing she always did was to take along a parent and she would teach the girls how to wash all over.
CW: Laughs heartily! You mean before then they didn’t wash all over?
NI: They didn’t know they had areas that needed washing.
CW: Oh for heavens sake!
BI: We did this with the mothers. They would come and stay and work with me to have bath time with these girls. It would still take several more days and maybe even a couple of weeks before their hands got down to the actual skin and so I would let them continue working until I could get them clean.
CW: Did you have a lot of problems with bugs?
NI: Yes, besides fleas one of the worst is scabies. Scabies is a little mite that you can just barely see. It gets into crevices and under your belt and on your armpits and in your hair and makes sores. That is a lack of cleanliness. We liked working with the people but they needed to be helped. The glorious traditional way of everybody having a great life before the missionaries came is just a great fiction. They were afraid of each other. They were in an evil situation. They had stockades around their villages. That all came down when the Christian message came.
CW: Were they afraid of you too?
NI: No, we were a different class, sorcery would not work on us, but it works on the New Guinean. That is one of the fears they had, plus fighting. Now, granted, we had a golden age. We saw them coming out of that. We saw them coming through a period of establishment of church and schools. They had their own kids that grew up, became faithful workers along with our Christian imports from other areas.
CW: It would be a rewarding work, wouldn’t it?
NI: Very much. That is why it is kind of hard to see it go down to another level. That is where it got to be at their New Guinea level of performance that they can handle. They have had a regressive period of time from 1975.
CW: I wonder why that is.
NI: They can’t pay for it. They need overseas aid to maintain what they have. Their leadership doesn’t always understand they need to work for the people instead of for themselves, because they easily become distanced from the needs of the people as they are down to the Capital, Pt. Moresby, which is their national headquarters. There is often a problem with communication, greed, temptation. Right now they are having national elections and everybody is in chaos. Back to that early period we did see a lot of really nice stuff happening. We were able to do work in the local language, which is fulfilling for me. She worked with the local girls to get some life skills, taught and some status for all these women and girls over the years.
BI: With all these experiences in teaching life skills to primitive people I decided to update my teaching certificate with courses in Special Education on our next furlough. It had been a long time since I had sat in a lecture hall, and my note-taking skills were really rusty. My professor allowed me to bring in a mini tape recorder.
End of Side A
CW: To make sure you got the material?
NI: I thought it was interesting because I had that same feeling when I was working on the New Guinea languages. Let me go back to what she did besides women’s work. She also found an outlet in medical work. She is not a nurse but a trained teacher-high school and she just saw the need and so we started having regular medical sessions for the village people. And how many times a week did you start every day?
BI: Twice a day because some people needed a second dose of medicine. It gave people more time – twice a day every day except Sunday and Sunday only if somebody really needed something they could come in, but we tried.
CW: Yes you needed rest, sure.
NI: We kept it out of the house. We had another building where she had an aid post and she had a little bit of training from a nurse, who was actually the director of nursing at
Capital University before she got taken by one of the seminarians and then she was a missionary in New Guinea. That was wonderful to have that. She got some instructions from her.
BI: Some people would say what an easy life you have living in New Guinea. You have three or four girls helping you with all your work. I need to explain that it took so much time and effort just to live in that situation with the limitations we have, the number of things, you had to have your own garden if you wanted vegetables. You had to have your own animals if wanted some fresh red meat.
CW: You had no machines did you.
BI: No. You had to heat all the water for washing. You had to cook on a wood stove. Things got damp. Your flour would be damp. Rice would have bugs in it, or whatever, which meant spending part of your day putting it on sheets of corrugated iron out in the sun to dry. The bugs would get off it when it got hot and get out of our rice. Just living took so long. If we didn’t have the girls I don’t know how much mission work I might have accomplished. You don’t have too much time.
NI: She was a good teacher in the sense that she did task-analysis of all the steps that had to be done. She taught all the girls, whoever came. She had started with three or four and worked down to two or one. Everyone could do the different jobs, whether it was the ironing, the washing, or cooking or cleaning and so forth. That way she was not vulnerable to any kid that would say, “I don’t have to listen to the Mrs. here.”
CW: You probably rotated the different jobs.
BI: I didn’t want to be caught when I didn’t have somebody here to do the laundry, because that girl was home sick or something like that.
NI: Or the parents would say, “Okay, now it is time-she needs to get married,” and yank her away. Anyhow, in addition to housekeeping she did this medical work.
CW: What medical problems did you find?
NI: Malaria, infections, tropical ulcers, bad cuts, sometimes they would fall out of a tree. The pandanus trees were very brittle and when they were harvesting the pandanus nuts they would fall down onto a stake in the fence.
BI: Burns, because of the open fires.
NI: Kids would fall into it.
BI: Axe wounds, diarrhea and dysentery because of the dirt and malnourished children. At the start I had a special program for mothers with toddlers. Even before we were even with a prenatal clinic I did want to get them past the stage where they lost these kids because they were in a stage between weaning and not being able to eat the food that was being prepared. They all had these huge stomachs and yet they were malnourished. They couldn’t handle the food in the stage their mothers were giving it to them We had to work on systems to get easily digested food fed to them.
CW: How did they do that then?
NI: You see, anybody who gets sick in New Guinea, the first question is, “Who did it?” Somebody must have done it to me, because my normal state is healthy. Right! If I get sick, somebody must have it in for me.
CW: Could it be the evil spirits?
NI: Not only that, but the Southern Highlanders had three kinds of death sorcery. Three different kinds of techniques of getting at people. They were fearful of that. They were always ascribing cause and effect to that instead of saying, “We should really shape up and do things a little differently. Eat differently, sleep differently and all that.” That was a pacification that we were able to do for them through a Christian presence. We had sixty-five evangelist stations throughout this one language area. Talk about providence. Some of my fellow missionaries had an area that they had to cover that had four or five different languages. Which one were they going to start with? I had one language – Kewa, and I had a linguist next door who was a Wycliffe Bible translator. And those Christian evangelists with their families, coming from their home areas that had a tradition of two to three generations of Christianity lived among the Kewa people as examples in daily problem solving. We still stay in touch.
NI: In the Kewa language Karl Franklin was working on his approach and goals and I was working on mine and over the years we cooperated so for me that was satisfactory. But Bernie in her medical work was doing injections too, and sometimes we would have meningitis cases. We had one man that I can remember where we called on the radio. We had daily contact with either the mission program or several doctors. We would call them and get advice. If that didn’t work we would call for a plane to come and take that person to a hospital. We had one case of meningitis that went out and came back healed. You know hospitals are considered by the people as a place to go and die.
CW: Yes, they used to believe that.
NI: That plane came in early in the morning before the fog settled and it was always dicey to get into the Southern Highlands, because we would most often have fog for half of the morning, and rain in the afternoon. We would have one hundred and fifteen to one hundred and thirty inches of rain a year. We would very seldom have an inch or an inch and a half of rain per day. We would mostly have thirty five points, half an inch, seventy five points and thirteen inches of rain a month. The low was three to five inches of rain a month.
CW: They couldn’t fly in the rain, could they?
NI: They could fly so long as they cleared the clouds, if they could get past the mountains. That is what our son Tim has been doing. He grew up with that sort of weather and understands the need for margins of safety.
BI: Medicine was a real evangelistic tool because you got results. Things that they hadn’t been able to overcome in generations you could give them a two week course of penicillin or put the right ointment on their scabies and get rid of them and they were taught to put their blankets out in the sun. That kills the scabies mite. There were so many things that you could do that actually helped to change their lives. Even something as simple as burn prevention and treatment. If the child burns their hand or foot, or you get burned when you are cooking, get to the river and put the burn part in the water, sit there quite a while with the burn part in the water, then you won’t have a really bad burn and maybe not even a blister. The first person who actually did that came back and reported
that she had done what Mrs. Imbrock had said, well instantly if this works okay. It can change life styles dramatically.
CW: So then when one person had done that the rest were willing to try.
NI: The spinoff, too, I remember several men coming to me in various stages and they were upset with their wives for various reasons and they would say, “I don’t know about my wife. I have been telling her she should be shaping up and treating me differently and our kids differently because she goes to Mrs. Imbrock’s classes.” Or, he would say, “I am in instruction for baptism, headed for that, and therefore when I go home I am not going to hit my wife with the sharp side of the axe, only slap her with the broad side of the axe.”
Group laughs loudly.
CW: Oh my.
NI: Still the man said. “I am going to use the axe somehow to teach her a lesson.”
BI: When we first started having these womens classes we would have a little bible story to begin with and sing a song. I think we were doing this in Pidgin English with translation to Kewa. Others were doing some of it in the Kewa language, but I would speak Pidgin and my translator would turn it into the local dialect. The first time we did this a whole lot of men came to these meetings for the women because they wanted to find out what was going on.
CW: Oh really!
BI: When we got into sewing and cooking and hygiene they got bored and tended to stay away. That was the way it was. The government supported any kind of health care programs you could start. They wanted prenatal clinics and wanted well baby clinics. There were a lot of things they supplied, for example, powdered milk. These children were toddlers we are talking about.
CW: I wondered what supplies you could use.
BI: Like milk and peanut butter balls and mix it with the powdered milk. They could grow peanuts and mash up the peanuts and ripe bananas, mix it with the milk and give the children those to eat, mash up the corn and the beans and other things that they grew and feed it to the kids. The government would help with almost anything we wanted to do to try and improve the nutrition and also to cut down on the mortality rate among the infants who died of first of all tetanus from dirty bamboo that was used to cut the umbilical cord at birth. Probably the first after that would be diarrhea, which would wipe out many. Women would often tell me that by the time we got there, that they had already had six babies, and they had two living. The government was very supportive of us. The government did eventually establish their own network of clinics throughut the whole area and pay the men who had been trained to be aid post orderlies. They would take our national orderlies that were trained at the hospital and maybe give them an exam and then install them in villages where they had worked before. They would be on government salary from then on.
CW: A big help! Did they have use for the funds that they would get from the government? Did they use the money?
NI: The main problem is the transfer, the changeover from self-government to independence, and the following years after 1975, gradually they kept cutting back on services to the native village medical aid posts, and the political leaders would fritter away the tax money. They did not provide enough for education. Many of these guys who were trained and did really good front line work in helping the people on the village level. The medical orderlies didn’t have any supplies. They didn’t even have aspirin, and different other basic things to clean wounds, and bandages, nothing like that. For quite a while the national leaders tended to show stand-offishness. After independence, they wanted to show their freedom from colonial masters.
CW: Oh yes.
NI: Because of rules related to localization after independence Bernie could no longer do medical work. She could only support the guy who was being paid by the government. Nurses who wanted to go to New Guinea from Australia or Germany couldn’t serve because they had trained local nurses who maybe were trained, but were not as efficient and could have used quite a bit of help during that change-over. They were not given enough medicine supplies. That is the problem of the leadership in the country. They need to have a real shake up unless things can improve in the localization process.
CW: Is that what is happening right now?
NI: Yes. That is the grief to us, but on the other hand we say we were always in the business of working ourselves out of a job. We wanted to localize as much as possible. We had a whole mission structure at one time starting from the Germans who went there in 1886, until we got there in 1956. We had quite a history. We have built on that tradition in the best way and then tried to update it of course. We had a supply center, like Wal Mart, not that big of course, but still a supply center.
CW: Where was this?
NI: It was at Madang on the north coast.
CW: In New Guinea?
NI: Yes, in New Guinea. We had missionary lay people who were in charge of that and ran it as a business, not for profit. We had a shipping company, Lutheran Shipping. We had an aviation arm. We had carpenters. We had a lot of other things like that. We had training centers all the way down to the local village level, that were still being run mostly by overseas people on the area level, not on the village level. It was all for the benefit of the people which gradually were localized. We didn’t send any more pastors from America. Our missionaries had begun training people at seminaries, or at teaching centers. That is where we kept having fewer and fewer. How many did we have in the ‘60’s?
NI: No I am talking about overseas. Two hundred people?
BI: Two hundred and thirty-nine missionaries in the ‘60s.
NI: Now mostly the Germans still keep sending people while we have two from America and one from Canada. That’s what we have now, a total of three.
CW: You trained that many New Guineans to take over?
BI: Everything is nationalized now.
NI: So that has been going on ever since 1959 to 1960 and 1961. Establishing the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua, New Guinea has been a process over fifty to sixty years. The interesting thing which we hear now, and this is valid terminology. We are encouraged in the ELCA to have companion relationships. You are walking together through life. We have areas of the church like the Northwest Ohio Synod which has a companion relationship with Tanzania. Kansas and some of the others have a companion relationship with Papua, New Guinea. They are all different things that are being done evangelistically on the world scene and if you want to read about it you can get your “Prayer Ventures” from ELCA headquarters. They have all kinds of individuals and projects that are there. That is the relationship now. I wrote some letters. I don’t like to write letters to nationals who send me letters. I got a few from New Guinea. One of them was still saying you really should help us with this project. We don’t have enough money to finish this building or something like that. I said well I am sorry but I have to keep looking to the future for myself, for the church here, and we are no longer in that same relationship of paternalism: Papua to Pikinini. That is what they used to call it. You are the father figure and I am the poor child that doesn’t have any resources. I don’t have any strength of my own. They would use that. I said you know what we really have and I quoted the passage from Paul’s letter that says we are ambassadors together for Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:20. “So we are ambassadors for Christ.”
CW: That is the way it should be, of course.
NI: And you know when I say ambassador they have enough of their own nationals who are ambassadors. Providentially, Charlotte, it was really surprising for us. We were on Long Island, New York and out of nowhere we got in connection with Utula Samana. He was the nephew of the first bishop of ELCPNG. He was the United Nations ambassador in New York City.
CW: For heavens sake!
NI: We had him out to Patchogue twice. He preached in our church. We had him over to our house. He came with his own driver, his own vehicle and with his wife.
CW: That would be fascinating.
BI: He invited us as special guests when New Gluinea had a big celebration in 1995 at the UN for their twenty years of independence. We had a big party.
NI: We got to see not only that group but also the other groups from the South Pacific. That was interesting too.
BI: We had a buffet, moved around and talked with people and were going to have their special program for this occasion. I happened to sit down next to a woman I had been watching all evening who was from Tonga. Whether she was the ambassador or the ambassador’s wife, that I don’t know.
NI: She was more like the queen of Tonga.
BI: She was a very impressive person. She had a retinue of people always around her to see that she had what she needed. Anyway she was sitting next to me and watching the New Guineans dressed in formal western attire presiding over all the details of this impressive ceremony. I just felt really overwhelmed. Look what they can do in the world and make a name for themselves and be respected. I said to her, “Isn’t it great to be here and see what the New Guineans are able to do?” She put her nose in the air and said, “Oh, New Guineans, they are such savages.”
CW: She didn’t!
NI: The South Pacific, if New Guinea had not done some of their deteriorating regression among themselves which has unfortunately happened since 1975, if they had kept going. They had resources. They had gold mines, copper mines. They have oil now. They could do all kinds of thing agriculturally. They are a big enough island in the South Pacific they could be the leading force. More so than the little island like Tonga. Anyhow that was our impression there. I am saying, talk about the risk factor of training other people to do jobs that you maybe did for a long time and could probably do better. To train and hand it over, there is always a risk, and this Utula Samana that I mentioned is the nephew of Zurewec Zurecnuoc, the first bishop of the ELCPNG. He was sent overseas to China at one time. He came back with so much Marxist socialism in his head you wouldn’t forget.
CW: Is that right.
NI: But he learned, he learned that that was just something he could learn and then forget. It didn’t fit New Guinea. It probably would not be best in the long run either.
At least on some part of communal socialism, at least capitalism that will help develop his country.
CW: And develop respect. I am sure they must yearn for more respect from whites especially.
NI: We had heard of him before, but had never met him in person. I just knew him from a distance. To have him in my own home and see. He was married to a woman from the Highlands. They were talking among themselves and we were having a good time and they were arguing between themselves. She said we are going to keep on planting more vegetables on that plot of ground we have down there in the Makham valley. We will take it into Lae and just sell it at market. No-no we have to plant more betel nut trees he said. The betel nut is something they chew like chewing tobacco. That will bring in more cash right away. We have to plant more of those trees. No, we have to plant more vegetables she said. Here they are arguing, the ambassador to the United Nations. Before we had heard his guy was unapproachable. He had come back with all this Communist stuff in his head. He was still solid in his relation to his people. That is what is so necessary because the nationals can do a lot of good for each other with their tribal structure. On the other hand it can be very devastating for people who have some initiative and anybody that tries to get ahead is caught in a crossfire of criticism.
CW: Oh sort of kept down.
NI: There is a tendency to a common denominator if you are not careful. We had a perfectly good gardener. He was from the next area over at Lalibu where we had another missionary. I had gotten hold of him and had worked him in. He seemed to be happy there and he did all kinds of stuff. He worked wonderfully. The local people put pressure on me. I yielded, and I shouldn’t have. They said we really want to have one of our guys take his place. He can do the gardening for you. I let this guy go. My garden went to pot. This guy went ahead and he organized a truck farming industry for them up at the other place, which was really not as good a climate as ours. They were a couple of thousand feet higher than we were, and much colder. That same guy had initiative. He was able to keep going. There is a term in New Guiea called “wantok” (one-talk). One talk means anybody who is that closely related that he speaks the same language. That is the closness we like. But “rubbish-im-wantok” means you suck him dry, tear him down to your level and you try to get the most out of your buddy that you can. Instead of putting your hands together and doing some initiative thing together, you pull him down. That can be destructive.
CW: Didn’t Jesus’s teachings help them to avoid this?
NI: Of course. All that is very applicable. We had a tradition that we stepped into with the German missionaries who were there when everybody was dying of malaria. They went there, they sacrificed, and they got buried there. We came in when there were tropical diseases taking a toll and people who didn’t know what was going on healthwise. It was wonderful that we still learned from them in later years. They said as you evangelize you do not take individual people and convince them that Jesus is their Lord, and they can be baptized and live individualistically as Christians. You don’t deal with individuals, you deal with the whole tribe. With the power structures. You go with the guy who is at the top and you say, “Now look, we can do this for the benefit of your people.” We don’t baptize individuals until everybody is ready. At least a good lump of people. Then we start working, and then the next group comes and we keep steamrolling, instead of picking a little section here and there.
BI: The community of the neighbors who are good to follow this way.
NI: So we hold back some of them so others can catch up and everybody can benefit. So that is what we were doing all the time. We learned that from the Germans, plus translating the Bible stories into their language. That was taught orally. The instructor, the evangelist could even be illiterate. But the literate evangelist could read it off the page which was prepared for him. He was told always to adapt it to the local situation, because the dialect and culture four to six miles down the road could be different. We had Bible stories that were crafted, not to change the scripture, but to focus them. We had one wonderful one that was there. It was called Balaam the sorcerer. Do you know the story of Balaam?
CW: Baal I remember.
NI: No, no, Balaam was a prophet who was hired by one of the enemies of Israel to curse the Israelites. He was offered money, and he comes in here and says that is great. I will do that. God encounters him and his donkey along the road. The donkey finally speaks when he won’t walk any farther because the angel is there in the road. And still he goes. He tries to curse the people. God won’t let him curse in that story because the people were in the business of cursing each other.
CW: Yes, they believed it very strongly.
NI: It works for them so that was the way we told that story. We had other stories that we told about how God created everything. You say your pigs won’t produce, your children won’t stay healthy, your gardens won’t produce unless you put all these different charms on them.
CW: Yes, I have heard of that.
NI: So we would say, “Now wait a minute!” We have the story from one of the traditions of the Jewish people and we were working in that they say God created everything. He is behind it all. He put the foundations of the earth and the sky, and he has given the blessing there. Now what you are doing is putting something on top of what is already there. You have to acknowledge that this is there and that he is the one that did it and live according to that. That is the sort of thing that we would do. We had one guy who was burned. His house burned down around him and stuff fell on him and he was burned all the way around his chest and neck.
CW: Around his mouth?
NI: Yes, and he couldn’t even raise his chim. He was sent out by my pedecessor-missionary, as I said in that first year to the mission hospital at the coast. He had at least three or four operations to free his neck. Later on he became my tractor driver. He was a faithful congregation member. We would tap him and say, “Yainya, you tell these people what it is like on the coast.” He would say, “Boy, oh boy, it is different from here. It is hot first of all, and they have these other trees, coconut palms. Different than our areca trees, and then there is this ocean out there, the big water that goes up there, and here comes the sky and they would meet way out there.” He would be gesturing, telling the story and all that. That was part of our creation lesson for that day. This guy upstairs that you don’t know very well, they knew him by name Yaki, or Yakili, one or the other, depending on the dialect. You only know him by name, you did a little bit of sacrificing. There was something there you understood behind it, the lightning strike they thought that was his doing, well sure. They were only afraid of God. They didn’t know how to connect with God. Now we have some additional stuff that we can tell you and teach you and what it will do for you. How to settle your life and give you a connection with his son, Jesus who brought the full story.
CW: Yes, and get rid of some of those terrible fears.
NI: Give you some hope. The evangelist would live in the village with them, with his wife and that family would be an example, and gradually they are learning the customs, the language of the people and they are adapting hopefully, according to what the people need to hear from God’s word.
CW: Now, you mean when the evangelist lives with them, the evangelist is learning the language, the local language?
NI: Yes. When I say customs, everything down to. You don’t go to the market and step over their stuff that is lying there. You are supposed to step around it. Women are not supposed to walk around and serve at a gathering. Standing erect they are supposed to hunker down and they are not supposed to step over a man because of the menstrual question. That is always taboo stuff. You are supposed to eat sugar cane from the bottom up, instead of the top down and things like that. Do you know how to eat sugar cane in the right direction?
BI: I never did find out.
NI: Do you know how to peel a banana the proper way? All that stuff labels you as an outsider. If you do stuff according to the way that they normally do it, except of course you don’t engage in all kinds of junk, no you are with them, but you are not participating in their problems. Then people tell you finally what is really on their mind and their concerns.
CW: When you get closer to them they will tell you.
NI: It is a real risky thing. I remember how I would force myself. We would have devotions with our workers and finally I said this is getting bad because I know what those translators are saying. They go here, they go there, then they go tripping around in the middle of what I said, then they get it all backwards.
CW: Oh dear.
NI: So I said I’m beginning to know what those translators are saying. They are not doing a decent enough job. I would get myself all worked up and I would grab a hold of my arm and my book for a little bit of help and I would do it freely. I was not just taking what was on the paper, those were only notes. I would have devotions with our words there. Of course it was full of all kinds of errors at first but I led the devotions in their Kewa language.
CW: You mean freely in their language?
NI: Yes, in their language. Before that I had used Pidgin English, and then they would translate it into the local language of Kewa.
CW: You had control of what you were saying.
NI: Then I would go and visit with some of the prominent guys that I knew were pretty sharp. One of them was Raipu. I will never forget him. He was a polygamist, but he was a leading man in this next place just up on the hill. I would take off at least once a month, hopefully twice a month, but usually I got so busy. I would sit with him without anybody helping me and I would take a notebook and pen along just to take a few notes, but I didn’t have my drafted menu ready for him to do a little work. We would talk about different things, if I didn’t follow what he said I would ask him to say it again in different ways. We discussed topics like one of the fascinating ones which I wished I could have had more time for was just what is their pig, their hog situation like. They would have different names for different types of animals. Like the one that had the splayed foot instead of the cloven foot. They would have one that was named for that color and this color, and that type and so forth. The multiplicity of things that those people could think and talk about. Of course we would talk about other things that were more important. What was he going to do with his third wife and so forth if he wanted to be baptized. That comes in too because that is a personal decision for him. Two or three day later he might come down our way and he’d have a whole bunch of bananas, I mean a bunch and say here! This is for you.
CW: Fresh off the tree?
NI: Yes, and we would hang it up, let it ripen. That was a real tribute. I wasn’t trying to butter him up, we were just trying to get on a trusting level. He was not baptized during the time I was there. We Lutherans would not baptize polygamists. He was gradually brought into connection with the church. He would sit in the front row. He was supposed to listen to the Gospel as often as possible and then he was a leader. Gradually he got himself sorted out. Some people have ethical problems and keep coming to church until they finally settle down and become more involved.
BI: When we first got to Wabi all the villages were surrounded with walls, woven walls.
NI: Like stockades.
CW: Made out of bamboo?
NI: No, like forts with wooden walls, they were twelve foot long stakes.
CW: Sharpened at the top, plunged into the ground and tied together. They were not just woven, tied together.
BI: They were so afraid of anybody else. Part of it was because of the sorcery. One approach to overcome fear and isolation was school and going to all the villages and asking them to send a few students to the school. We began to have twenty kids who were from different villages and they found out that they all really had common concerns for the future.
CW: They were as afraid of you as you were of them.
BI: And then the parents would come for meetings and special programs and things that we would have. They would see that we really weren’t a whole lot different all the way around. These walls and stockades came down.
CW: They did!
BI: They began to mingle more. They got put on the road crews by the government. They would have to work with whoever was assigned to that section of road and they would have to sit down and talk together, sit down and smoke, when they took a break. They continued to open up and associate freely at the Sunday morning services. People came from all the different villages and sat outside on the grass. We have to admit they had their axes and bush knives with them that they kept nearby. When the church was built they decided that no axes were allowed inside the church.
CW: Oh, the idea you wouldn’t want a fight inside the church.
BI: Like the cowboy, leave your guns at the door.
CW: Did they learn to take their troubles to God, their fears at all?
NI: That is all part of their negotiating. Let’s say this. We had communion rounds. We had the pastors take communion to the different villages. We only had one pastor at first, then two, then three, four and five finally, and then more. We didn’t want them to be locked in. Those guys taught other evangelists who were trusted members of the community. They had a history there. We said, okay, now you do this and you do that and you take communion because the bishop says it is okay for the non ordained person to take communion to the shut ins, and to the villagers. In America we tie the pastor to communion. That is not right. There in Papua, New Guinea we had designated people who did communion rounds. Experienced, but they were not ordained. They were highly trained. They would always have elders with them, local people who had not gone to school. Most of the elders were illiterate. They would be there with the sacramental-evangelist. (In the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America we have Associates in Ministry who are Sacramental-AIMS) They would hear confession together and then they would have the communion service, then they would go to the next village. They would have people designated to decide which really difficult problems they thought they couldn’t handle, then they would refer them to the pastor who was at the congregation center. Then they would say now you go with this guy to that pastor and you talk it over with him. So they were negotiating problems all the time for the pacification of the community.
CW: Did the people then start to pray eventually?
Ni Oh yes, That was interesting for me to hear when I could understand what they were saying. Some guy was dressed with leaves in back. He had a woven front apron. He had a bark belt. He’s bare-chested, and he talks to God like that. I can just barely keep up. I can just barely keep up.
CW: Talking very fast?
NI: Of course, I am not going to interrupt him because he might say I am not talking to you. I am talking to God. Listen I have another thing here that has happened. In 1956 when we went to linguistic school, we had graduated from seminary before we went to New Guinea, this incident happened in 1955. Five missionaries were killed in Ecquador, slaughtered just like that in one spot. This is the story of that if you have heard anything about Gates of Splendor, or Beyond Gates of Splendor. Nate Saint, the pilot had son Steve who went back, when his aunt died and those people said now we want you to stay here with us because your aunt worked with one of our ladies and she brought some of God’s marking as they say along the trail of life. Translated the scriptures, you need to help us. That was your dad we killed fifty some years ago. You have to help us bring our children up in the modern age. So he documented this. There is also a book.
CW: Yes, I knew “The End of the Spear” was the book you had mentioned.
NI: These are two videos. If you would care to see them, or see part of it, you are welcome.
CW: You have to use a computer, I guess.
NI: No, this is for a DVD.
CW: I don’t have a DVD.
NI: Take it to some friend’s house, but anyhow for us it is especially impressive because when we went to linguistic school in Grand Forks, North Dakota in 1956 there were a number of people at that course for summer institute of linguistics for Wycliffe Bible Translators. They gave us some skills for analyzing and learning another language. They had a whole raft of people there and at their other places who had volunteered. They wanted to fill up the gap in the ranks because here were five guys who were wiped out. So that was just a year before we went out there to be missionaries. Fifty some years later this guy says, okay, I can’t live with you all the time, but I will come and live with you for a period of time with some of my family. Then I will take some of you people to America, and also show them around and help them get some training. He is a pilot as well as his father was, but he does other things. He was an independent business man. I think he was a construction engineer. Anyhow, he goes various places and does fund raising so he can get certain medical projects done, hospitals started among these Waodani people there in the Amazon, the upper reaches of the Amazon river. He goes to Oshkosh, Wisconsin where they have all the pilots air craft coming together every year. My son wanted to go there two year ago, then he missed it. He couldn’t find out where the guy was going to be talking, but this Nate Saint’s son Steve is a real good public relations man for those people. He learned their language. He was growing up with them as a kid and he knew that his father had been killed by some of these people. Still he works with them.
CW: Isn’t that something.
CW: I would like to take this one. I don’t like to keep both of them because I am not sure I can find someone that has a DVD. I probably will be able to.
NI: This is the dramatization, you should see that first, and then come back and see the documentary, because it is more realistic.
BI: Do like my sister does when we send her something, or she has found a DVD she wants to see. She doesn’t have the equipment. She only has her television. Anyway, she goes to one of the meeting rooms at their church and gets permission to put it in and sits there and looks at it.
CW: I will just look around. I think I know someone who has one.
BI: I wish with all these new theaters, outdoor theaters going up they would show something other than the standard run of pictures. If it has already been through the main theaters the first run pictures, then why not in these theaters show the things that were really good that didn’t really draw a lot of people.
CW: You know a woman who lived in Grelton, a little town near here all her life said on Saturday nights years ago the merchants used to put free movies on the side of a building so they could get the farmers and people to come into town and buy merchandise while they were there, and watch these movies.
BI: Did you go Saturday night to the one in town?
CW: No, where did they have it? Did they have it outside on the building?
NI: The Vocke building is where it was supposed to be in the video parking lot. Now talk about that. I was thinking about writing a letter to the people who are trying to get this drive-in theater started over at Liberty Center. They are calling it their field of dreams. I have a notion to write to them and say, ”Keep it clean, and they
will come.” The organization should have a certain selectivity and not get themselves sucked into the regular run of stuff that they have to do. You know the Clazell theater in Bowling Green closed because they couldn’t keep up with the treadmill. They couldn’t be selective on what they showed or for how long. In other words if they got something really good they couldn’t keep on showing it, they had to bring in the other stuff.
CW: It’s crazy.
NI: It’s very difficult. All of that you see, talking about trying to widen your horizon. For me it was always very important that we had an annual mission festival here. We had Rev. Hueter, who was my mentor here, that he kept that broader perspective. Sure he always served the needs of the people. He did the weddings, the baptisms, the funerals, the preaching. He would preach every Sunday in both languages, High German and English. He started the Sunday school. He started all kinds of things like the men’s group, the women’s group. We didn’t have a bulletin before he came. We didn’t have a newsletter. All of those things he got started and we did not have a secretary. His wife did that. That was the way it was done back then. They faithfully did that for twenty two years. That mission festival on the third Sunday in August for example it would always have someody from the world scene, somebody from the domestic scene. It was just different from the local scene.
CW: Didn’t they have a carry in dinner at the time of the mission festivals too?
NI: They used to in the early years have a common kettle that the janitor was supposed to cook coffee in. His wife would sew bags of coffee grounds and they would soak them in there and they would have an open fire out back and people would come around to get their cup of coffee to drink while they ate their family carry-in dinner. That’s the environment in which Bernie and I received the call to world missions.
end of tape.
(Bio. info: Norman H. Imbrock, Born to Henry & Helen (Cordes) Imbrock 9.18.30 at home with attending physician Dr. Thomas Quinn Sr. at Q209 Co. Rd. 15a Napoleon, Ohio.
Education: Napoleon, Oh High School, 1948; BA Capital University, 1952; BD/ MDiv. Columbus Seminary, 1956; Linguistics summer course, year 1: Wycliffe Bible Translators-Grand Forks, N.D. 1956; S.T.M. Trinity Seminary, 1980. One unit CPE 1987
Missionary stationings: Rintebe, Eastern Highlands, PNG – 1956 – 1959; Wabi, Southern Highlands PNG – 1959 – 1981; Ogelbeng Highlands Seminary – Western Highlands PNG – 1981 -1987.
Pastorate: Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, Patchogue, Long Island, NY – 1987 -1997.
Interim Ministry training 1997: Served three interims at 1st Lutheran, Morton WA; Hope, Bowling Green OH, Trinity, Dowling OH.
Norm retired from Parish ministry 1997. Bernie and I returned to Henry County September 2000.
Bernice (Purdon) Imbrock, born to Clarence & Elsie (Meyfarth) Purdon 6.1.31 at Cottage Grove Hospital, Grosse Point, MI
Education: BA Capital University, 1953.
Married: at St. John’s Lutheran, New Baltimore, MI 8.8.54
Children: Mathew 1957; Timothy 1960; Naomi 1963; Joanna 1966.
Contacts: [deleted for reasons of privacy]