The Pei are between 2 and 3 hundred in number, and live in either of 2 villages: Pei (pronounced “pay) and Paru (pronounced “pa-doo”). They are hard day’s mangrove swamp hike away from each other. Many of the population speak TokPisin, but their heart language -their tribal language- is much more complex, and used much more often in daily life. Called Pefiyahe(pronounced “pay-fee-ya-hay”), this language has no other dialects, and is THE language that these 2 to 3 hundred people need to hear the gospel in (TokPisin is grossly inadequate for this task). Known only by these 2 to 3 hundred people, there gospel has NEVER been in this language, and there has NEVER been a human being on the planet literate (able to read and write) in Pefiyahe. Its religion and customs, also, are distinct from those of neighboring tribes.
The History of the Pei Tribe
In the early 70’s, when PNG was still governed by Australia, Government patrols boated nearly the entirety of the navigable river systems of PNG with outboard motorboats, and called all the indigenous to move to the water’s edge in order to make servicing these remote peoples easier.
This caused a huge shift in the way many of these people groups lived, as many lived on swamp-locked hills to get out of the mosquitos, and catch a breeze and a breath from the lowland heat. The lowland swamps have provided the majority of the indigenous food supply for the peoples living near them for millennia, but respite from daily hunting and gathering activities there was often sought in the sparse hills where villages were often built. The metamorphosis from hill-dweller to river people changed not only the diet of the people groups that were moved, but also the customs, thinking and languages.
The indigenous now needed to learn to fish, build canoes, and speak a trade language in order to function in their ever-changing world.
The Pei were among those asked to move to the river from their hilltop village. They obliged, and have since evolved into competent fisherman, canoe makers, and pidgin speakers. Their proximity to the river has afforded them access to medical care and “town-goods” … bales of thrift-store clothes, steel machetes, AM/FM radios, pots and pans, and even cell phones… but these are still very “tribal people.”
Within the last several decades, it has become the desire of a certain Pei man’s heart to hear the gospel in his own language, and he has since written several letters begging for missionaries to come and share the gospel in a language he could understand.
This Pei man, named Erick, faithfully made the long hike and canoe ride (sometimes several times a year) to the nearest aid post to deliver a letter to missions organizations, begging for the gospel to be shared in Pei. Sadly, has since died without a gospel witness in his own language… a privilege we english speakers overlook nearly every day of our lives. Click on the scans of his letters above and below to see the full size (though unless you can read TokPisin, you will have a hard time understanding them).
For years Erick sent these, and our mission organization has, literally, HUNDREDS just like these (often signed by every member of the village, or with bloody thumbprints)… people begging to hear God’s word in their own language for the first time… But the laborers are few (plug, plug).
So until the last few years, the Pei remained much forgotten. Our mission did an initial survey of the people group years back:
And in 2012, we followed up with our own survey, to tell the Pei we would be returning to move in among them.
Location, Location, LOCATION
It is quite the process to get into most of the tribes here in PNG, and Pei is no exception. The road to Pei starts in Wewak, PNG at the regional airport there. From there, you fly into a remote grass airstrip in a village called Hauna (heard of Marilyn Laszlo? Yeah, THAT Hauna.), and then hire a guide and a boat a few hours from there to the Pei village. Quite the journey!
Strategy for reaching Pei
We intend to work in the tribal culture and language. The Pei culture and language has been isolated from the Gospel for millennia. Our team must learn the language and understand the culture of the Pei in order to clearly present the Gospel and effectively plant a church. In the process of learning Pefiyahe, we will establish a self sufficient literacy program, giving the Pei the tools they need to preserve their language and cultural identity for years to come, and equipping them to one day read and study God’s Word for themselves.
We will present foundational Bible teaching. The Pei have no concept of the God of the Bible. Bible teaching begins at the same place God began with His people: at the beginning, and in their heart language. Chronological Bible teaching presents a foundation for such isolated peoples to understand Jesus’ death and resurrection.
We will establish a mature church. Following the pattern seen in Acts as God’s people carried out the Great Commission, we will seek to establish mature churches that can take their rightful place as agents of change in their own communities and partners in the Great Commission.