Kathy Stoker knows relationships are important in Papua New Guinea.
As a missionary there for 29 years, the Fremont woman was immersed in the culture.
“They don’t call you by your name,” she said. “They give you a title.”
She was called “Sis.” But the little boy of a man she’d led to the Lord would give her a new title: Bubu Dim, which means a grandma who is a Caucasian.
“It was very touching,” Stoker said. “I’ve loved him ever since. I felt like they wanted me there and were treating me with respect.”
Now retired and living in Fremont, Stoker has many memories of the people and country in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. A former territory of Australia, Papua New Guinea gained independence in 1975.
Stoker describes the place as rustic. It’s behind modern times in education, transportation, communication and health services. Yet the people are hospitable and Stoker has a heart for this nation where she’s made friends, some of whom are like family.
She’s also pleased about a book she wrote, which was copyrighted in that nation. Her book explains the salvation message of Christ using colors in the Papua New Guinea flag.
Stoker plans to return to Papua New Guinea for a visit in May. In the meantime, she’s spoken about her experiences to children at the Evangelical Free Church in Fremont.
Originally from Allen, Stoker grew up on a Nebraska farm. She attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Stoker was in her third year when she gave her heart and life to the Lord. She attributes this to the “Back to the Bible” broadcasts and a friend who took her to church.
Stoker felt the call to the mission field in 1966. She later earned a degree in Christian education, Bible and missions from Grace University in 1971.
She married and lived in Denver and then in Texas. The marriage ended after 10 years.
Stoker returned to Denver and received some counseling from a Wycliffe Bible Translators missionary.
“She told me that they needed me in Papua New Guinea,” Stoker recalled.
The missionary knew Stoker had secretarial experience and a secretary was needed.
So in 1985, Stoker went to Papua New Guinea, where she spent her first four-year term as a secretary.
“I had never worked so hard in my life,” she said.
During that time, the directors discovered that Stoker was a very social and relational person.
“I had more Papua New Guinean friends than missionary friends,” Stoker said, adding that she was single and didn’t have a family to care for like other missionaries.
Through the friendships, she’d learn Melanesian pidgin language. Program directors told her to top her education degree with some literacy classes when she returned home on furlough.
So she did.
Stoker would return and spend most of her time in Papua New Guinea as a literary consultant.
During her time there, she worked with translators in the jungle area. Stoker said translators will go into an area and learn the language. They then translate the Bible into that language.
Stoker said there are more than 800 different languages in Papua New Guinea. At this point, Wycliffe has New Testaments finished in more than 400.
Translators would give Stoker translated materials she could use for adult and teen Bible studies.
Stoker also said schools are scattered throughout the county, but few people make it through the sixth grade.
She taught reading and writing classes for Papua New Guineans, in their own language, so they could in turn teach the children.
“We had song-writing contests and story-writing contests to help the teens practice writing,” she said.
Stories might involve village life, animals in the jungle or the work that men and women did. Her students made their own books.
Stoker said it’s important for the people to learn how to read and write in their own language.
“A second language for anybody doesn’t mean as much as your own mother tongue,” she said.
What’s more, learning to read and write in their own language also makes it easier for students to transfer over in primary school where they learn English.
And when translators finish a New Testament in a particular language, the people then can read them in their own language, she noted.
In her book, Stoker uses the colors of the Papua New Guinea flag: black, red, white and yellow, and Bible verses to share the salvation story. Black stands for sin, red for Christ’s blood shed on the cross; white for sins washed white as snow; and yellow which represents God’s glory and streets of gold in heaven. The last part of the book contains the country’s national anthem and pledge.
Translators can use Stoker’s book to teach adults and children about salvation in their own language.
As of 2013 when Stoker retired, the book had been translated into 28 languages.
It wasn’t always easy being in that overseas country. There were times when Stoker wanted to give up. It was too hot or west with too many snakes, crocodiles or mosquitos.
“But God kept me going and reminded me that he called me,” she said. “I led five people to the Lord while I was there.
“Seeing them grow in the Lord, reminded me that I still had a job to do and I couldn’t quit.”
She credits God for any positive things she did and said his protection and guidance kept her in that country.
Stoker stayed with a family in Papua New Guinea for a couple years after she retired. She returned to the United States in April 2015 and lived in Denver before moving here that December.
She’s adjusting to America, getting reacclimated to the weather and catching up with modern technology.
“I didn’t have TV over there for 30 years and I’m finding out that TV and Internet and a landline phone is very costly, but I’m a farm girl at heart and that’s part of the reason I came back to Nebraska,” she said.
Stoker plans to remain in Fremont and looks forward to visiting the family in Papua New Guinea this spring.
“The kids call me grandma,” she said. “And I’m teaching them to love the Lord by having devotions and prayer time at night.”