26 August 2012


It is somewhat of a surprise to me to reflect on the obvious: that, despite my love for the Yapese language, and for my experience generally in Yap, there is no slightest possibility of my ever genuinely 'going native' - not only living permanently in Yap (which might have happened under some circumstances), but living essentially a Yapese way of life.  This is something that others we know have done - Margie Fal'anruw, Russian Alex - but as I contemplated writing something today, and talking about the relationships we had in Yap, I come across the fact that all were with ex-patriates.  Until this moment, I do not think I had thought of the implications of this.

When, in 1972, I spent three months in Yap, I immediately made myself acquainted with the Protestant mission there.

It would be literally accurate to say that the thought of my attending Catholic services was unthinkable.  When people say something is unthinkable, they generally mean that they do think about it - and find it impossibly abhorrent.  I do not think that I could ever even have thought of the Catholic church as a place to go to church.  Had Yap been mostly Muslim, the idea would not have been more impossible for me to conceive.

Yet until 1967 - two years before my first stay in the island - no non-Catholic presence was possible in Yap.  Under the influence of the then-priest, the government forbade any missionary presence whatever.  Yap was Catholic - and was going to stay that way (a shipment of condoms somehow arrived there sometime in the 1960s.  The priest seized it and destroyed it.  There was no action against him for this.)

The German Liebenzellermission had worked in Palau for some years before this, to produce a thriving Palauan evangelical presence - and a translation of the Bible into Palauan.  In 1972, the mission in Yap was five years old.  Under Ed Kalau a thriving nucleus of evangelical Yapese existed.  They had their own church building.  Sister (their term) Hildegarde Thieme had nearly finished the first draught of a translation of the New Testament and major parts of the Old.  It was this church I attended from January to March of 1972.  It was this church that Susan and I attended from March, 1976 to May, 1984.

Nevertheless, we never joined.  I was definitely convinced of the duty of a Christian to be in submission to the properly-constituted elders of the Church.  Joining would have been a definite act of submission.  Our home church was the Reformed Church of Avondale - and remained so during the eight years we lived in Yap.  We were friends of the new pastor, Heinz Hengstler, his wife Erika, Sister Doris.  I often translated from English to Yapese for visiting English-only preachers.  But we never joined.  I was convinced of the rightness of Reformed worship.  Perhaps there were other reasons, but baptism was one.  The Yap Evangelical Church would not baptise infants.

During our eight years in Yap we became close friends with a few others.  Don Evans was one - a dear friend, and who still lives in Yap.  This is his hotel.

Our even closer friend was Father Paul Horgan, SJ.  Father Horgan quickly adopted the practice of coming to our house once a week - perhaps on Fridays? - for socialisation, ice cream, eventually a glass of sherry (which we brought in from Guam, duty-free).

I was always somewhat uncomfortably aware that we never ever mentioned religion with Father Horgan.  Perhaps the eight years we spent in Yap began to bring the idea of Catholics as persons, not just an idea, to a bit more reality in my mind.  How it was, I do not know, but Father Horgan became, I think, our dearest friend.  Our later relation with him makes this clear.

By sometime in late August or early September, Susan was pregnant.

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