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Canby couple putting Papua New Guinea into their retirement plans


Where do you go when you’ve kind of reached the end? Start again at the beginning.

That’s essentially what Canby residents John and Marie Champ have decided to do. After a career spent working for Wycliffe Bible Translators in a variety of roles and places, the couple has retired and decided they want to head back to Papua New Guinea – where it all began.

“We retired after 37 years in WBT, the first 18 of those years were in Papua New Guinea,” John Champ said. “Initially, I was a helicopter and airplane pilot, as well as an aircraft mechanic. The last 12 years in Papua New Guinea we were in a personal training role, assisting new missionary candidates make a good transition from the home environment to the social and physical environment of the South Pacific area.”

The last 10 years, the couple has been working out of WBT’s international headquarters in Dallas, Texas. However, the Champs have always called Canby home, purchasing a house in town in 1970 just as John was called to Vietnam to fly Huey helicopters.

With retirement calling, the couple plans to enjoy the grandchildren, volunteer at their home church, Canby Alliance, and spend two months each year working in Papua New Guinea “until we can no longer do it.”

The Champs embark on that two-month mission Sept. 7 and will be gone through Nov. 3.

“This year, we will be doing some mentoring of staff in the headquarters in the capital city of Port Moresby,” John said. “I will be helping develop the maintenance staff and bookkeeping workers. Marie will be helping with office-secretarial type skills as well as however we can fit in.”

The beginning

When missionary Jim Elliott was killed by a local tribe in the Ecuadorian jungle in 1956, John Champ was a 12-year-old boy who’d just accepted Christ into his life. The story of Elliott and his sacrifice caught Champ’s attention and helped propel him down a very similar road.

“That story pulled on my heart,” Champ said. “I was a new Christian and it kind of propelled me through school. There was a grand scheme going on.”

That scheme would take him through high school, flight school, the mountains of Vietnam, more flight training and then to the mission field where he found himself, along with wife Marie, in Papua New Guinea.

“We related well to the Papua New Guinea people well from a language standpoint and culturally,” Champ said, noting that he did plenty of flying during that time. Some years later, a need opened up on the administrative end of things for Wycliffe Bible Translators and the couple jumped in.

Why New Guinea?

Champ said he and his wife enjoyed the lifestyle and culture of Papua New Guinea residents, noting a slower pace of life and a respect for age and experience. The people live in thatched-type huts and while the standard of living is low, their children seem be happy and healthy.

Now, the couple get a chance to revisit the land that helped forge their relationship on many levels.

“We’ve been married for 47 years and in a very real sense, Papua New Guinea is home for us,” Champ said. “We were newly married and both came of age over there.”

Now, they look forward to filling whatever role an organization called Bible Translation Association of PNG, which was formed as an offshoot of Wycliffe Bible Translators during their original stay on the islands.

“We want to kind of write our own program a bit,” Champ said. “Marie and I are moving into mentoring roles – passing it on and helping others do it. We’ll work with BTA in more of role of training others. We’re looking forward to walking alongside others as they do this work.”

Don’t be fooled, the work is prodigious. Papua New Guinea has a population of about six million in a country that’s roughly the size of Oregon. Within its borders, 869 languages are spoken. All but about 250 of those languages have been translated into Biblical texts. The rest, Champ hopes, will come from natives Papua New Guineans.

“BTA is also trying to develop a financial and support base among churches in the country,” Champ said. “The goal is to raise awareness of the immensity of the (translation) task.”