Fulfilling a mission
By Faye Ellison
“If I had known what I was getting myself into, I probably wouldn’t have gone, but I am so glad I did. I would have missed a lot.”
Saying goodbye to her family in the United State was hard when former Louisville resident Laura Romer left three years ago to travel overseas. But coming home from New Guinea for a recent visit, was harder than she ever imagined it could be.
After spending that time with the Wycliffe Bible Translators, a multi-denominational organization that works to translate the New Testament into a native language, while also encouraging language development, AIDS awareness and teacher training, Romer recently found her way back home to visit family and friends, including her parents in Burlington, N.C., and those here in Louisville, where she lived for three years with her grandmother Lee Romer.
The Wycliffe organization has worked to translate the New Testament into more than 800 different languages, does missionary work in about 60 countries and has been working in New Guinea for 50 years. Romer said the missionaries in New Guinea hailed from 20 countries.
While Romer said she had been on short-term missionary trips in high school and college to places mostly in South America, she said she felt kind of crazy to do long-term work.
“I heard about Wycliffe through a special speaker at a church I attended while in college,” she explained. “I had never been out of the country for more than two months, but even then I felt reassured of where I was supposed to be.”
Romer said when she arrived in New Guinea, she went straight into a four-month training course.
“It wasn’t really shocking,” she said about the country. “I expected something totally different, but I went into it with an open mind. I was gradually introduced into the culture.”
With a background in art and art history, language arts has never been far from her. Both parents are language arts professors.
“Language is in my blood,” Romer said. “I studied a lot of foreign languages for fun. I enjoyed studying the Bible after I became a believer.”
With the help of consultants, libraries and computerized resources, Romer began her journey into transforming the word of God into one of the many languages in New Guinea.
“Above all I relied on the grace of God and His guidance,” she smiled.
When she returns next year, Romer will work in one program, but in her first three years, she worked on many different programs.
“Every program is different, depending on its location, education, whether the language is written down,” Romer said of her task. “In the beginning you learn the language, analyze the sound system and grammar, develop an alphabet and begin to train local literacy teachers who serve as translators for the language. We serve as advisors or mentors who guide them through the process of translating the Scriptures into their own language.”
The program she will return to has been in progress for eight years, with two other ladies working on the project as well.
“When I join, the New Testament will nearly be finished,” she gushed. “When I join, there will be more to do with literacy, training people in the Scriptures and helping translators with Old Testament portions.”
Romer said projects can take from 10 to 15 years to complete, while some languages die, are discovered or change as the community changes. But, Romer believes God is working to change the way things are done.
“There is so much to be done and not that many people,” she said. “But we are seeing new kinds of programs and are working together in different kinds of ways to meet the people’s needs.”
Finding friends in the New Guinean people was not hard, Romer said.
“The New Guineans are very open and hospitable to guests,” she said. “One of the things that surprised me was how easy it is to begin relationships with the local people. Once you get to know people, you learn more about their culture. The more I’ve learned, I see my culture is so totally different from those I work with. I have some really wonderful friends there.”
Though Romer traveled with an escort for protection for most of her trip, she said she was never really worried because the people cared for her as one their own.
“The people staying in the village feel very responsible and very caring towards you,” Romer said. “I have many P&G papas, mamas, brothers and sisters. But security is a concern. You don’t walk anywhere by yourself, especially after dark. In the village though, I feel very safe and I usually had at least one family watching out for me. Even then, I have to be escorted when I am going somewhere.”
Romer was able to enjoy many modern conveniences while in the foreign country including electricity, running water, washing machines and various sources of communication at the Wycliffe base, which made it easier to be away from her family for such a long time. In the villages though she would live with a host family, translator or alone in a home that had been vacated.
“The P&Gs are geniuses at building houses out of local materials,” Romer said. “They are pretty comfortable, but don’t expect to see a table, chair or bed. You sit on the floor or a low carved stool and sleep on a foam mattress.”
Though the government and many of the native New Guinea people welcome the Wycliffe program because of its literacy programs and language documentation, adversity to their mission and teachings does exixt in the country. Romer said that most people view themselves as Christians, but very few have Scriptures in a language they can understand. And still, some practice traditional spirit worship, sometimes blended with Christianity.
“Every place you find some people who aren’t going to support what you are doing, but for the most part they are really hungry to have Scriptures in their language,” she said. “They are very eager to have what we teach them. But it can be challenging at times, knowledge is something they don’t readily share. There, knowledge is literally power.”
Romer said that a person, who has a certain skill, would choose very carefully who they would pass the knowledge on to.
“The biggest obstacle we have to overcome is to get people to trust that we don’t have an ulterior motive in teaching what we know. We are not holding anything back.”
She said many of the New Guineans fear forces of nature including earthquakes, cyclones, tsunamis and floods, and sorcery. But for her while she was busy teaching and learning herself, Romer said the beauty of the country and its landscape, ranging from tropical to mountains to high grasslands, was an escape each day.
“There are so many things I love about the country, it’s just every area was dramatically beautiful in its own way,” she said. “There were delightful little surprises everywhere, including the expressions of love and openness from people which were God’s provisions as well.”
Her purpose there may be to teach, but he was not prepared for was the loss of friends who moved, had to leave or died unexpectedly.
“The hardest thing to get used to was the unpredictability of life and seeing the community around me constantly shift and change. I had to say goodbye to a lot of people I have known. I had no idea how hard it would be constantly saying goodbye.
“Saying goodbye is always the hardest thing, but I felt like I had enough time to do it properly before I left. I had a chance to spend more time with people and tie up loose ends. I will see some I knew before again, but now I am looking forward to settling down with one project.”
As of now, Romer said she expects to have one more furlough in the next seven to 10 years of her work there, but she does not know when she will leave for good.
“God will let me know when the time comes,” she said.
Romer was able to greet many in Louisville who have supported her mission throughout the past three years at a reception at the Louisville Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and at the Huddle House in Louisville.
“I want to say thanks to the people of Louisville and Jefferson County. I know a lot of them are praying for me and standing behind me. It is good to have a place like Louisville standing behind you. If it weren’t for that, I couldn’t have been there in the first place.”
Area begins to receive exemption funding from state
By Faye Ellison and Carol McLeod
Counties, cities and boards of education have begun to receive money from the state to compensate for the loss of revenue through the various homestead exemptions.
Last year, when Gov. Sonny Perdue announced his plan to end the Homeowners Tax Relief Grant, cities and counties across the state started scrambling to find ways to make up the lost revenue without raising taxes.
Homeowners receive a variety of exemptions, depending on eligibility, that reduces the property tax they pay to the county or city where they live.
The state sends funds in the form of grants to the counties and cities to offset the loss of revenue those exemptions create.
Boards of education also receive a portion of these funds.
The total amount of the grants is about $428 million, which the governor had said the state could not afford.
If the grant had not been reinstated this year, homeowners would have had to pay the full amount of their tax bill if local governments could not absorb the loss.
The General Assembly has voted to pay this grant this year; however, it is expected this is the last year homeowners will benefit from these exemptions.
Paul Bryan, the administrator for Jefferson County, said Tuesday the county received a check Friday, June 12, for $356,248.70 from the HTRG. Bryan said this is about 4 percent of the county’s budget.
“It’s essentially right at 1 mill,” he said.
The city of Bartow received their check Friday, June 19, for $5,206, which is 3.75 percent of the city’s revenue.
In Avera, the funds they received Friday, June 12, were for $2,886.36. City Clerk Amy Hadden said the city bills out $9,368.40 in property taxes. The grant is 30 percent of this revenue.
Gail Berry, Stapleton’s city clerk, said Tuesday the city had not received its check as of Friday.
“Unless it came in this week, we have not received it yet,” she said. “I have not heard anything from them.”
Berry said she expects to receive about $5,000 from this grant.
“The ad valorem taxes for Stapleton were $31,295,” she said. “The budget total was $234,920.”
The HTRG pays almost 16 percent of the ad valorem taxes for Stapleton.
Wrens City Administrator Arty Thrift said Wrens has also received the HRTG check from the state.
“It’s been a week or two,” he said, adding the check was for $40,363.41. The city’s revenue from ad valorem taxes is $672,358, which is about 40 percent of the full budget, Thrift said. The grant that reimburses the city for homestead exemptions is about 6 percent of the ad valorem revenue.
Louisville received its check Thursday, June 11, said that city’s administrator, Don Rhodes.
“It was $26,605.75,” he said.
“We budgeted $281,000 for the ad valorem taxes. So that’s 9 percent. The overall expected revenue is about $1.8 million,” Rhodes said. The ad valorem taxes represent about 1.5 percent of the overall budget for the city.
Edie Pundt, Wadley’s mayor pro tem and the chairman of the city’s finance committee, said Tuesday that as far as she knows the city had not received its check as of Thursday of last week.
The city clerk of Wadley was on an out-of-town business trip and was unavailable.
A spokesman for the county’s board of education did not know if the board had received its check as of Tuesday.
In Glascock County, the funds have been received for the county governments including the Commission and Board of Education totaling around $149,000, while many were fearful the taxes would have to be rebilled.
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A spokesperson for the Glascock County Board of Education said they anticipate around $60,000 of their $5.3 million budget from the grants. The Glascock County Commission will collect $79,044 from the grants.
The loss of the grant is anticipated to change taxpayers’ tax bills by about $220 for the 2009 year which will go out in October and are due Dec. 20.
According to the Assessor’s Office, assessment notices were mailed June 9, with a July 27 deadline for appeals. As of Tuesday, the office had not received any appeals. Glascock County properties were last re-evaluated in 2007 and may not be re-evaluated for the next three years. The governor put a freeze on re-evaluations for counties currently not in the middle of re-evaluations.