Folks at First – Ross & Kay Jack

Their story as told by Martha Pauls

Savages. . . headhunters even. . . These are the stereotypes that come to mind when I think about Papua, New Guinea, aka PNG. Not so. “They may be out there, in the bush, but that wasn’t our experience”, explained Ross and Kay Jack who lived among the natives of PNG for three years.

We know Ross as a faithful member of the FBC choir, as one-time head of the Congregational Care Commission, and as a person who loves people and together with his wife Kay gives delightful patio parties!  ‘way, way back, Ross was a member of the large and vibrant youth group at FBC when Howard Bentall was the senior minister (late 40’s, early 50’s). Kay has been involved with Social Service work, and is a tireless advocate for minority rights. Palliative Care support, including a walking group for palliative folk, has been her passion during the past ten years.

Both Ross and Kay graduated from the Faculty of Law at U of S in 1953, then moved to Assiniboia Saskatchewan, where they began a law practice and raised a family. They became interested in overseas service during their early years in Assiniboia, but the idea was shelved for some time until their three children started into University.

The teaching team.

In 1981, the Jacks applied for overseas assignments. Eventually CUSO, at the time that Papua New Guinea won its freedom from Australia, assigned Ross and Kay to PNG. They were tasked with using their legal knowledge and skills to teach the governing bodies and the people of PNG their new (written in English) constitution.

Hearing about this my thoughts were: Daunting. Frightening. Maybe even impossible. . .

Do these (illiterate) folks even know they have a constitution?

The Jacks, eventually armed with certificates from the University of PNG (located in Port Moresby, where they lived) declaring them bona fide speakers of Melanesian Pidgin, translated the brand new Constitution of PNG into Pidgin, a recognized, very conceptual language that all speakers of the numerous districts of the Island could understand. Eventually, due to a change in leadership in PNG, the Jacks moved to “the province that needed us most”, West Sepik. From here, Kay worked in the villages, always with the permission of the village chief, to obtain financial grants for entrepreneurially inclined villagers with business plans for such things as chickens and pigs. Accompanied by three team members fluent in the language, Ross and Kay travelled to remote villages, inaccessible except by air, sometimes using MAF planes, capitalizing on the natural curiosity about “white people”, to teach their new constitutions to the people, primarily by means of question and answer sessions. Their reward was the trust and friendship of the people.

“We learned the JOY that comes of being totally and absolutely accepted”!

The stereotypes exist: grass huts on stilts, loin cloths, and grass skirts. But, no Papuans go hungry, all children are wanted, the elderly are cared for as is EVERYONE. Their modus operandi: Do to  others as you would like others to do to you”. Kay’s comment was: “I’ve never felt as safe as I did there”.

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Ross and Kay, I found your story exhilarating and fascinating. Thank you for living out your faith among the Papuan people, for overriding the stereotypes, and for your valuable service. Well Done!

by Martha Pauls

The Jack daughters with some of their neighbours.

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