Missionary Translator and Doctor by David Lithgow

Bible Translation

Missionary Translator & Doctor

Dr David Lithgow and his wife Daphne were Bible translators and medical missionaries with Wycliffe Bible Translators for over 30 years, mainly in the Milne Bay Islands of Papua New Guinea. These edited selections from newsletters tell a little of their work for the Lord.

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In one place it seemed that everyone turned to the Lord and was baptized in the sea.

The same happened on two more islands.

Rev. David Kuwab burnt lots of magic paraphenalia which was brought to him.


* Seven sick people were prayed for in Jesus’ name, and all were healed. Other people kept their sick relatives hidden inside their houses, preferring to trust their own magic and spirit cures. No one among these people was healed. This has been a demonstration of the power of Jesus.

* A woman who had been crippled for years got up and walked immediately, and was doing normal garden work in a week. The people here were convinced that Jesus is the Strong One, and this report spread through the whole area.

* The Lord has worked some surprising miracles, like multiplying the one remaining antibiotic capsule for treating an infection to become twelve – enough to complete the cure.

* After the studies and worship services many of the people came for prayer for the Lord’s cleansing from sin, and to receive the Holy Spirit. At Wabunun they came in a continuous stream, many weeping, for one and a half hours.

* The Lord moved powerfully through healing miracles and casting out evil spirits, demonstrating that his power is greater than that of local spirits and magic.

The Word and Work of the Lord

David and Daphne summarise their life together including work in the Muyuw, Dobu and Bunama languages of the Milne Bay Islands:

We had been leaders in the Evangelical Union of the University of Queensland since 1950, Daphne studying Science and David doing Medicine. In 1954 Daphne left for Ubuya Leprosy Treatment Centre near Milne Bay in Papua New Guinea. There she learnt the Dobu language and trained Papuan staff in laboratory work. When Daphne returned, David had graduated and was a Resident Doctor at Townsville General Hospital. We married in August 1957.

In February 1958 we left for Fiji where David was a doctor for the Methodist Mission Hospital serving Indian people. This entailed learning the Hindustani language. Our first two children, a daughter and son, were born there.

David, as the only doctor continuously on call, worked hard meeting physical needs of the people, but had little time to get to understand their spiritual needs. He felt helpless when faced with demon possessed Hindu patients, and could only prescribe sedation.

The work of Wycliffe Bible Translators and Summer Institute of Linguistics (W.B.T. and S.I.L.) was just beginning in Australia. Here we felt was a way of meeting people’s deepest needs – living with them as they live, learning their language and customs, and bringing God’s Word to them right where they are.

In 1960 we returned to Australia, and David found work at the Greenslopes Repatriation Hospital. In the next two years we welcomed two more sons. We became members of Wycliffe Bible Translators and in May 1963 we flew to Ukarumpa, the Summer Institute of Linguistics Headquarters in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea.

In the first few years while getting started in language work David was also the group doctor. In 1963 an allocation site was found at Wabunun village on a long sandy beach on the south-east coast of Woodlark Island off Milne Bay. Wabunun was home for the children from 1964 to 1972 in their house built of bush materils – split black palm floor, platted bamboo walls, and sago leaf roof. Daphne taught them correspondence lessons until they were 7 or 8 years old, after which they were in Children’s Homes for schooling at the Ukarumpa base.

From 1970 onwards the children all stayed at Ukarumpa for schooling, and we were able to travel around the language area, 150 miles by 70 miles, mostly on the big Muyuw outrigger sailing canoes.

The churches throughout this area had selected young men who came to Wabunun where we trained them as teachers of Muyuw, and sent them back with reading primers and duplicated portions of translated Scriptures. They all achieved some degree of success. Two of these teachers who were barely literate themselves had taught all the young adults to read as well as some of the older folk. They had established the church which worshipped together every Sunday morning – or when they thought it was Sunday, because they had no calendar.

In 1972 the Muyuw New Testament translation was virtually complete, so we moved to Dobu Island to help in the Bible Society project to retranslate the Dobu New Testament into modern Dobu. There the house had a sawn timber floor, bush materil walls and an iron roof.

From 1978 to 1982 we were settling our teen-age children into life in Australia while we worked as the Wycliffe Bible Translators representatives in Queensland. Every year David returned to Dobu to keep the literacy and translation program moving.

In 1978 our doctor advised against David returning to Papua New Guinea because of incipient cancer. It seemed David could expect about another two years of normal health. Our plans were examined closely but there seemed no need to change any of them. We also sought healing through prayer in Jesus’ name. Since then David has had better health then he had before. After such a sentence of death, every day is valued as a special gift from the Lord, and it gives an added sense of urgency to the task.

From 1982 we were at Dobu or Diwala Translation Centre, helping with the translations and doing literacy work. In 1985 the Muyuw New Testament was revised and reprinted. We travelled in S.I.L.’s new 24 foot boat with the minister, Rev. David Kuwab, who had been the main translation helper. We visited every island and village selling Scriptures and hymn books, and re-establishing literacy work where it was needed. Near the beginning of this trip the Lord moved powerfully through healing miracles and casting out evil spirits.

The new Dobu New Testament was dedicated in 1986. It is now used widely alongside the old Dobu Bible. Over 10,000 copies have been sold. As the Lord worked in Muyuw, he has also worked strongly in the Dobu speaking area, leading individuals and groups to renounce traditional magic and to trust in Jesus’ name for salvation and healing.

In 1991 the Bunama New Testament was printed and dedicated. It was distributed by three groups of three Bunama speakers who gave Bible studies from the new Scripture in twenty different villages. In almost every village there were people who sought the Lord’s salvation – older folk, young men, girls, school children. We were amazed at the many different ways in which the Holy Spirit spoke to people’s needs.

Preach the Good News, Heal the Sick, Cast out Demons

David describes a few events on mission patrols:

Muyuw Patrol, 1985

The 600 Muyuw New Testaments, first printed and sold in 1977, are worn from heavy use, tattered and discoloured. Some have lost their cover. People were eager to buy new ones for themselves and their children. Those who had no money traded canoe paddles, shells, ebony carvings, turtle-shell ear-rings, or baskets of food.

The main Muyuw translator Rev. David Kuwab, who is now Superintendent Minister, with his wife Dasel came with us on the seven week’s patrol by boat to all the inhabited islands and villages where this language is spoken. On one island Rev. Kuwab baptised ninety people and married five young Christian couples.

At another island an old man asked if he could take his wife with us on the boat to the next island where they wanted to get strong Papuan magic. Hospital staff had told his wife that the basis of this sickness was witchcraft, so they could do nothing and said she should go home and get Papuan treatment. All Papuan treatments had failed and they wanted to try stronger traditional magic. Rev. Kuwab and I went to her house and prayed for her. We asked if she believed Jesus could heal her, and she said ‘Yes’. So we helped her to her feet and started her walking. Soon she walked unaided doing heavy work in the food garden.

At the Government Administration Centre the wife of the Provincial Member for Health had been bed-ridden for three years. They believed this was from witchcraft. He had employed all the local methods to appease the witches and cure the sickness but she only got worse. He asked us to pray for his wife and we did so. When Kuwab asked if she believed Jesus could heal her he got a lethargic response. Daphne visited this woman to pray with her daily. She was improving, so the Provincial member asked Kuwab and me to pray for her again. After prayer this time, she got up and walked. We noted that she was quite anaemic and gave her iron tablets and advice on diet and encouraged continuing prayer and trust in Jesus. Rev. Kuwab warned them strongly against reverting to Papuan magic.

On our last day at Woodlark a man brought his mentally disturbed wife. Rev. Kuwab had told them to stop doing anti-witchcraft magic and to pray in Jesus’ name. The previous night they had done that and she told us she was now all right. They agreed to another prayer but as soon as Jesus’ name was uttered she screamed and stiffened and talked of bad things put in her abdomen by a witch. I rebuked the evil spirit in Jesus’ name and we prayed strongly. When Kuwab asked if she believed in Jesus she gave a definite ‘No’. I felt led to pray in the Spirit. Kuwab asked her again and she now said that she believed Jesus could save her. She seemed normal, though lethargic, when we left. She did recover.

One day was free to visit another village so the deacon took me there by canoe. We were not able to tell the people that I was coming, so the deacon and I prayed for the Lord to prepare the people. Normally they would have been scattered in the bush, in their food gardens, or at creeks and beaches getting fish and shell-fish; but we found almost all the people sitting in the church. One Tuesday each month they have a devotional meeting. This was that meeting.

They had just finished their devotions so they invited me to speak about the New Testament, hymn book and other Muyuw books. They bought them eagerly. Then the youth leader showed me their study paper on the Holy Spirit from a youth convention and asked me if I could help them understand it. So after a lunch break we went into the church again. I read and explained the Muyuw Scriptures about the Holy Spirit and they responded very positively. Many asked for prayer for the filling and empowering of the Holy Spirit.

There was much sickness in another village, especially children. They have no medical help. I had few medicines suitable for children. We gave them what medicines we had and prayed for all the sick. As in all places, they bought New testaments eagerly. Many people came under conviction of sin, coming forward for prayer for Jesus to cleanse and forgive them.

At the Sunday service at Wabunun, where we as a family had lived and worked for eight years, after Scripture had been expounded Rev. Kuwab invited people to come for prayer for sickness, or cleansing from sin, or for the Holy Spirit. People came forward in a solid stream, some weeping. Kuwab’s own son, now a grown man and getting into bad ways, came forward with bowed head and his father prayed for him. Kuwab had never before prayed for people under such conviction of sin and desiring salvation.

After a Bible study for preachers and leaders the next day more people came forward for prayers. It took half an hour to pray for them all. On the third and final day, after a straight Bible study no appeal was made but during the final hymn people began to come forward for prayer, mostly sick folk who had been brought from more distant places.

West Woodlark Patrol, 1989

We visited the islands of west of Woodlark in October. After two days of rough weather we limped in with a broken rudder attachment. The Lord provided an ex-plumber on the island who had some tools in his village house and was able to fix it.

We really admire the teachers of the English Curriculum Government Schools. Through their work many children become literate in English and Muyuw, but as not all children go to school there are many illiterate teenagers and adults who now want to learn to read. To try to meet this need we trained 26 new village literacy teachers.

Four places with a total of over 1200 people were still without any medical service despite government efforts to get Aid Post Orderlies to work there. We heard that people of one island were saying, ‘You don’t recover if you pray but you will recover if you use magic.’ When we arrived at that island 80 people were sick with malaria, some desperately ill. All recovered with prayer and chloroquine treatment. The people of one island complain more about having no minister than they do about having no medical help. For most, the value of Christian leadership is rated very high.

As well as Muyuw New Testaments and hymn books we took Kiriwina and Dobu New Testaments for sale. We found that the Holy Spirit’s blessings are not restricted to one way of ministry or to one language. People from a number of languages live at the commercial centre for Woodlark Island. The new United Church minister does not know Muyuw but has a powerful and effective ministry through the Dobu language.

The dialect on one island was a mixture of two main languages. There we found the strongest church on all of these islands. However, a matter of concern is a prophetess who is visited by a spirit from time to time and gives confusing teaching, but she has a large following.

After we returned from the Woodlark area Daphne stayed in our house at Dobu catching up with household matters and weeding our yam garden while I did a survey of another area with Peter from Holland. He and his doctor wife are looking for a language in which to begin translation work. Family in-fighting which is worsening, destruction of villages, and criminal activities among some of those people are causing widespread concern. The police recently made a large number of arrests. There are, however, faithful Christians there in the United, Catholic, and Seventh Day Adventist Churches.

On the patrol we had hard hiking in rain and flooded rivers, then sea travel to return. I had been having intermittent malaria and some other problems, but improved during the patrol and returned feeling strong and fit.

Bunama Patrol, 1991

The Bunama New Testament is now with the people, and the Lord blessed the distribution patrol. Of the 600 printed only 40 were left unsold.

I went with the nine Bunama speakers in the distribution team. We spent two days in preparation, praying and studying 1 Timothy, the book we were to use for village Bible studies. Then we set off in groups of three, each group to a different village.

The emphasis was on teaching, and at some stage in most places at the end of a session the team leader or the local pastor would invite people wanting help from the Lord to remain behind. The manifold working of the Holy Spirit was amazing to all of us. Together with the local pastors we prayed in pairs for the people who requested help. Several times the boat captain was teamed with me. Two years before he was illiterate but Daphne taught him from a Dobu primer. Now he reads the Dobu Bible and his prayers were spiritually sensitive and powerful.

Even among the most distant of the dialect groups they understood the Bunama Scripture and teaching quite well and many of them responded to the Lord. They all had individual and different needs, and the Holy Spirit worked in their hearts.

In another place a team leader was hesitant about making an invitation and did so rather tentatively. Later he felt rebuked for his reluctance because many responded. He discovered the agony of soul of one woman who needed the Lord’s help, as well as seeing two boys of 10-12 years who had waited back in the distance but were strongly convicted of their need for forgiveness.

There were failures too. — After church one Sunday a number of people went back inside the church and sat quietly. Too late, the members of that team realised they were probably wanting help. — Often after uplifting experiences, team members and local people would sing all night. This was good for the local people but I felt it left team members unable to give of their best the next day. — Some pastors felt that hospitality required them to give betel nut and tobacco to team members, and most felt that good manners required them to use it. Three of the team members were smokers and most used betel nut to some degree. I feel that this drug can dull a person’s spiritual sensitivity. — When under pressure near the end of the trip I hurt someone by an outburst of anger, and my apology may not heal all of that hurt.

Half of the team members and some of the village pastors are people the Lord had touched in Dobu Bible studies as we have visited these areas in previous years. It is wonderful to see the Lord’s work being multiplied.

All team members spoke clearly against the use of traditional magic and spirit practices. This is a break-through and a key to the Lord’s blessing on their ministry. Ten years ago it was considered wrong to mention these things in church.

In the second week the engine of our boat was getting harder to start, taking up to an hour with the crank handle. So before trying one day we prayed and it started first crank. Next morning a team member prayed for the engine. It started by battery power just with the starter button. It has kept starting that way ever since.

The language used at another village was not Bunama and I was undecided about calling there, but called in anyway. There were lots of people about, and they wanted a Bunama Bible study. A team member led it and made an invitation at the end. I could see six young men hanging back in the shadows and listening from a distance. They responded, each with a strong desire to leave his old ways and be a true Christian. The pastor was away, but his wife was delighted. She told us that those young men had been a heavy burden on their hearts.

Our trip finished on the island where it began. They wanted a Bible study from Bunama New Testament and afterwards several of them bought it. The response for prayer was mainly from men aged 25-30. Some were so moved by God’s Spirit that they could hardly speak.

Woodlark and Marshall Bennett Patrol, 1994

This trip took three months. Revival is now spreading through these islands.

We arrived soon after a mission led by a United Church minister. During the mission at the main population centres hundreds sought salvation through Christ and were baptised in the sea, surrendering their equipment for magic and sorcery. One witch admitted having killed over twenty people, and she collapsed physically as the power of the Lord came on her.

Two local ministers travelled with us on the S.I.L. boat, continuing this ministry to the more remote places. Rev. Bili Wilson went with us to the Lachlan Islands and the eastern end of Woodlark. Rev. David Kuwab, co-translator of the Muyuw New Testament, was with us in visiting the rest of Woodlark and the Marshall Bennett Islands.

The people gave Rev. Bili Wilson and us their full attention for five days so we gave them the Good News and sold lots of Scriptures. They responded in an amazing way. On Friday I gave the main study in the church and invited people during the last hymn to come into the fenced section near the pulpit for prayer. That area was soon full and most of the rest of the congregation were crowding forward. Rev. Bili and the Pastor worked as one team; Daphne and I as a second team.

On Sunday people were invited to give up their equipment for doing magic, so after church the older men brought wood, gum, ginger, stones, and bones and eagerly released it to be burnt. Rev. Bili, using a metaphor, said, ‘If you have any death in your house bring it here and burn it.’ On Sunday afternoon Rev. Bili baptised 18 young adults in the sea.

There was widespread response to the Lord. Hundreds more were baptised in most places, and lots of equipment for magic and sorcery was burnt. Hundreds also sought prayer for special needs. One woman came to Rev. Bili Wilson and said, ‘This is my heaviness – I am a witch.’ Then she collapsed, and two other women held her on her feet while we asked the Lord to take away this evil spirit and give her the Holy Spirit.

We went to another island where the enthusiasm was the greatest yet. Older folk there, as well as the young folk, are very keen for the Lord. There was another baptism of many people in that area. Two leaders prayed for each candidate before their baptism. Afterwards the newly baptised Christians stood in a line and all who wished to do so shook each by the hand and gave words of encouragement or prophecy as the Spirit led. The biggest prayer need of the young people was to learn to read so as to read the Bible and hymn book. We prayed for them, gave them primers, and instruction for those who can read to help them daily in their homes. I also told them that betel nut gums up their brains.

There is a strong Pentecostal church in one island we visited. They had just finished a mission. They all speak Holy Spirit tongues and have no tobacco, betel nut, traditional mortuary feasts or kula trading. Whether they are right or not on these issues, it frees them to worship the Lord with such joy that I have never seen before. Their faces shine with a happy peaceful radiance. When you meet them along the road they talk enthusiastically about the Lord and his return.

They baptised 42 people on Sunday, many of them being United Church followers who will continue in the United Church. The United Church there follows the Pentecostal worship pattern in most ways. I preached at the United Church mid-day service. The singing praise session at the start turned into a congregational prayer meeting, all praying together. It seemed they would never stop!

We were delayed a day leaving there by a cyclone. Everything got wet. At least it was cool when the cyclone was around. After it cleared it was terribly hot. On almost every trip we caught fish including some big ones. One pulled my attaching knot undone and got away with the whole line. If you have any weakness in your tackle you lose all those big ones, and your tackle.

At the next island it seemed as though everyone turned to the Lord and was baptised in the sea. It was the same in two more islands.

Frightening gossip preceded us in some places. People were told that if they are baptised in the sea and then commit sin again they will die. Some people wanted to stay with the ways of worship and life practices to which they were accustomed. These people saw the revival movement as a new and different religion.

However, in each of the opposition strongholds ten to twenty people sought baptism and new life in Christ. One was a healing magician who found that after practising his art he had terrible dreams, so he wanted to be rid of his magic. Another man testified in church that he was finished with his various sorcery practices.

Rev. David Kuwab’s youth was spent in the midst of sorcery and magic. He dramatically explained the use of items for magic and sorcery and physical poisons as he threw them into the fire, shouting, ‘These are Satan’s things.’ The people showed no sign of embarrassment; just relief and joy. The young people sang praises to the Lord during the long baptism procedures. Mature Christians prayed for each person before they were taken down into the water, and another Christian prayed for them when they came back to the shore.

When the Gospel of Christ was proclaimed in one place a famous spirit healer was one of the first to respond. He was quite willing to give up his healing and killing practice. He told Rev. Kuwab, ‘I have only used sorcery to kill bad people, never good people.’

Spiritual hunger generated a great demand for Muyuw Scriptures. We had to get fresh supplies, and we still ran out of New Testaments at the last island. The new large print New Testament was very popular with people of all ages. In a population of some 4,000 people we sold 700 New testaments, 150 hymn books, and 300 booklets on Spiritual Warfare which Rev. Kuwab had translated.

The Marshall Bennett Islands at the end of a three months trip were exhausting. That is where we ran into opposition. There is no medical worker for over 2,000 people. The three main islands are flat-topped craggy limestone, 500-600 feet in elevation with no water supply where the people live on the tops of the islands, except what falls from the sky. There are few good anchorages.

With no medical services the people have depended heavily on healing magicians. On one island there was hostility between members of the church, and many were suffering from malaria, coughs and scabies. The plight of some small children was pathetic. We were carrying medicine for malaria and pneumonia but nothing for scabies. Rev. Kuwab worked hard to help the church leaders overcome their differences through the power of Christ.

Although people were resistant there, at one smaller preaching place 60 were baptised. At another place 20 were baptised and gave up their magic.

We had planned and prayed for the Woodlark trip for a long time. Since 1963 we have been praying that God’s Word would bear fruit among the Muyuw people. What is now happening exceeds our greatest expectations. To our Lord Jesus be the glory.


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Renewal Journal 4: Healing – Editorial

Missionary Translator and Doctor, by David Lithgow

My Learning Curve on Healing, by Jim Holbeck

Spiritual Healing, by John Blacker

Deliverance and Freedom, by Colin Warren

Christian Wholeness Counselling, by John Warlow

A Healing Community, by Spencer Colliver

Divine Healing & Church Growth, by Donald McGavran

Sounds of Revival, by Sue Armstrong

Revival Fire at Wuddina, by Trevor Faggotter

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Article in Renewal Journal 4: Healing – more links to healing there
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Also in  Renewal Journals bound volume 1 (Issues 1-5)
Renewal Journal Vol 1 (1-5) – PDF

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