How will they hear without a preacher?
This question from Paul’s letter to the Romans, probably more than anything else, encouraged the Dodd family to move to Papua New Guinea.
Matt Dodd was a lover of good news—and not just any glad tidings, but only the best. He loved the good news that says God permitted the death of his Son in order to accomplish something astonishing—the rescue of his enemies. Every person on the planet is guilty before God because they hate him, but all can find grace through Jesus. It is the most dreadful news coupled with the greatest, like a dreadful diagnosis coupled with a tremendous and effective cure. Matt Dodd loved this news. And he was challenged by the reality that some have yet to hear this good news. And so the question lingered: How will they hear unless someone goes to them?
Matt Dodd brought his family to Papua New Guinea in order to preach to those who have never heard the best news in their own language. But he never got the chance.
Houses had just been built and Matt had just started learning the Ndo language when he found out his daughter needed a tonsillectomy. Matt and his family left the small village of Mawerero in Papua New Guinea for what was suppose to be a short furlough. We said goodbye to the Dodds as they climbed into the helicopter on September 6, 2016 (one year ago today), fully expecting to see them again the following May.
Halfway through furlough, Matt was diagnosed with stage-4 lung cancer. Six months later, he breathed his last on July 18, 2017. Now Matt is with his Savior, Jesus. He is experiencing the grace and peace that he loved in the gospel—the grace and peace that he wanted to share in the Ndo language.
Matt Dodd will not visit the Mawerero ridge again, but his witness here is not over. Far from being a waste, Matt Dodd’s life will continue to testify of God’s goodness and grace here in the Finisterre Mountains.
The following are just a few ways in which Matt’s legacy endures:
Matt’s hope for Mawerero was never founded in himself. Matt was not proud. I remember him reading the gospels over and over again because he wanted to know Jesus more. He was keenly aware of his need for Jesus and his inadequacy as a missionary. On a particularly grueling hike, Matt and I sat down and wondered why we were putting ourselves through such pain, hunger, and physical deprivation. As we talked, Matt turned his eyes (and mine) away from our current situation and to the great love of Jesus. We did not come to these mountains because we are great. We came because these people need Jesus just like we do. I remember Matt regularly praying that God would change people as we preached. The results of our work here belonged to God and not us. This is still true. And so we still pray, as Matt did, that God would continue the work that has begun in Mawerero and transform many dissenters into disciples.
Matt’s death has created massive questions that have glorious answers. In the aftermath of Matt’s passing, we heard many people here ask questions like: Why do western people have struggles and pains just like us? Why did God let a missionary die so young? Was Matt’s death possibly the result of something we did? Was it something Matt did? How will Matt’s death affect the ministry here?
These questions are not all that different from those that appear throughout the story of Job. We long to teach them how suffering has it’s place in God’s great design. It will produce eternal glory (2 Corinthians 4:17) so that all present affliction is not worth comparing to what is to come (Romans 8:18). Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, this future is so certain that we know nothing can separate us from the love of God and the fulfillment of his promises (Romans 8:31-39).
Matt’s faith has encouraged many who remain. Matt has joined the cloud of witnesses who can testify to God’s goodness and faithfulness. What we know by faith, Matt knows by sight. This reality (as described in Hebrews 11) encourages us to fix our eyes on Jesus as we continue to run the race set before us. And Lord-willing, the story of Matt’s faith will encourage people here as they come to know the good news of Jesus as Matt did.
Matt’s relay team will preach in his stead. Ryan and Elna Mitchell along with Amelia Brink are going to join the work here in Mawerero. Matt came to Mawerero because they were lacking preachers. Now God has raised up others to pick up where Matt left off. Nothing made Matt happier than when God’s Word was preached, believed, cherished, and obeyed. Before his death, Matt expressed to me how glad he was that God had raised up others to continue that work.
Mawerero and many other Ndo-speaking villages have not been left without a preacher.