Brothers: disability no barrier

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Sitting near the little church by the river, I marvel at the skills and agility displayed by two unique brothers.

Genogele and Oraraka Koutoana are an inspiration to their families and the people who have crossed their paths.

They live along the Lako River in Marshall Lagoon, Central Province. Like other subsistence farmers in their area, they live from their gardens, the river and sea.

Both men are also very passionate about church music, love God and work hard to spread the gospel. They attend Lako Seventh-day Adventist church.

They relocated to Kalagama in 2010 from the main Gavuone village because life is much easier along the river.

What’s amazing about these brothers is that both live with disabilities. The oldest, Genogele, is blind and uses a walking stick while his younger brother, Oraraka, moves around in a wheelchair. Their other siblings also live with disabilities.

Despite not being able to walk and see, they can do things that other people do. They live happy lives as they are supported and well-loved by their families.

Genogele spends his days planting bananas and working in the garden, fishing or climbing coconut trees.

He also helps with errands at the church, which is built next to their home.

The brothers often help each other to get tasks done. On most occasions it is Genogele who pushes Oraraka around in his wheelchair with the latter giving directions.

Genogele was born a healthy child on December 7, 1962. He is the fourth of eight children.

In 1996, he lost his sight and, following several visits to the Port Moresby General Hospital eye clinic, was told that his eyes were “beyond repair”.

However, that news from the eye doctor only made his faith stronger in God.

“My only hope is to see Jesus come. I returned home (from the hospital) with a greater interest in doing His work.

“I will go wherever He calls and I will die in His service,” he says.

Genogele, 54, and single, remains true to his word today. Although blind, he has played leadership roles in youth ministry and is also a deacon in his local church. He also built the little church building they currently worship in—it was opened on Christmas Day, 2011. With help from others, it took him only six days to complete his work. There are 82 members worshipping there every Sabbath.

Singing keeps Genogele’s heart close to God. His strong sense of hearing enables him to learn new songs quickly. He leads the praise and worship sessions with ease and is also gifted with a beautiful voice.

“I do almost everything,” he says, listing off his skills. “Gardening, wrapping bananas, building a house, fishing, climbing coconut trees, going to church and helping my brother to teach songs to the local congregation.

“I hear well and feel my way around. My brother also gives directions when I push him around in his wheelchair.

“My greatest desire is to see Jesus one day.”

As we talk, Genogele is busy repairing pews for the church. I can only wonder at how he knows the number of nails and the location of each piece of timber.

Oraraka is no less talented. Oraraka and his twin were born healthy on July 25, 1965, at their Gavuone village. Sadly, the twin died at six months.

Oraraka enjoyed his childhood and early school life in the village until an unfortunate accident turned his life around. A canoe had rolled over him along the Lako River in August 1977, leaving him with injuries he hoped would be temporary.

But on March 24 the following year, his situation took a sudden turn for the worse.

“When I awoke that morning, I fell from my bed,” he remembers. “I was unable to walk well and I struggled with moving around.

“I withdrew from school and stayed home but I was determined to move around with the youth in my local church,” he says.

His enthusiasm drew the young boys who would carry him to and from church activities. This led to his baptism, which was conducted by Pastor Gapi Ravu (now deceased) and his first wheelchair, which he received from the Lions Club in 1986.

His interest in youth ministry and singing continued to grow as he fervently asked God to reveal his spiritual gift.

“I bought a book, Rudiments of Music, read it and taught myself. I did not attend any music school or training. I am thankful to God for the gift of music.”

It wasn’t long before Oraraka began translating songs from English to Keakalo, the local vernacular spoken along the Aroma coast.

He also led choirs of Pathfinders and youth at the Gavuone Adventist church. To this day, he has helped many people with writing and translating songs for choirs, solos, duets and quartets.

He was invited by several choir groups at an Adventist church in Port Moresby to compose and teach them songs.

Oraraka, 52, has so far composed nearly 300 songs.

His current and biggest project is translating the Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal into his local vernacular.

“I have a great interest in singing but I am saddened because many people in my village cannot sing in English,” he says.

“I began translating the hymnal in 2013. I translated 500 songs but lost all my work when the computer crashed.

“Fifty of those songs have been edited with 23 sung in church. I have yet to teach 17 songs.”

Each Sabbath, he teaches a new song to the congregation at the Lako Adventist church.

This year, he is translating another 150 songs and hopes to complete his work by the end of next year.

“My biggest challenge is the young people. They must be committed to herald the gospel through singing.”

Although it may seem difficult, Oraraka sees life in a wheelchair as a blessing. He has been happily married to his beautiful wife Della for 26 years.

“On March 24, 1991 we vowed to live according to God’s blessings. I have not regretted that decision as my marriage to Della has helped me.”

The couple has two sons, Russell, 26, and Valo, 23, and grandchildren.

“I am also thankful to my brother Genogele who has been my feet, moving me around in my wheelchair to do my tasks,” says Oraraka.

Apart from composing songs, Oraraka was clerk and communication secretary for the Gavuone Adventist church in the ‘90s and was also the personal ministries Sabbath school leader for 15 years.

In 1999, he started a pre-school in his home, using lessons from the Adventurer Busy Bee class. He was also a commercial artist.

Oraraka attained his leadership skills from the Madana laymen’s school along the Aroma coast, which he attended three different times.

As he continues to translate the hymnal from his sixth wheelchair, Genogele sits beside him, adding suggestions.

With the rest of their family and congregation, they look forward to each new day as they share God’s love through music.

Both men have their eyes fixed on Jesus and look forward to that blessed hope.

Jacqueline Wari is associate communication director for the Papua New Guinea Union Mission.

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