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, Papua New Guinea. 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. 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 in 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,” he says. “I will go wherever He calls and I will die in His service.”
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 as 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,” he says. “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 in 1965 at their Gavuone village. Sadly, the twin died when they were six months old.
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 to move around.”
Oraraka shared how he withdrew from school and stayed home, but he was determined to move around with the help of the youth of his local church. His enthusiasm drew the young boys who would carry him to and from church activities. This led to his baptism 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.
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. And so far, he has 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.”
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,” he says.
Although it may seem difficult, Oraraka sees life in a wheelchair as a blessing. He has been happily married to Della for 26 years. 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.
As he continues to translate the hymnal from his sixth wheelchair, Genogele sits beside him, making suggestions.
With the rest of their family and congregation, they look forward to each new day as they share God’s love through music. And both men have their eyes fixed on Jesus and look forward to that blessed hope.
An original version of this story was posted on the Adventist Record.