Like an acid, alcohol was dissolving everything.
Tony Speziale was in the middle of a divorce. After an argument with his boss, he was on the verge of being fired from the job he had for 12 years. Constant drinking was destroying his health and fracturing relationships with those closest to him.
It took a spiritual intervention for Speziale to give up alcohol. Through his renewal, he has envisioned a drastically different life for himself.
Speziale is leaving behind his family, his job and everything he’s known for his entire life in order to spread the Christian faith in far-off Papua New Guinea. This fall, he’ll leave for a three-year mission trip helping to translate the Bible into the hundreds of dialects spoken on the Southwest Asian island system.
After his faith helped Speziale break free from alcohol addiction, he’s prepared to live the rest of his life repaying God for saving his life.
“Honestly, I don’t see myself ever coming back. I don’t know how you can go over there and see those things, then come back again,” he said.
In the mountainous tropical landscape of Papua New Guinea, small airplanes fly from isolated airstrip to airstrip, the only means of transportation.
The planes are property of Wycliffe Bible Translators. The crew aboard are part of an extensive missionary team charged with the arduous task of taking the words of the Bible and translating it into the many languages of Papua New Guinea.
Doing so can take years, as the spoken languages have to become written words, native translators taught English and thousands of pages of text transformed.
“It’s usually a multi-year and often a multi-decade process that involved quite a lot of people,” said Ruth Hubbard, chief brand officer for Wycliffe.
The organization has been working since 1942 to translate the Bible into every language in the world. The group has completed more than 500 languages thus far, though 1,900 more remain.
A fresh start
Home: Beech Grove
Former occupation: Driver for Fed Ex
Current occupation: Missionary for Wycliffe Bible Translators in Papua New Guinea
Memberships: Belongs to Vineyard Community Church in Greenwood
About Papua New Guinea
Where: Island nation in the Pacific Ocean, east of Indonesia
Miles from Indianapolis: 8,569
Languages: More than 800
— Information from the CIA World Factbook
Papua New Guinea informational night
What: A presentation by Tony Speziale about his upcoming mission trip to Papua New Guinea.
When: 6 to 9 p.m. Aug. 21
Where: Village Cafe at Vineyard Community Church, 512 S. Madison Ave., Greenwood
The goal is to have projects at least started in all languages by 2025.
“We want to make sure is started everywhere it is needed,” Hubbard said. “We believe God’s word is an important thing both in a faith situation, but also as a great piece of literature for cultures to have access to.”
It is here that Speziale has found his calling.
The 46-year-old has lived on the southside of Indianapolis for his entire life. He graduated from Roncalli High School in 1986 and lives in Beech Grove.
Speziale has worked for 14 years for Fed Ex, first in aviation maintenance and then as a delivery driver. His experience with planning routes, arranging for the proper supplies to be at the airport on schedule and other logistical concerns will be put to use in Papua New Guinea.
His job will be helping ensure the planes delivering supplies and missionaries throughout the country’s volcanic islands are supplied and scheduled.
Wycliffe has seven small cargo airplanes and two helicopters, which will fly everything from batteries to printer toner to medicine to the translators spread throughout the country.
The adventure springs as Speziale has emerged from the fire his personal life had become.
For nearly 30 years, alcohol was the center of everything Speziale did.
Drinking was as regular as eating, sleeping and breathing. He would drink liquor in his car on the way home from work and would often consume as much as a fifth of whiskey each night after work.
After an argument with his boss, he was suspected of being drunk at work. Tests came back negative for alcohol, but Fed Ex officials offered to have him enter a six-week alcohol rehab program anyway.
At first, Speziale was resistant.
“That first week, I didn’t think I could do it. Alcohol was so engrained in my life. The only way I thought I’d quit drinking was by going to prison,” he said.
But on a night after one of the sessions, Speziale decided that he was tired, physically, mentally and spiritually.
Though not religious, he surrendered himself to God, as a last resort.
“From that moment, I was different,” he said. “I felt like I was transformed. I was instantly released from alcohol. It was like I had never drank before.”
He started attending services and Bible study at Vineyard Community Church in Greenwood. Signing up for the Starting Point program, he was able to explore his own faith.
Through the program, he met a couple named Adam and Christie Derloshon. The Derloshons shared their experiences on mission trips in Ethiopia.
“Tony had been coming to our church for a while, and had grown a lot spiritually at the Vineyard,” said Jonathan Bricker, worship pastor at Vineyard Community Church. “Part of our mission through the church is to impact the world, so we do see a lot of value for world missions, and he connected with that.”
The more he learned about the ways they were reaching people through Christianity, the more Speziale weighed the appeal of his own mission trip.
“I thought that maybe God just put a call in life for mission work. But I’d never done anything like that, so I just kind of put it on the backburner,” he said.
Looking back, Speziale realizes that God wasn’t going to let the idea go. He was lying in bed shortly after his 45th birthday. Realizing that his life was likely more than half over, he wanted to shift the focus.
After he joined another Bible group at the Vineyard, he met a man who worked as a bush pilot for Wycliffe Bible Translators.
“All of these lights starting going off, and I felt a real peace about it,” Speziale said. “I basically said that if God opens the doors, I’ll walk through them.”
Speziale will be part of Wycliffe’s Vision 2025 program. The goal is to translate the Bible into every language on earth, allowing for even the most obscure society to learn Christian principles.
In Papua New Guinea, that’s a significant challenge. The island chain boasts more than 850 unique dialects, with more than 300 which have not had a biblical translation done.
Speziale will be living in Ukarumpa, a mountainous town that serves as the international base for the Summer Institute of Linguistics.
It has one store for supplies and one clinic in case people need to see a doctor. People with Wycliffe have described it like living in a small Appalachian village here in the U.S.
When he’s not arranging for supplies to be transported throughout Papua New Guinea, Speziale will be ministering and mentoring to the people around Ukarumpa.
He’s most excited to connect with the young people of the town, many of whom are struggling with addiction problems.
“Coming from my background, I can provide some insight in that,” he said. “We can be spoiled here. If we wake up and don’t have bars on our cell phone, we get upset. I want to go somewhere where people are just thankful to have meals.”
Slowly, Speziale has been tying up his connections to Indiana and the U.S. in preparation.
With no children or wife, he leaves no immediate family behind. He resigned his job in March, put his Beech Grove condominium up for sale and has been preparing for his trip.
His main concern is to put together a team of supporters here in Indiana. He has worked with Vineyard pastor Jim Bricker and others in the church, and speaks to organizations, businesses and individuals all over the area.
Though Speziale will work a regular job in Papua New Guinea, it’s a volunteer position. He is relying on partners and individual donors to help him buy food, rent a house and take care of other needs for the mission trip.
“As Tony was growing, he was putting this love and passion in his heart to reach out to these other cultures,” Bricker said.
The concept is still frightening. People have tried to appeal to reason and get Speziale to reconsider. He only would have had six years before taking early retirement with Fed Ex.
But many more people have been supportive. His friends and family have understood how serious he is after selling the classic motorcycle he’s had since high school.
Speziale knows this is what he has been called for.
“It’s a testimony that anywhere you are in life, God can take you and use you,” he said. “Not many people can just up and leave.”