Gathering on the 4th of July
It is the 4th of July here in Papua New Guinea. It is a beautiful, warm, sunny day, but it doesn’t feel like the 4th. There are no flags waving, no picnics planned, no red, white and blue (except for a banner my girls put up in the house and their toenails which were meticulously painted), no family reunions, and no fireworks. So much here is unlike what so many are experiencing back “in the land of the free and the home of the brave.” In fact no one here even knows that the 4th of July is significant in any way to any other day of the year.
Yet there is a get together today. Almost the whole village is gathered. Food is being prepared and eaten. Friends and family are spending time together. Today is the funeral for an elderly woman who died yesterday. Her health had been deteriorating for over a month with the onset of heart failure. She was a good woman and many respected her. I had met her and talked some with her, but didn’t know her well. She had never come to the teaching when we taught about the way of salvation. She had never come to the church. She had never interacted with the believers…but they had interacted with her.
As usual, since the time of her death I have heard a lot of stories. But this time the majority of the stories are not about possible poison or black magic being worked on her, or the consultation with fireflies or possessed-bamboo to find out who killed her, or fights over her few earthly possessions, or discussions about who will pay for the pigs in order to feed everybody. The majority of the stories are about the believers who interacted with her.
Ironically the group of individuals who have been made fun of, disassociated with, rejected, and humiliated because of their faith in Christ and wanting to follow him, are the ones who had reached out to the elderly woman in her last days. One of the women, a Patpatar Christian, had spent days on end with her, taking care of her physical needs, giving her medicine, and sleeping in her hut to be on-call. Another believer consistently brought food from his garden to give to her. Another found out she wanted store bought food like rice and canned fish, so he bought it for her. At least 3 of them sat down with her at different times to share the Gospel message with her.
We don’t know if she ever accepted the truth. We don’t know if the effort invested by the believers made an eternal difference in her life. But I do know what they have done is making an impact on the community. You see, the believers are celebrating their independence. They have been set free by the truth of the Gospel of Christ. The freedom is costing them, but they are standing firm in the freedom they have been given and are living it out. They are being a witness, maybe a little bit like a firework giving off some light and impressing the community on this 4th of July.
Because He has set us free,
Fact: Papua New Guinea has been governed by several different countries in the last few hundred years, the last being Australia who gave PNG their independence on September 16th 1975.