Written before I left Papua New Guinea, I chose not to publish this until I left the country. My Mom recently told me that my Dad hasn’t said much since I’ve been gone. I know his silence means he is worried. I didn’t want to fuel his angst.
It’s not safe here. I’m told I can’t walk alone, it’s best to have a national with me, and never ever set down my purse. “Place it across your body and keep it tucked under your arm.”
Daily we venture across town in Sharon’s 4Runner, and each time I’m told, “If I see anything funny, I’m gunnin’ it. Let’s hope there aren’t any people in the way.” If you live here long enough, you’ll have your own story about the “rascals” who staged a street blockade, placing logs across narrow sections of road with the intent to stop traffic, overtake vehicles and steal from passengers. Machetes are always involved.
I knew this coming here. For months I’ve been on the other side of the middle-of-the-night text messages: “They are throwing rocks at my roof again.” Just a week before my arrival, Sharon text me, “Two men jumped the fence onto our property. Martha heard them and turned on her alarm. They ran but we know they are watching us closely. Pray for our protection.”
The properties on this small missionary compound are all fenced in with double-bolted doors, barred windows, and fierce guard dogs. A crop of banana trees belonging to a neighbor have provided quick access for the “rascals” to climb and jump the fence. By God’s grace, the neighbors agreed to cut back their precious trees. This missionary team is now looking into the installation of a taller fence topped with barbed wire.
I ask Sharon if there’s any chance someone might try and harm the dogs who serve as the greatest protection (Papua New Guineans don’t have pets, and they are especially afraid of dogs.) She tells me, “There have been incidences of poison.” Constant barking makes for sleepless nights, but I’d rather be tired than hear silence.
Sharon tells me that 18 months ago when she arrived in PNG, it wasn’t as bad. But recent rival tribes that behave like gangs, flexing their cultural muscles with machetes and makeshift guns, have increased what danger there already was for a single white woman living here.
Most assure me that the rascals don’t want me, they just want my stuff. I am a white skin, a target always on my back that says, “I’m rich.” But Martha, the missionary who has been here for over 30 years, isn’t as reassuring. She tells of the decline in safety that she has continued to experience. Nightly she and Sharon walk their dogs together. It’s their way of saying to the neighbors – don’t mess with us. The women train their dogs to attack men, praising them for growling and barking at passerbys.
I tell Martha that it feels like imprisonment. This gorgeous South Pacific island town and yet the wisest way to enjoy it is locked inside an SUV with a full tank of gas. Martha affirms what I observe. Martha spends her weekends 20 minutes north of town off the coast of a nearby resort with the best safety reputation. She’s an avid snorkeler, and though she lights up when you ask her about fish, I know snorkeling allows her moments of independence and freedom not afforded to her in the city.
I must say, the people I met during my 10 days in PNG – the nationals – they were all so incredibly kind – every single one of them. From the moment I landed in the country’s capital, wonderful people reached out to help me. The airport security woman who assisted me when I was alone and somewhat lost upon my arrival in PNG, met me at my recent departure and said, “I am going to miss you, Ali. We are best friends now. I am making you a gift. I am sorry it is not done yet. I promise to finish it and get it to you.” SHE IS AN AIRPORT SECURITY GUARD I MET ONE TIME. Yet she embodies the heart of the majority of these precious Papua New Guinea souls.
Like all cultures, there are a few bad apples in PNG. The depravity in this culture, the corrupt justice system, the lack of civilization – it all breeds desperation. Mixed with a few bad seeds, excess alcohol and men who carry machetes as part of their livelihood, and it’s no wonder a dog breeder can get away with selling german shepherds for $1200 (USD) in a country where most people live on less than a dollar a day.
The irony of this place is that the villages pose the greatest health threats with their jungle diseases and parasites and yet they offer the greatest personal safety. Village life breeds a sense of community unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. But densely populate an urban area with those same people, from their diverse villages and rivaling cultures, and that’s when problems occur.
As I reflect on this place and these missionaries, I am reminded of two things: 1) They are here because of the desperation. The people of PNG need Jesus – it is so incredibly obvious. Their ancient belief systems engage witchcraft and sorcery, a ripple of demons throughout this culture that is palpable. 2) But God. These beautiful missionaries have followed God right into the middle of this darkness. They live squarely in the middle of God’s protective angel army. Though the battle is fierce, God remains God. His Presence is woven throughout PNG – its precious people gradually reflecting what is already evident in the majestic splendor of the countryside.
Papua New Guinea is not alone. All around the globe, dark places pose great threats to human life. And all around the globe people are giving up their safety, their comforts and their freedoms of speech and religion to live among the darkness so that one day every precious soul may know the love of Jesus. Pray for them. Pray for the native people in these countries. Pray for the missionaries who have left behind statistics of safety to live in danger. Pray for them. Support them. Visit them (Yes, visit them – I have never felt more protected by God as I did this last week.) Love them – love and pray for them all.
**For those of you worried about our dear sister, Sharon, let me also say this – The longer she is there, the safer she is. The more nationals that she befriends, the greater the hedge of protection around her. Her neighbor is a 30-year-old missionary who was born in PNG. Though she is a single white woman, no one dares harm her because she is so well respected by so many nationals. And the agency that Sharon serves is a good agency. They are a beautiful mix of expats and nationals and they have a wonderful reputation in the area. They are taking good care of our gal. Sharon is strong, faithful, and resting in the center of God’s Will for her life. Keep up the prayers – they are sustaining her.**
Jesus told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” Luke 10:2-3
Jesus said, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” Matthew 16:25