It’s not often I share stories like this… and I purposefully won’t share everything. But I thought that the end result was such a powerful story that I couldn’t not share it.
This story takes place in, well you guessed it… a remote village! In fact, we took the road as far as it would take us, hopped off the 4WD onto the surveyor track and hiked to the end of it, then followed the narrow bush trail into the village. We later heard from a minister in Port Moresby that “Nobody goes there; it’s just too hard & far to reach!” and I absolutely love the fact that we took local health workers with us and that they are the proof that it is possible, they can do it! We arrived in our village just before sunset. The villagers gathered as they saw us trek in, congregated around our rest hut and listened to our introduction. They were super welcoming, and excited to have us in the village and so grateful for the opportunity to receive medical care in their village the next day!
During the night, an incident happened. It wasn’t a major incident, nobody was injured, but some of our property was damaged.
In fact, I only became aware of the incident as I was having a chat with Philip. He had noticed something slightly off… his story linked with what I noticed waking up, and sure enough, he linked the dots…
As soon as he realized what happened, he was devastated. I could tell by the look on his face that our plans would have to change. I had also been in PNG long enough to know that the village would be upset. And as I was going through possible scenarios in my mind, Philip spoke out what I was afraid of: “We’ll have to leave; the village won’t let us see patients today.” PNG is an extremely generous nation and its people are way hospitable! In the even that they don’t look after you well, they’ll feel ashamed. In this case, we were well looked after by 99%, but 1% messed up.
When our other brothers (our police officers and health workers) found out what happened, they became angry. PNG is known for it’s passionate people. They were extremely passionate… wanted to protect their extended family (us).
Philip decided to inform our host of the incident before they heard from someone else. Immediately, he called the village chief and elders and convened a meeting. We were on stand by. We couldn’t get ready for clinic before the issue was resolved.
A quick walk to the loo showed me that the coconut wireless was working. Everybody seemed to know already. They’d point at us and whisper. They’d avoid eye contact. The air was so thick you could have cut through it.
I came back in the hut and had a chat with Philip. Our suspicion was confirmed. The village elders wanted us to leave, and were refusing treatment, believing that they had disgraced us and couldn’t accept our gift of health care after doing us wrong. We all agreed that the 99% goodness was more important to focus on than the 1% wickedness. Philip preached to the convince and told us that Jesus would stay and care for those in need. We agreed with him and commissioned him to go convince the village. While he was speaking with the leaders, we gathered and prayed. We decided to share with them about forgiveness and the importance to teach/disciple or mentor rascals into good people rather than to punish and possibly kill them.
When Philip returned he shared that the Chief wanted to hold a reconciliation ceremony. But that the chance that we could do clinics afterwards were very slim. Our local health workers weren’t keen (with the exception of our exceptional Philip!) one even said “don’t ask me to see anyone today, I refuse! I won’t see any!”
We saw a large crowd make it’s way towards our rest hut, then Philip indicated that the Chief was ready to start. That was our chance to change their minds, extend forgiveness and share from our hearts.
The Chief introduced himself and explained the situation and how disappointed he was. He said that he roamed the village to find people that shared his burden and wanted to apologize. He apologized and presented us with traditional necklaces to officialize the ceremony. As the team leader, I received the chief’s necklace, made of wild boar tusk; a highly esteem gift in PNG culture. My co-leader also received an intricate necklace, as did the rest of the team, and as the male leader of the team, he accepted the apology and extended forgiveness. We then had a chance to speak and had decided that one of our students she share her story and how she came from a hard past. How countless time should would have deserved jail or by Papua New Guinean standards, a good beating, possibly even loss of limbs. She explained that if she had received what she deserved, she wouldn’t be able to stand in their village that day to bring health care. She asked if the village would consider grace and mercy on the perpetrator of the incident. Not to turn a blind eye, but to opt for the loving option, the harder option of discipling and mentoring the young men rather than beating him up.
The villager cheered loudly as she made her petition, and agreed to consider our request. Some people came forward with gifts to present our team, some ran home to bring Tapa (a traditional mulberry bark cloth with intricate design), necklaces, and even a bird of paradise (taxidermy); an extremely rare and expensive gift! We then asked if we could stay and do clinic… their faces lit up! They couldn’t believe that we wanted to stay but agreed to have us!
When we returned to our hut to get ready, our health workers who previously wanted nothing to do with the village were excited to get to work and bring services to the community! I had never seen such radical transformation in the attitudes of people before! The village who wouldn’t look at us, and was ashamed was now smiling, singing and happy to see us, and our health workers let their anger go and decided to joyfully serve along!
What a story of forgiveness and transformation!