I need to write. I need to share. I just am not sure exactly how to do it. My head is filled with hearing and reading so many stories of terror and fear, and also an amazing story of God's care that I feel like I don't know where to start... So I'll just type as it comes and hopefully it will make some sort of sense as it appears on your computer screen.
Firstly, on Sunday as we went to drop of the Biwat people in their settlement after church, we noticed that an unusually large group of people was leaving the settlement and soon after a Task Force (the heavy handed police of PNG) vehicle too. We knew that something must be going on but it was only the next day that we found out why, after reading this (open to see link to newspaper then click on "see report" for the first story - "Mother beheaded, Daughter raped"....it is gruesome so be warned) and now this morning after talking to the ladies as we met for Bible Study it all became clearer too.
Basically a Biwat lady (Biwat is actually an area in the Sepik, but the Bumbu Settlement -slum area - has a section in it called "Biwat", so called because a lot of people from the Biwat area of PNG live there) was beheaded (actually we found out this morning that she was actually scalped) and cut beyond recognition, and her teenage daughter was gang-raped and had her arm cut off. Why? I found out this morning that it was actually a "misunderstanding". Some misunderstanding! Although the newspaper article (link above) actually only speaks about a radio being stolen, apparently there was more to it than that (there always is). As I understood the story this morning, the son of the woman that was killed was suspected of killing someone from the Pepsi Compound. He did apparently take off with this dead boy's radio and thus was seen as the prime suspect for the killing. And so in retaliation his mother was killed and his sister raped and her arm cut off!! Life is so cheap here in PNG. It just makes you shudder in disbelief. One thing that was beautiful to hear in all of this was that the woman was a Believer and apparently she ended up being killed trying to protect her daughter. Further, another son of this woman as well as her husband are Christians and although many of the relatives wish to retaliate (Payback is a way of life in PNG), they are pleading with people to leave it in the hands of the police. When you understand a little of the PNG way of life, you understand that this response of the Husband and son of the dead woman is a big, big deal. It is not the norm here. The norm is to retaliate in anger, to payback in a big way (that's how the woman died) and then ask questions later. What grief upon untold grief this way of life causes the people of PNG! God help them!
It is this same system which is causing more grief to many of our members and their families. Although the story above affects them in that it happened to their tribesmen, and to a lady they know, most of them are distancing themselves from the situation and are able to do so because she was not direct family. However, in some ways this story (press for link to the newspaper, then click "news" on the left and then select the 4th story on the right under "news" -Bulolo at standstill as tribes rampage) affects many of our members even more. To summarise the story: Basically, yesterday a few villages got together to forcibly get rid of the Sepik settlers (settlement dwellers) in Bulolo (a town about 2 hours from Lae). They burnt hundreds of houses forcing the settlers to flee for the lives. One man was also shot dead. Why?? Although for a long time the village people have wanted to get rid of the Sepik people from the area because of the criminal activity that settlements usually bring, an event happened which was the tip of the iceberg. A man (actually the nephew of one of our church members we found out today), killed the son of one the village people in an armed hold-up of the son's father's store. And the payback? Burning to the ground hundreds of homes, killing a man, and blocking all roads back to Lae threatening to kill any Sepik person who tries to get through. As it so happens our church member is actually in Bulolo at the moment, she was staying in that very settlement which was burnt down, and it was actually her nephew that sparked it all. As it stands now she will be forced to hide out there for the moment. She had actually gone there a couple of weeks ago to try and sort out some problems in her family there. Many, many of our church members are from the Sepik and many have close family members in Bulolo. At present they do not know what is happening to them, only that their houses have been burnt to the ground. Some of our church members are also from the tribes who are trying to get rid of the Sepik people (thankfully, however, this is not causing any tension between the women - in fact a few lighthearted jokes were bandied about this morning playing on which areas of PNG the women came from). It gets oh so complicated. However, an amazing story came out of all of this, and I heard it this morning at Bible Study. Let me share it with you:
Agnes, who is a faithful member of our church along with her husband and children, has been very ill with cerebral malaria. However, she is slowly improving and was sick and tired of staying home all day in bed or just sitting around. Her husband, Andrew, is a mechanic and actually, yesterday morning I met him in a second-hand store in Lae. He told me he was heading to Bulolo (with the company truck) to pick up a broken-down car and that he was going to take Agnes and the whole family with him especially because he thought a day out might be good for Agnes. Little did he know!
They headed out to Bulolo and the police told them nothing about the problems although they knew about them (they were picking up a broken-down police car so they could have been told). Also, apparently they were supposed to have a police escort from Lae as Lae had some idea that something was going on, although not the extent of it. Apparently the police escort told them to go ahead that they would be coming right behind them! But they didn't, and Andrew and Agnes and family headed right into the den of fighting. And Andrew is a Sepik man, and apparently (though I can't tell) his face shows obviously that he is Sepik, so they were the enemy! As they came into Bulolo down a steep mountain they suddenly saw hundreds of men wielding bush knives, stones and guns in the valley in front of them. The hill was too steep for them to reverse back up in the truck, so they were forced to continue on. Strangely, as they reached the bottom of the hill, the men on the other side of the "river" they had to cross beckoned them to come in a "friendly" manner. They thought that was a bit strange and soon figured out why it was so strange. Apparently they had dug out a section of the road/river (not exactly sure....I was listening to this story in fast Tok Pisin, so I may be confused a little) so that if they had driven through they would have been stuck fast. Realising this trap, they turned around and tried heading back up the mountain, but as they did so they realised that another huge group of men was blocking their return from behind, armed with stones and bush knives and guns. Agnes said that the children were all sitting quietly in fear and her and Andrew were praying as they slowly approached the men. Andrew told Agnes and the children to stap isi (be still) because if God decided it was their time to die, then that was okay. God was in control. And they continued to pray. Then just as it looked as though they were ready to attack them, raising their hands to throw the rocks and wielding the other weapons, they suddenly put down their weapons and moved out of the way so they could pass. What a testimony to the power of prayer! What a testimony to the overarching Power and Providence of God! How thankful we are that God protected their lives. Agnes recounted to me this morning how so many things were going through her mind as they went through this experience. As a mother she was so worried for her children, especially her teenage daughter who could well have been raped. She was worried for her husband, as he was a Sepik man, and was imagining watching them kill him. She also shared how thankful she was to see God's power and protection over them!
It was good to share these stories in Bible Study this morning. It was good to speak together about these problems and fights, it was good to share and to pray together, it was good to remind each other that God is in control and that He will be our strength and shield. Please pray for all the families affected by these troubles. Please pray that no more blood may be shed and that these senseless killings and destruction may stop, and that the road blocks may be lifted and that peace may be restored. Please pray especially that the Peace of Christ may descend more and more upon this country.