Sunday, March 23, 2014

Did that just happen?

Last week was so busy. 

Our co-workers, the Kopf's, arrived back in from their furlough the previous week and the Copley family who worked in the first two Hewa villages and dialects also came in for a visit. The Copleys left on Monday and then our other co-workers, the Dunns, left on Thursday to have their two year old son's leg x-rayed and re-casted from where a motorcycle fell on him when we were out in Wewak for our annual missionary conference. 

On Thursday night the sixteen year old brother of one of our young mothers came into our village. Friday morning they told us he was really sick, so Jonathan went to go check on him. The people said his leg was really swollen and painful, but Jonathan said that both legs looked normal to him, and the boy just looked like he had the symptoms of malaria. 

On Saturday morning they told us that he was doing much worse, so Susan had them switch him to the strongest medicines we had and then Saturday at lunch time he was dead. We honestly have no idea what was wrong with this boy or what could have killed him so fast. Our best guess at this point is a ruptured spleen... but even that is a just a guess. 

This kid was strong and healthy and handsome. His eyes were open when he died so that is the way he stayed as we all sat by the body to wail and mourn. I just kept looking at this perfect face with no weight loss or dehydration. The only imperfection was the absence of life in such a youthful face. 

We all prepared ourselves for the coming drama. This boy did not live in our village, so many would come from the outside and outsiders always mean trouble. This is now the fourth young man to die in or from our village, so we know that puts several of our ladies and children at high risk for being killed as witches. We talked, cooked for the mourners, and prepared for what was to come. And most of all we prayed for God's mercy. 

And God answered our prayers. 

Saturday night our village leaders informed us that they would take the boy's body back to his village to be buried since it wasn't very far away. His father died a year ago and his widowed mother would do better to be able to grieve at home and would rather her son be buried next to his father, anyway. It might sound harsh or cold, but it was a HUGE relief to us. It meant only one sleepless night listening to the haunting sounds of wailing and no fear of angry family members coming in here to do something stupid and dangerous. It was definitely a display of God's mercy to us and our village. 

So, after one night of mourning, they wrapped his body in tree bark and cardboard, fastened it to a pole and hiked it to his village several hours away. By 10 am Sunday morning everything was quiet in our village again. We were relieved but I think everyone- missionaries and natives- sort of sat around looking at each other like, "Did that just happen? That was crazy!"

I know there will probably still be some fall out from this death, but taking the funeral away from our village will at least buy us some time to prepare and hopefully protect anyone who gets blamed for these deaths. 

Today is Monday and we are now back to home-school and language study and are preparing for our upcoming furlough…life as usual. But I am constantly reminded that we have no idea what a day holds in store for us in this life and this work. I am reminded how important it is for me everyday to dive deep into God's word and cling to Him in prayer. 

My mind completely reshapes what it knows and believes about "putting on God's armor". The Sunday School lesson in my head tells me that to put on that armor, I have to get up and reach up to some metaphorical shelf and mentally and invisibly put on each individual piece. The belt of truth...the breastplate of righteousness... the shoes of peace... the shield of faith… the helmet of salvation... and the sword of the spirit. Man that is a lot of stuff. What if I forget one? What if I wake up late and don't have time to get all that stuff on? What if I am sick with malaria and am too weak to hold an entire flippin' ARMOR?! Seriously, I am 5'1 and have extraordinarily weak upper body strength.

What life out here has taught me is that God is the armor. God. Just Himself. He is all those things to me. All I have to do is run to Him and He does the rest. He made me and knows that my weak girly arms could never hold up a shield or swing a sword. He is theshield and He swings the sword.  And I don't have to get up every morning and put them on because they never come off even when I am sleeping at night. I am covered. Always. 

So, when one day quickly spirals unexpectedly out of control I am already wearing that armor. I already have that belt of truth wrapped around me reminding me that He makes beauty from ashes and that all things work for the good of those He loves. When my mind goes to the dark places of confusion and hopelessness, He is there swinging that sword around my heart and in my head so that I think on all that is true, noble, right, pure and lovely. Everything admirable and praiseworthy.

And all of those thoughts lead right back to Him. My Armor. 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Bad Missionary

Yesterday we got confirmation on what we suspected was the reason our friend Atipz killed himself.

He had a relationship with a girl who was forced to marry another man. A man she didn't love or even like really.  She was in love with Atipz and a couple years ago begged him to sleep with her, so the man who was paying pigs and money to have her as his wife wouldn't want her anymore. Unfortunately, it didn't work. The man still bought her and Atipz was forced to pay a large fine for sleeping with her. The girl always refused to call the other man her husband and refused to sleep with him hoping he would just give up and end the marriage. 

We did not know that she and Atipz still had a relationship, though. Until…

One day about three months after his death this girl came back to our village and had a miscarriage. She told us she was about three months along. We were all highly suspicious and asked several people if this was our friend's baby. Everyone said no, but we still had our doubts. And just yesterday a young teenage girl spilled a whole bunch of village secrets to Abby. One of which included that the baby the girl lost was in fact, Atipz's baby. Even though I had my suspicions it still makes my mind reel and stirs up grief in my heart like a helicopter flinging debris of questions, doubts, anger, and confusion which land all over my body from my nauseous stomach to my shaking hands to my brain that just won't stop spinning. 

As much as I want to be angry with this girl, I just find myself feeling sorry for her. She was basically sold to a man that she didn't like. She lost her brother to suicide in July and in August she lost the boy she did love to the same act. She then lost her baby. It is hard to feel anything but helplessness and pity for her even though her actions and the results of her actions make me want to scream. 

With all this I keep thinking about another horror story very similar to this one that I heard about a month ago. The same young girl who spilled the beans yesterday came running up the airstrip yelling in the Hewa language. I couldn't understand most of it, but I did catch the phrase "puma maya" which literally means "ate the rope" but is saying that someone hung themselves. I ran out to find out who she was talking about and was immediately relived to find out it was someone in another village. Someone we did not know. Later we heard a gruesome tale about how this young man wanted someone else's wife. Whether or not they had an actual relationship I don't know, but he was going to have to pay a lot of money to her husband for whatever he did to show his desires for her. He decided instead to hang himself, but no one realized he had done so until six days later when a breeze blowing down the mountain brought the smell of death into the village. When the men went to investigate they found his body already grossly decaying. 

I was saddened and disturbed to hear this story, but it did not effect me the same way any of the deaths of the people in our village did. I have often felt really bad about this, since I am pretty certain that this man was not a believer and is more than likely not- not with his Creator right now. As a missionary, I feel like I should have some innate sense of grief and despair when anyone goes to hell. I feel like I hear the deep voice of the old missionaries who used to speak at churches talk about the "soul of the heathen". Shouldn't that be me? Shouldn't I be worried about "souls"? Should I really be writing to tell all of you that I am relieved that the death was not one of my friends even when I truly believe they are all in heaven right now? Am I a bad missionary?

But here my thoughts turn to my Lord who spent the majority of his time on earth in one little spot. He spent his time with very few people relative to all the "souls" that inhabited the planet at the time. He truly invested Himself in only twelve men. I am sure many people died and went to hell as He walked the cursed ground that we still walk today. He modeled for me a real relationship with people - not the counting of souls like hash marks on a chalkboard. 

Do I believe that he cares for each and every "soul" that has ever walked this ground? Yes. Do I believe that he wants every single one to turn to Him to be made new and to enter into paradise with Him? Yes. But I also believe that he spent 33 years here to show us what He wanted us to do when He left. If His purpose was strictly to die to save souls, then He could have accomplished that very quickly, but he chose to really live with people for a reason, and I think that reason was to teach. He wanted to teach us how to really love people. How to really love each other. How to put others above ourselves and really care for the needs of someone else. To do that we have to live alongside people. Walk and talk with them daily. Share life together.

He also knew that we were only human. That even though He could have touched every soul on earth, we cannot. Our mortal bodies will only allow so much. I think He wanted us to care about souls for sure, but to get up off our you-know-whats- and do something about it. We have to invest in souls to really care about them. So yes, I do care about those lost souls still out there. That is why I am here. I want all the Hewa to come to know the Lord. But to accomplish that goal I need to invest in lives here. I need to disciple the believers and show them what it means for a human with limited resources to care for souls. And if I am going to care about them and form relationships with them, then yes, I am going to grieve harder and longer when I lose one of them... no matter where they are in eternity. 

So yes, I care about souls. I love souls. And I love the flesh that surrounds them while they are here. I love their smiles and their laughs. I love their hard-working hands that are often missing digits. I love when they sing off key in a language that I don't fully understand yet. I love that they befriend me even though I am very different from them and  teach me how to live in their world that I am so helpless in. And I truly and desperately miss them when they are gone. And I hope and pray that that is how God wants me to love souls.