Friday, May 23, 2014

Ten Minutes to take a Stand

This is a recent account written by my co-worker, Jonathan Kopf. Please pray with us right now over these "court proceedings" and all the women and children who fear for their lives waiting for the outcome. This affects many ladies and children that we know and love...

"Ten Minutes to take a Stand"   -Jonathan Kopf                                                   

Ten minutes. That’s all I would have. Rain was beating the windshield of the small airplane and black storm clouds restricted visibility in every direction so the pilot told me that after landing in Fiyawena we would have to quickly take off again to head to the town of Hagen before the weather made flight impossible.
My stomach was in knots. “Lord, what should I say? I’m so frustrated and angry and disgusted at the harsh reality of the tribal way of thinking.” 

The two passengers in the seat behind me were Judges; men who were appointed by the government to preside over court cases in towns and villages of the Enga province. My Hewa friends had requested the high ranking judges come to Fiyawena because the Pela men who had moved there had been making accusations, claiming many Hewa women who were supposedly possessed by evil spirits had caused a rash of recent illnesses and deaths. They were making demands for money and pigs to pay for the deaths, or the women would be murdered. Simple as that. It wasn’t just one man making demands, and they weren’t targeting only one woman. The Pela men had banded together and brought their guns and other weapons to the Hewa village of Fiyawena and were making their intentions clear. “If you don’t give money and pigs now, the ladies will die.”


Now that I had met the judges as we boarded the airplane together at the airport in Kairik my mind suddenly went into a tail spin as I realized their presence in the village would not guarantee justice for the plight of the women and children. In our short time of greeting and introducing ourselves as we were getting seated, I discovered there was a terrible conflict of interest that would not be favorable for the lives of the women and in our brief chat the judges admitted to me they also held the conviction that certain women were possessed by evil spirits.

“What do you think about the accusations that Hewa women are possessed with spirits that are causing deaths in the villages?” I had asked, hoping the question was direct enough that they could easily confirm their desire to support the rights of the accused.
The older and senior judge answered quickly. “We don’t really know.”
I groaned inwardly as I had heard that answer a million times. It was the politically correct way to say, “I don’t want to disclose my position at this time.”
Then the judge continued. “Two women were recently murdered in Pela for causing death.”
“You mean the ones who were burned to death in a house in the village of Komonka last month?” I asked.
“You heard about that?”
“So, do you think they should have been killed?”
The senior official again answered quickly in behalf of them both. “We don’t know and that is the reason we are coming to Fiyawena now, to investigate into the accusations of the women there. Our ancestors believed in spirit possessed people in Paiela and in Hewa, but especially in Hewa.”


Suddenly I was disturbed. No, that wasn’t the right word. I was mad. I was fed up with the many officials of the law I had crossed paths with over my years in Hewa who also feared women could cause sickness and death because of a supposed spirit inside of them. These women weren’t the kind to stir huge boiling cauldrons of secret concoctions, chanting incantations to cause death in unsuspecting victims. They were regular ordinary women who planted gardens to raise food for their families and who nursed and loved on their babies just like woman of any other country. When I had objected in the past to the accusations, pointing out that there were no visible signs that the women were possessed by evil spirits the men always answered the same. “You don’t understand,” they would say, with straight faces that betrayed their convictions. “They appear normal in the daytime, but at night when they are sleeping the spirits leave their bodies and roam through the villages looking for someone to eat. If the spirit eats a person’s insides then he will get sick and then die.”
I was just about to say something to the two judges when I was interrupted by the pilot who gave instructions about airplane exits, fire extinguishers and vomit bags. As soon as he was done he dropped to his seat, fired up the bird and we were off; the small aircraft was far too noisy to allow us to continue our previous conversation.

I had a few minutes of flight time to think about how to respond to the two judges. “Lord, what do I say? Help me not to spew rash opinions from anger but instead give me words that reflect your thoughts.” Anger welled up inside me through the flight and I continued to discuss it with God. The problem was that after we landed we would only have a few minutes, ten minutes at the most, since the thunderheads were already covering the mountain peaks and the scattered rain showers would soon choke out visibility making air travel impossible.

As soon as the plane landed on the rain soaked grass airstrip in Fiyawena I turned to face the two court judges before they had a chance to disembark. “Can we please talk for a few minutes here beside the airplane before I leave for Hagen,” I said. “I have been living with the Hewa people for 14 years and have learned their practices and seen their plight. Can I please tell you what has been happening here over these last years?”
“Sure, the younger one answered.”
We dropped to the ground, but already the oldest judge was being greeted by many smiling Paiela men, one of whom was motioning for him to come away from the plane.
“Please,” I said again, frustrated that the judge was friends with the very men who were condemning the women to death, “Can you please stand here under the shelter of the wing with me to hear what I have to say?”
They both consented so we stood there as men rushed over to the plane and opened the cargo doors to unload rice and other store goods.
“When I first built a house here and started learning the language of the Hewa I didn’t know about the ancestor practice of killing women and children. Soon though I learned of many recent killings and was surprised when a teenage boy named Anton was later murdered in a village just over that hill,” I said pointing past the foot of the airstrip. “After careful investigation I found that Hewa men often killed Hewa women believing they were spirit possessed and the Pela killed Pela for the same reason. Soon after that though, I discovered the Pela men had shifted their focus to killing Hewa women so they could steal Hewa land, pushing the Hewa off their ancestral territory. By killing or threatening to kill Hewa women for supposedly being possessed by evil spirits they were able to steal the Hewa village of Aliyalim and then Maikol and are now also in possession of Baliya. They have come here to Fiyawena with the same intent, to kill off the women and to scare the rest of us away so they can take our land. While I have been living here the Pela men decided the village of Fiyentuwa was full of spirit possessed families so they called the place a spirit camp and then made repeated raids there until they murdered everyone, except for the few that fled into the jungle.
About that time Susan and I discovered that two sisters were going to be murdered here in Fiyawena so we tried to help them find a place to escape. We were able to rush Defo away to be adopted by a pastor’s family in Wewak by while we were in that town men murdered Niti. They tied her arms with dog chains and hacked up her body with axes less than 50 meters from my house.

The two judges were listening but the older kept turning away to watch the bags of rice and other goods being offloaded from the plane.

“Here’s the deal,” I continued. “I am so glad you are here because you can help bring law and order to this village, but please don’t listen to the accusations of the Pela men who are threatening to kill the women here. I realize they are your relatives but please think about how to keep the ladies safe rather than cave to the pressure of their demands.”
I wasn’t sure how to proceed so I said, “I can tell that you are both men who attend church.”
They both nodded.
“When Jesus saw someone who had an evil spirit, what did He do?”
They didn’t answer.
“Did he tell his disciples to get their axes and go at night to surround the house where the accused person was sleeping to murder her quickly before she could run away?”
The older man looked at me with dropped jaw.
“No,” the other answered. “He didn’t tell his men to kill them.”
“I know,” I said, “Instead Jesus grabbed his shotgun and told the disciples to stand watch while he shot the spirit possessed women.”
Both of them answered with a resounding, “No!”
“Jesus didn’t allow women to be killed and nor can you,” I said. “It is your job to protect the women, even if they are accused of causing deaths.”

That’s when I noticed the pilot pacing back and forth near the open door of the airplane, waiting for me to climb aboard. I quickly shook hands with the two judges and waved to the others as I jumped up the ladder into the plane. “Lord, please rescue the accused women. Lord please do miracles in the hearts of these people so they can see the truth. Please rise up Godly men who will stand for righteousness rather than yield to the brutality of their ancestral belief system.”

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

We made it!

John Michael's aunts made us this sweet sign!

Well, we are back in America. It is weird. And good. And fun. And overwhelming. And exciting.

Furlough so far is a lot of things.

We were certainly blessed by a little "cold front" in the South when we arrived. I think Jesus just wanted to give me an extra special little gift after I spent ten days in Wewak sweating so much that my neck became a waterfall cascading down my chest and creating a wading pool in my bra.

I have been nice and dry since we left PNG on May 11th. Hashtag blessed.

We are currently staying with my in-laws so things are pretty laid back for us right now. We did have to get new drivers' licenses since ours were expired and new credit cards since those were immediately stolen when we got into the country (that was a nice welcome home). But all of that went relatively smoothly. Not like in a third world country where we had to wait two weeks to get our drivers' licenses because the camera at the office was out of film, and no one had any idea when they would be getting new film.

Along with not sweating I am also not cooking, so we haven't had to do heavy duty shopping yet. We have been to a few stores and bought very little each time so we wouldn't be overwhelmed, and that has worked very well.

The first time I went to Wal-mart the cart was so big that I could barely handle the stupid thing. I can't imagine having to steer it around full of junk.

It very much reminded me of when the guys taught our Hewa men to drive the big lawn mower for the first time.

I pretty much looked exactly like this
We skipped church on Sunday because we are horrible missionaries most of our veteran missionary friends told us to.  In fact the director* of all of NTM PNG told us to, so if you have problems with this just email him. We were only following orders. :) Most people told us that church is the biggest culture shock you will have on your first furlough, so you kinda want to ease back into it. That was definitely a good call as we all still have jet lag pretty bad and my kids are sleeping until 9 or 10 everyday. I am gonna milk that for as long as it will last!

Right now we are just enjoying the simple luxuries like ice and water just coming out of the refrigerator door with the push of a button, and me not having to go through 14 steps to get a glass of cool drinking water.

And the fact that there are virtually no bugs. Anywhere. We are even sitting outside in the evenings and maybe see one. Normally I have so many crawling on me when we are outside that it is really only worth it to brush off the big ones.

We got the van we had before furlough back and even though I haven't driven in 3 years it felt pretty natural to be behind the wheel. I guess it is just like "riding a bike"...except that I ride a bike like a drunk orangutang so that analogy is lost on me.  JMG had more trouble than me because he has been driving on the left side of the road for the last three years and now has to get used to the right side again. 

I guess our biggest struggle so far is trying to get back on a regular sleeping/eating schedule. I forgot that when you have seasons and daylight savings time the sun doesn't go down until almost 9 o'clock. On the equator the sun pretty much sets at the exact same time EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. The sun only moves slightly to the left or right throughout the year in our village and we all got used to that consistency. 

But by far the best thing about being home is seeing the faces and hugging the necks of the people we love and have missed so much. My family all lives out of state but being with John Michael's parents has been amazing and I have been blessed with seeing some of my closest friends.

Barbara, one of my best and oldest friends!

Tahya, a sweet friend and kindred spirit.
The main event will be when I get to see my mom in 12 days! I can't even think about it without tearing up!!!!!

Overall I think we are adjusting pretty well. The key for us has been just taking it slow. I am very thankful for the advice I got from my co-worker and other missionaries who told us not to over do it- especially at first. We are following that advice and loving every minute of it!

*His name is Keith Copley. Feel free to email him with any problems, concerns, theological debates, complaints, or just general thoughts on life. He also loves forwards...especially ones about cats.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Travel Highlights

Traveling around the world is exhausting. Especially when you are traveling in a third world country. We left Wewak at 6 am. But in order to make sure you get a seat on the plane, you have to be at the airport at 4 am to check in. The airlines often overbook flights and if you aren't there ahead of the crowd you may not get on the plane even though you have paid for a ticket. Fortunately, JMG went in early and got us all boarding passes and our luggage checked and came back to pick the girls and I up at 5 am. The sun wasn't even up yet, and we were all sweating buckets!

Boarding the plane in Wewak

We had a pretty long layover in Port Moresby, so we ate breakfast at a local hotel and the kids swam for about an hour so there would be less whining and wiggling at the airport.

Lucy loved playing with PNG kids that could speak English
I think we finally made it to our hotel in Sydney at 7pm. We were so exhausted, but were in awe of the simple luxuries in our room. Like real mattresses and drinking water out of the tap. It was also so clean that my eyes were burning...we remedied that one pretty quickly though with all our junk. But the best thing about Sydney in May is the weather. It is late fall here and very cool and dry. I haven't felt a single drop of sweat since we got here.

We've spent the last two days seeing downtown Sydney and doing fun things with our kids. Here are some pictures of all the fun we've been having...

First Starbucks in 3 years. I almost cried when I saw it.

At the aquarium. Honestly, this wasn't that impressive since we had just come from live snorkeling at the amazing reef in Wewak, but there were big sharks and rays so that was fun.

Lucy with a big shark

Mia thought this was a castle.

which is understandable when this is all she knows as "church"

The fam in front of the Opera House

Riding the ferry to the zoo

Opera House from the ferry

Riding the sky rail to the zoo

The zoo with a view. Notice the skyline in the background. It was beautiful!

watching the seal show

waiting for the train home

We were all completely worn out at the end of each day. Having fun is a lot of hard work! But, we are so thankful that we got to do these fun and unique trips with our kids. Some days in the tribe I feel bad for all the things they don't have, so it is such a blessing to get to do extra special outings with them when we get the chance.

Tomorrow the fun ends, though, as we start our journey back to America. We have a 14 hour flight followed by an 8 hour layover, and I think by the time we get home to Mississippi it will be 2 or 3 am. That rough trip plus the jet lag may render me incapable of speaking in full sentences for at least a week, so if you don't hear from me for a few days don't worry. I promise to be in touch when my brain cells are no longer mush.

But is is exciting to think that my next post will be from AMERICA!!!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Then and Now

Three years ago we came to PNG with a five year old, a three year old, and an eight month old...

Two days after we arrived

Tomorrow we are leaving with an eight year old, a six year old, and a 3 year old...


We will step foot on American soil for the first time in three years on May 14th. Overall I would say that our first term as tribal missionaries has gone well. We have had some hard times for sure, but we have never been alone. The Lord has walked with us each step of the way.

We will spend the next few days traveling and hopefully having some fun. Please pray for us that all the flights go well and that we transition easily back into American life. Pray especially for Mia who doesn't remember anything but this. We will be home for the next nine months and then will return here to PNG and our Hewa home.

Thanks so much to each person who has walked this journey with us through prayer and financial support. We have felt your love and prayers every step of the way.

Monday, May 5, 2014


Feet are always a major topic with my missionary-lady friends. We complain, swap stories, and share tips on how to keep the disgustingness (I know that is not a word, but it fits here, so I am using it) of our feet.

A pedicure is definitely in my immediate future. My co-worker, Susan, told me that on her last furlough her husband bought her a gift certificate for a pedicure and she was too embarrassed to go because of the condition of her feet. I mean, I will be embarrassed for sure, but I think I can power through!

With my Hewa-lady friends it is a different story. They often show me the huge slices in their thickly calloused feet from long hikes though the jungle usually carrying string bags with babies and food on their backs.

My teenage friend Bihaipa showing me where a rat chewed her toe and heal.

But the most horrifying is when they show me that rat chewed on their feet at night. I think if anyone deserves a pedicure- it is these ladies! 

Joli is another young lady who I love very much. She recently got very sick and then started having fainting spells. Susan wasn't in the tribe at the time, so they called me to come check on her. After a treacherous climb up to her house I realized that I had no idea what I was doing. I couldn't really tell any reason for her episode, but I did notice that her feet were very cold even though they were next to the fire. So, not able to do anything else, I just sat there rubbing her feet. As I felt every crack and callous I wondered if she could even feel through that thick layer of skin. I also chose not to think about what those feet had likely stepped in and just kept rubbing. I knew I couldn't heal her or offer any real advice, but maybe she will find comfort and know that I care through this little foot massage. "This is the closest she will ever come to a pedicure," I thought.

Joli later flew out with us to go to a hospital (after lots of drama and extensive money raising) where they determined she had an irregular heart beat but couldn't figure out why because the EKG machine was broken. She flew back into the tribe the next day and still doesn't know what is actually wrong with her heart. Her family will now have to raise more money for her to fly out to a different hospital in hopes of finding out what her condition is and if there is any way to help her. Oh medical care in PNG! But...that is a post for a different time. Moving on...

Another major difference in my friendships here is our gift exchange. Most of the missionary ladies here are so caring and thoughtful that they send nice little gifts from America for birthdays and special occasions. I can't tell you how exciting it is to see that "Bath and Body Works" label in the jungle!

But when I exchange gifts with my Hewa friends it looks a little different. This is my friend Ana.

Ana sitting next to me at a wedding. The bride is the one in the bright orange.
 We exchange gifts a lot. I give her clothes and beads and she gives me food from her garden or comes to help whenever she sees me working in mine. But the most special gift she ever gave me was a muruk neck (the neck of a cassowary bird). Meat is hard to come by and highly valued when you get some - especially for a young girl who doesn't have a husband or father (like Ana). One of her male relatives shot a cassowary while he was out hunting and gave each family member a small piece. She gave her piece to me. It was cooked but still disgusting and I so desperately wanted to give it back because I knew how much she would love to eat it, but I also knew that she really wanted to give it to me as a way of showing true friendship. This was a big gift and to refuse it would show her I didn't care. Me giving her something and not accepting later gifts from her would not be friendship. It would just be the missionary lady giving hand-outs. But when I give her a skirt and two weeks later she brings me a piece of meat. That has BFF written all over it!

Unfortunately, I do not have a picture of that muruk neck and it is one of my great life regrets! But I won't ever forget what it looked like with the huge gap of the esophagus down the front and the fuzzy down still attached to the outside. I certainly won't ever forget what it meant. Ana recently married and moved to another village so I won't get to see her very much anymore. I will miss her very much.

Back to my sweet young friend, Joli. She also helped me in the garden many times, but also recently got married. This was my wedding gift to her...

It is a root vegetable know in Hewa as "paikz" (cassava in English). It didn't actually go directly to her as that is not Hewa custom, but went into the ground with all the other donated food for her wedding feast.

Joli helping me in my garden.
Definitely different than the many toasters and fluffy towels I have bought for wedding gifts back in America.

My friendships in the tribe are very different, but still very meaningful. It is absolutely crucial to learn the culture of the people you live with so you can know what is important to them and what all the gestures really mean. I have been blessed to get a crash course from Susan, so I didn't miss the significance of these times with my Hewa friends. And I can build friendships in a way that actually means something to them.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Saul to Paul Part II

If you read the previous post then you know the wonderful story of a very evil man's redemption. We loved watching this miracle unfold and being a part of it though prayer. We love seeing the evidence of this change everyday right before our eyes. He even hiked to another village that was threatening to kill a woman and her children who were marked as witches to try to convince them that it was wrong. (Remember this guy was usually the ring leader on many of the witch raids of the past)


As we all know becoming a follower of Jesus Christ does not make you a perfect person. You still make mistakes all the time no matter how long you have been a believer.

A few weeks after we all celebrated Kalefu's beautiful testimony of his faith in Jesus I came across my friend Tesi (Kalefu's second wife) crying her eyes out and talking to Susan. I was worried, so I stopped to ask Susan what was going on.

"I don't know," she said, "She is so upset that she is talking in her dialect and I can't understand her. Give her a minute and she'll calm down and change to this dialect."

So I waited. Tesi calmed down and then told us that she, the first wife, and Kalefu all had a big fight and he told her to get out of the house.

This actually happens all the time. They do not exactly have the sister-wife relationship that you may have seen on TV. But at least this time she didn't have a big black eye.

"But we're all Christians, now. This isn't supposed to happen anymore," she sobbed.

I chuckled a little and then explained to her that John Michael and I have both been Christians since we were children and we still have arguments sometimes. We just have to decide to love and forgive each other when we feel we are wronged. That is just as much a part of being a Christian as living peacefully with each other.

We talked a little more and I prayed for her as we parted ways, but I was thankful for the reminder of why we don't just "win souls" and get the heck out of there. Discipleship matters if we want the Hewa church to survive. They need God's Word in their language to strengthen their relationship with Him and to teach future generations.

It was a great motivator as we were getting ready to go on furlough and wondering if we had accomplished anything in the last three years in PNG. If our presence mattered at all to the people we worked so hard to live and communicate with. It reminded me that even though there are days that I feel completely worthless in the tribe, when I am convinced that I am just dead weight to my co-workers, that we are working towards something really beautiful.

As Paul said to the Roman believers, we are working toward being able to impart some spiritual gifts to make each other stronger so that we can all be mutually encouraged by each others' faith. (Rom. 1:11-12)

I am thankful that the Hewa people are already encouraging me with their faith, and I can't wait for the day when I can more easily encourage them with mine.

All the the Hewa missionary ladies (including the Copley girls!) just hanging out with Tesi and a few young girls

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Saul to Paul

Before joining the Hewa work I heard story after story of literal witch hunts. Many times in those stories the same man's name appeared over and over...Kalefu.

Kalefu was considered by my co-workers, "the most evil Hewa man." He even proudly confessed to them that he was working for Satan. He killed many innocent women and children. He was an axe murdered. He was Mr. Despicable.

Then he moved into our village.

I was terrified at the thought, but he came because his second wife was accused of being witch and he wanted her in a village that would be safe. The second wife and I became fast friends, so I was glad that she would be living with us, but very nervous about her husband and what his presence would do to the normally peaceful dynamic of our village.

So I started praying for him. I specifically prayed that he would make a "Saul to Paul" kind of change. That he would go from fighting against Jesus and His followers to fighting for Jesus a for the souls of others.

After a few weeks of this very specific prayer my co-worker, Susan, shared with me that she had being praying this very same thing. We were both praying the same prayer for the same man without even knowing it or talking about it!

A few months later Kalefu began demanding that we teach him to read and write so he could read the Bible. He also demanded to hear the Creation to Christ teaching after that.

Jonathan and Susan went on furlough, but the Hewa Bible teachers started the literacy class. Kalefu came every day and diligently worked to learn to read and write.

Kalefu learning to read and write in his own language

Then they began the "Phase One" Bible teaching. Kalefu faithfully attended only missing a few lessons in the middle to attend a very important court concerning his brother.

John Michael and I along with our other co-workers, Jag and Abby, were still in language study at the time, so we could not talk with Kalefu about what he was hearing and reading everyday in the Bible lessons, but we could see just from the expression on his face that God was really doing something big.  He no longer had the angry stare and evil eyes that gave me the creeps when we first met.

He didn't always wear the leaves and mud, but he did always wear that a menacing look on his face.

After the presentation of the Gospel we asked several people what Kalefu thought of it. Did he understand? Did he believe? Most people couldn't give us a very clear answer in Melanesian Pidgin so we knew we would have to wait until Jonathan and Susan got back.

Just a few days after they arrived Jonathan sat down with Kalefu and discussed all that he had heard and learned, and he gave a very clear testimony to his belief in Jesus Christ!

Such an amazing miracle! This man now publicly reads his Bible. Stands up at weddings to let everyone know that this will now be done God's way, and even ran to catch up to my husband and Jag when he found out they were leaving to go on hike to pray for their safety!

Kalefu reading aloud in church

We are all so excited and so thankful for what the Lord has done in his heart and life! He is definitely not perfect, but is very interested in discipleship and learning more and more about the Word of God.

And in God's perfect timing, He blessed Kalefu with a new baby boy. My friend, Tesi, gave birth to a much longed for son. She had not given the baby a name yet and Abby and I talked about how special it would be for her to name him Pol (Paul). So the next time Abby saw her, she told Tesi that she should give the baby the name Paul and why. (Susan then later explained to her in the Hewa language so we would be sure she understood). Tesi agreed and loved the idea of the name, so now they have a son to mark this amazing shift in their lives.

Tesi with baby "Pol" and her oldest daughter Jiyamali
Through all the sad and devastating things we have faced in Hewa, God gave us the special privilege of watching Him work in the life of this man and this family. Please continue to pray for them as Kalefu has two wives who do not get along at all. (In fact, the first wife is the one who marked the second as witch- basically sentencing her to death.) They are all professing believers now and are trying to live out their days that way. Unfortunately it is much like forging a new trail in the very thick jungle. Each day they have to work vigorously hacking away at old beliefs and behaviors to clear a new path for their feet so they do not stumble. Pray that they do not give up, but find a way to love each other and be an example to other "Despicables" out there!