Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Talitha Koum

The summer of 2013 was an incredibly difficult one for us…actually the whole year of 2013 was difficult, but the worst, most difficult time came that summer. We experienced two suicides of young boys in our village that summer- one of whom was my husband's language helper and best friend in the village. It was shocking and horrifying and in the center of it seemed to be one family

Was, Kai, Efoko, Nifi, Salipom, and Nosem. "Was," the father of the clan has a good heart and though he gets things wrong sometimes in his ignorance and immaturity, he seems to genuinely want to follow the Lord. He is also the father of four of our main church leaders. They have different mothers who had all passed away many years before, so he is now married to Kai, an angry woman who wants nothing to do with the Lord (even though she gave a clear testimony and was baptized years before in an outreach by one of the Hewa church leaders, who also happened to be her step-son). Kai's son Efoko had come to our village bringing with him his wife who is from another language group- a language group that is known for their violence and oppression against Hewa people. We have banned anyone from this group from coming into our village because if they get sick and die here, then their relatives will raid our village and kill one of our ladies as a witch (see the previous blog's about Mifila's murder for an example of this). Kai and Efoko became angry that his wife was not allowed into the village and started a fight with another family over it by stealing their pig. Meanwhile there is ongoing drama with their daughter Salipom.

Salipom was married to Samato against her will. He bought her from her family and called her his wife even though she would consistently tell people "that is NOT my husband." Salipom wanted desperately out of this arranged marriage and she thought the best way to make her escape was by making this man who paid for her no longer want her. If he demanded his pigs and money back, then she would be free. She refused to sleep with her husband causing both the husband and her brother Nifi to beat her until she conceded. 

During all this their youngest child, a son of about 14, Nosem started having dreams. He dreamt that he died and went to heaven and his brother Nifi died and went to hell. Nosem pretty much stopped sleeping altogether, and Was became very worried about him. A month later, Nosem hung himself in the jungle just a short distance from his house. 

Salipom refused to sleep with her husband but she ran to the arms of Atipz who slept with her, impregnated her, then killed himself because of it. She lost the baby (which we believe she did on purpose) and left a wake of grief and shock behind her, but did not accomplish her goal. She was still married. 

Back to Efoko and the stolen pig…a young boy named Etike confronts Efoko about the pig he stole from his family and Efoko punches him in the face and insults him for being a Christ follower. Etike then goes out to try to earn the money he needs to bring Efoko to court to try to get his pig back. On this outing, Etike crosses a rotten vine bridge over a raging river and drowns. 

This family decides to move out of our village because it is full of "evil spirits" that are causing all this death- not their attitudes and actions. And honestly, all I can think is "good riddance'" and all I can feel is relief. (not what a good missionary is supposed to think and feel)

Back to Salipom… she continued on this path of adultery in this other village where she now lives, this time finding a 15 year old boy who was easily seduced. This time her husband did demand his pigs and money back, but when she discovered she was pregnant again (and this one stuck this time) realizing that a 15 year old boy will not marry her and help her take care of a baby, she begged this husband that she has been trying to get rid of for so long with so many devastating consequences to stay with her. And he did. 

The family decides to move back to our village. I guess all the evil spirits are gone now that this girl can no longer live in the other village with the boy she cheated on her husband with. How very accommodating of those evil spirits. (at this point you should be able to notice my bitterness and cynicism pretty easily- a good missionary would try to hide it- an even better missionary wouldn't feel it- I'm pretty much failing at this point)

Nine months later a baby girl is born. We are all cautiously watching waiting to see how this mother will care for this child. Will she truly love it and do her best to keep it alive in a very harsh environment. Will she attach to this illegitimate child or will she be glad to be rid of her? My hardened heart towards Salipom and her family told me no. Don't even begin to hope- it will only leave you disappointed. When I held baby girl on the day of her birth my heart ached for the family and situation she'd been born into and I prayed that God would intervene in her little life, so she would know love and know Him in spite of the people who would raise and influence her.

Three weeks later the baby becomes very sick as most three week old babies in this village do. Mothers are instructed to bring their babies to medical workers at the first sign of illness. Most get infections at the sight of the umbilical cord because it is not kept clean and dry. The majority of mothers do this and the babies get proper antibiotics and live. Salipom did not. She waited a day. One day. And this baby girl became so sick that she stopped breathing. I felt angry, but not surprised as it looked as though this baby would be one of the countless others in this jungle to die of sepsis in its early weeks of life. I was surprised, however to see that the mother along with other villagers are carrying the tiny body into the church to wail over her. Most of the time nobody cries for an infant that small. I thought to myself, "Salipom is just trying to pretend like she is really sad to remove the shadow of doubt that will come over her if this baby dies." But as they wail, the baby opens her eyes and starts breathing again, so my co-worker takes her and examines her thoroughly. She breathes on her own for a while, but then stops again, so Susan performs CPR until she recovers. This goes on for for six hours. All the while Was, Salipom's father is telling her that this is happening because of all the fighting between her husband and herself and tells her she needs to confess her sin(not exactly right, but he is not blaming witches* or sacrificing a pig to the spirits so it is a step in the right direction), so Salipom confesses her infidelity in front of everyone which is shockingly humble for her, and I can't help but feel a glimmer of hope that she cares for this baby. If she is willing to shame herself so publicly for the life of this child, surely she feels some love and attachment? We make a mental note that this is something we need to address in discipleship and keep praying. We spent all day at the church watching this baby stop breathing, listening to the mother wail, Susan giving CPR, baby starts breathing again, wailing stops, then it all starts over. The times I held her in my arms to give Susan a break, I couldn't help but notice her color fading. Her ashen face and blue lips made my own breath become more difficult. Eventually it gets harder and harder to bring the baby back and during a particularly long stint of Susan breathing for baby, Salipom takes the child to the front of the church and starts wailing which signifies that the baby is truly gone and it is time for the funeral to start. We all sit back, our hope exhausted and grief starting to settle in when my husband notices that the babies eyes are opened. I knew that the child would probably struggle for breath a few more times as she had done all day, but without Susan breathing for her, she would surely die. I had to get up and leave, but I just couldn't watch the child struggle for breath, and not get any help.

I walked back to my house to cry and deal with my anger at all the death and sadness that this family has caused, angry at myself for letting that lit bit of hope into my heart, but after a while I realized there was no wailing. I went back up to the church to see the mother cradling her baby who was sleeping and breathing peacefully in her arms. My husband told me that after I left, the baby was breathing, so the mother began to nurse, and the baby latched on and drank very strongly- a huge sign of life. Since that time the baby was able to breath on her own for good. The mother then took her home and she lived through the night. Over the next few days, Salipom and her husband made sure that the baby received her medicine right on time and took very good care of their very sick, but very much alive little girl. 

I started to be cautiously optimistic that Salipom was actually caring for this baby. That she was genuinely loving someone other than herself, but I there are times that I am still choking down the doubt and dislike I have for this girl and her family. I pray everyday for God to give me the strength to love them as He does even though I don't feel love for them. Even though I still feel anger and even bitterness at the hurt they have caused so many. I pray that this baby girl who God miraculously brought back to life will soften their hearts and turn them toward Him. 

God then filled my heart with supernatural hope yesterday when Susan told me that Salipom asked her to finally give this baby girl a name. Susan chose perfectly the name "Talitha" (pronounced Talita by the Hewa who do not have the "th" sound in their language) from Mark 5:41 where Jesus raises a little girl from the dead saying "Talitha Koum" which means "Little Girl, get up". 

Tears fill my eyes as I write this knowing what God can do- what I have already seen Him do- in the life of this little girl who He commanded to get up…and she did. And also knowing what He can do in my own heart. That He can give me love and hope for a family who has caused me so much pain and reason to doubt. Missionary work is messy and ugly most of the time. That is not what most people will tell you because that is not what most people want to hear, but it is the truth. But we do it because we know that God is beautiful and He brings beauty to the most degrading and disgusting things. We don't do it because we love the people, because sometimes we don't. That is the harsh truth that you probably don't want to hear from your missionary, but I am saying it anyway. Sometimes we just don't love them. We can't love them in our grief, terror, fury. Our hearts and our flesh are too weak. Too human. We don't stay because we love them, but because we love God and He ALWAYS loves them. And He ALWAYS loves us, and somehow through them causing us pain, and us building walls to guard ourselves against them, He breaks through all this sin, and hurt, and failure on both sides and does something miraculous. He tells a baby girl to "get up" and brings us all to a point where we forget each other and the hurt between us and we remember Him. We remember who He is and what He does for all of us. We stay with attitudes like Jonah begrudgingly doing our jobs. But God is faithful to move and work in our hearts, humbling us until we have attitudes like Paul's- ready to give up even his own salvation if it means that others would come to faith in Christ.

Giving Susan a little break...

Susan giving Talita CPR for the last time...

*There are several women and children in our village right now who are preparing to evacuate to another village to avoid being killed. During the entire day of worrying about the baby, we were also worrying what would happen to these women if the baby died. 


  1. I am in tears. Praying for you and God's work there and for the Hewa people.

  2. Once again blogspot has been eating my comments...must be the big cyber monster out there...so I am hoping to just get one that will work. I caught up on everything since you got back to PNG and I have to say, I am now seeing my "tough, miserable, stressful day" today in an entirely new light. I cannot fathom what your life is like on a day to day basis, but I want you to know that I love the honesty, even if you think it makes you look like a terrible missionary. You deal with things beyond the average American's comprehension, and you lay it out flat in a way we cannot ignore. It's good for us, I promise, and added bonus - it also helps us know specifically how to pray. Because honestly, a lot of times we don't. Sometimes we just pray generic prayers and trust that God will fill in the gaps because we truly DON'T know what the missionary we're supposed to be praying for is even needing prayer about! Anyway, I am a little numbed and overwhelmed by how raw the last several posts were, but you know what? I'm glad for it. Thanks for keeping us posted.