Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Hardest Part

It is early Monday morning. I get up and go to the radio at 8 am to try to talk with someone in Hewa. No one comes up which is a good sign (in the jungle no news is good news). I walk back to the little apartment that has become our temporary home with beads of sweat already collecting on my 8:15 in the morning...every drop of perspiration reminds me that I am not in my village anymore. I am not walking into my home. I am not with my people.

I walk in to see my husband already at the computer working hard to gain the ear of those in the government or police force who will listen to our plea for help. He goes back and forth in conversation with a fellow missionary who is trying to help and our co-worker who is in the States. He tries to get as much background on the people and their histories as he can to give the police the most accurate and detailed report possible. Of course, their lives and stories are just a tightly entangled as the thick jungle canopy they live under. He spends all day sorting out people, relatives, past and present events. We both vent to each other (and anyone else who will listen) about our frustrations with this tragic and twisted situation.

The clock strikes four and the other missionary who has been helping us writes John Michael to tell him that he received a call from a Hewa person in town. This person reports that Wanapi (the murderer) has killed Kalefu, a man from our village. My heart falls all the way down my body, lands on my foot, and therefore cannot get blood to my head or my fingers. My head swoons, my fingers are numb, and my lungs can't seem to breathe with my heart so far away. It is a feeling I know all too well. And because I have had a lot of practice with it, I at least knew what to do this time. I quickly told my heart to get out of my foot and back where it belongs. It made the slow climb back up to my chest and began pumping blood to my brain again allowing me to think rationally.

Stop. Drop. And Roll. 

No that's not right. I wait one more minute, then I actually have the correct rational thoughts:

Stop. Don't Panic. 

This may not be true. You know how things go in the jungle. You hear lots of crazy stories, then find out later they are inaccurate or exaggerated. Wait until you hear from the village on the radio tonight. 

Calm, rational thinking. Unfortunately, my rational thinking also reminds me that every "rumor" we've heard about someone being dead has turned out to be true. But still, this is not confirmed so I will wait to be sad or panic. Radio time is at 6:40 pm. I can wait until then. What time is it now? 4:30 pm.

Never before has two hours and ten minutes seemed so long.

I have to keep busy. I wash a few dishes. The stragglers left over from lunch. I sweep the floor. I check the clock.


I begin dinner prep. I chop onions and green peppers. I saute chicken and make sour cream. Think about Kalefu's two wives and eight children. STOP. Don't go there yet. I check the clock.


I dry and put away the lunch dishes. I wash the dinner prep dishes. I check the clock.


I call my children in from outside, get them bathed, and dressed and feel envious of their innocent and carefree conversation. I smiled and nod over stories of friends, and games, and birds, and weird bugs. I am thankful that God created lovely things for His children to enjoy in such a dark and broken world. I check the clock.


My husband gives up and just goes down to wait the last twenty minutes by the radio "just to make sure I don't miss it." Like his brain would be merciful enough to let him forget. I assemble dinner plates for myself and my children and we sit down to eat. I let one of them pray. I let my heart be thankful for the things they are thankful for and... just for a minute... not question. I check the clock.


I can't believe it!!! Ten minutes late. I run down to the radio as my husband finishes his conversation with Yanis (one of our church leaders). He says that Kalefu is alive and in the village. Yanis is totally confused about this rumor we heard, but assures us that Kalefu is there and the raiders have not come yet.

Relief and joy wash over me and I praise God that for the first time since we moved into Hewa territory death was just a rumor. I make my husband tell me every bit of the conversation. I am thankful beyond any words or explanation. I walk back to the apartment. I don't check the clock anymore, and I only realize it an hour after my kids' normal bedtime (oops). My husband and I put them to bed and I followed soon after.

Even though it ended on a high note, the day has exhausted me, so I climb into bed and contemplate my time in missionary training. I scroll through the memories of my time preparing for this job and remember thinking that my duties, my actual "job" would be the hardest part of this life. You know, the language learning, homeschooling, discipling, teaching, translating, those things. They seemed so hard. And they still are, but they are not the hardest part.

The hardest part is the loving, the caring, the relationships you have with people who struggle everyday to just stay alive. Death is their shadow. Pain is their ever present companion. And being right there beside them through it all is the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life.

There are certainly times I want to give up and go home. No...there are times I want to go back in time and never come in the first place. Because after having seen, heard, felt, tasted, even smelled their existence, I can't shake it from who I am now. Their world, their daily lives, their very souls, have penetrated my being so deep that there is no place that I can run that they will not be with me. And it will be that way from now until the day I die. No matter when or why God removes me from Hewa physically, we will be linked through the Holy Spirit eternally. When they hurt, I will feel it as if it were my own body just as I do now. And when they rejoice, I will rejoice with them whether I am right next to them, holding their hands or if I am 9,000 miles away.

And that is the hardest part. The hardest and most beautiful part.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


As most of you know by now, we are out of the tribe (again) and back in town. This week has been a whirlwind of events that I am still trying to process.

On Friday, two men in leadership positions from our mission came in to give John Michael and I language checks. One of the men brought in his wife, one of his daughters, and a girl who is here in PNG helping them with home school (cough cough, hint hint REAGAN WEBB). They planned on staying for four days so we could do the checks, have a Thanksgiving meal (because we were going to be in the tribe by ourselves during real Thanksgiving) and just have an overall good time. And the guys helped JM get our new house batteries hooked up and about 1,000 other jobs around our house/village that will make all of our lives so much easier.

On Saturday John Michael and I took our tests. John Michael passed completely and is cleared to start helping with translation and teaching in the Hewa language. I ended up on level 7 of 9, so the plan was for them to come back in six months when hopefully (and miraculously) I might be able to finish.

John Michael "winning" his language evaluation!

Sunday, with much to be thankful for, Heidi and I started preparing the Thanksgiving meal while the guys and kids took off to the waterfall.* The guys came back after about 30 minutes because the trail had overgrown and they needed to find a Hewa guy to show them the new trail. Just as they were about to leave again, we heard shouting and wailing....the bad kind... (yelling and shouting across mountains is like their way of texting, so we have had to learn which tones and sounds to worry about and which ones are just passing information). 

I immediately dropped what I was doing and ran out of the house only to see my husband half way to place where the shouting originated. We soon found out that a man was shot in a neighboring village by the same man (along with some accomplices) who killed the last witch, Yamene. We were completely confused and had no idea what was happening or why until a lady named Rosa came crying and running into the village to tell us the story.

Four men came from the village of Fiyawena where the previous witch killings took place, to the village of Pasife (just a few hours hike away from our village) and were on the hunt for anyone in Yamene's family. A man named Apiyan found out and hid Rosa who is Yamene's cousin, and when the killers learned that he did this they shot him in the stomach. So Rosa ran to our village to tell us what happened and to warn her brother, Kalefu, that they were coming for him as well. (Many of you may remember us speaking about Kalefu this past year on furlough). 

We had the basic facts but were totally confused as to the the motive for these attacks. It made no sense for Yamene's killers to be going after her family when, as far as we knew, there had been no retaliation.

Meanwhile, our guests were witnessing all this and decided that we should not remain in the tribe. We agreed as things seemed to grow increasingly more tense and because we felt like our best chance of helping our friends get police support would be from town where we could call or even plead their case in person if need be (Our email is down in the tribe and has been for several weeks, so that is why you haven't heard from us). Because the plane that currently services us is small, all ten of us couldn't fit on one plane, so we planned two trips to get everyone out. The women and children left on Tuesday...because you know...women and children first and all the plane was bringing all the rice that we helped the people purchase for drought relief and JM needed to be there to facilitate the distribution of that.**

In the 24 hours that John Michael was there after we left he was able to get the full story. All this chaos actually started earlier in the weekend when Yamene's family started yelling at Wanapi (the man who shot and killed Yamene) from across a nearby river for killing their sister/daughter/cousin. Wanapi supposedly shot at them three times, and they fired back, killing a teenage boy who was with him. So there were actually TWO murders. Wanapi then gathered his posse and went after anyone in Yamene's family he could find in a blind rage. He, of course, feels like no one should be attacking him because he was only seeking vengeance for the death of his relative, Mifila, when he shot Yamene.

So we are basically breaking out into an all out tribal war because one witch was murdered and appropriate action was not taken. One murder has now turned into three which is what you'd expect to happen when there is no law, order, and justice in place to handle these situations.

We are still kind of in shock over all that has happened, but are so thankful that there was a team of wonderful people in the tribe with us when it all transpired. It was a blessing to get some outside perspective and good Godly advice on how to handle all these things that we have never personally encountered before. I know it was a wonderful blessing to my husband to have their support during these intense circumstances.

During one meeting with the Hewa believers, they asked John Michael,  

"We need your advice. You passed your test, you are one of us now. If they attack us, do we shoot back? What does God's Word say? If we kill them will God be angry with us. Our thinking is little so you tell us what to do."

He did the best he could to steer them towards peace and resolution, even paraphrasing Jim Elliot explaining that the attackers aren't prepared for heaven but they, as believers, are. Then they asked, 
"But what about our wives and kids? If they try to shoot them, should we attack?"

At that point, he threw up his hands and told the guys that they all needed to pray for God's guidance and wisdom answering with, 
"Yes, I passed my test. I can speak your language now, but I am still just a man. With a man's thinking. We need God's thinking for this. It is too big for you and too big for me to have the right answer. Only God has the right answer for all of us."

So they prayed, and we are all continually praying for God's wisdom and guidance, and most of all His peace. We need miraculous peace in this situation that can and will only come from God. 
The family of Apiyan, who have now been drug into this whole mess.
*Obviously, they never made it to the waterfall. We are terrible hosts. Instead of breathtaking sights, we give you murder and chaos. You're welcome. 
**In drought news...we have had rain everyday in the month of November and everyone's gardens are starting to come back to life. It takes sweet potato (the staple food of the Hewa) 4 to 6 months to grow, so they are still needing rice and other foods to help support themselves until the gardens really start producing again. But we are praising the Lord that he provided rain and rice for them in their time of need.