The PNG Letters.jpg, 14kB

Papua New Guinea: A Christian Country?

What on earth is a Christian country anyway? A country is not just hills, rivers, fauna and flora, but is made up of the people who inhabit it; and is not just the sum total of their thoughts, faiths or beliefs. PNG certainly has many Christians: 50% springs to mind, but I'm not sure if it makes P.N.G. a Christian country or not? God is very prominently featured in its constitution, but I wonder if any country can be Christian? We live in such a fractured society now, and Christianity doesn't have the social muscle to force people to abide by its rules, as some other religions do (not that that would make any country Christian anyway). Christianity is an interesting and mixed phenomenon in Papua New Guinea, as in most other countries I guess. Christianity is just as mixed (which more often than not means watered down, but, can also mean spiced and made more interesting) as in western countries. Cargo Cult, witchcraft, spirit worship and fear replace the materialism, individual self-centredness and lack of awe that I've seen in Australia: It's just as impure, or just as pure, depending on your viewpoint. It's just as varied too, though because it is a young and vibrant country, the various expressions seem more defined and extreme. From traditional Catholics still hanging onto angry publications against Vatican II changes to Charismatic faith healers promising the world and delivering little; from Seventh Day Adventists proclaiming the Pope is the antichrist and all other denominations have lost their way to Baptists who don't believe a Bible is a Bible unless it’s the King James Version; and every other denomination in between, sometimes fighting, sometimes working together. Hopefully fostering the Spirit of Christ within peoples' hearts, where the country's true Christianity springs. Here are 3 little stories that touch on this.

Joseph and the Temple Tax
Joseph and Keren standing outside Staff House B Joseph Tumbe is from the Mount Hagen area. He is a typical Melanesian: his face appears cranky when at rest, which can be most confusing for his western acquaintances. Joseph is one of the Dining Hall Committee members, one of his tasks is to come and get the next morning's breakfast from the freezer room.

The Archdiocese of Mount Hagen sponsors Joseph in his studies. Not just for the three years at Good Shepherd College, but also the two previous years at St. Fidelis in Madang and the three years after at Holy Spirit Seminary at Bomana, Pt. Moresby. Rome sponsors the six months practical work in a parish, which comes in between Good Shepherd and Holy Spirit. Good Shepherd College has a three term academic year with a two week break in between terms. All the students who can travel home by PMV do so; the students who have to fly, remain at the College or stay with relatives if they are close. Term break can be fairly boring at the College: fun and activity are not encouraged by the Rector. He would prefer all the students leave.

Peter Arre, who is the head student on the Dining Hall Committee, lives in the neighbouring province (Chimbu). He was organising a short stay in his parish, which was having a retreat. Many of the Coastals were going because the College could deduct the cost from the accommodation fee we charge the Diocese.

I was fishing 10 bags of scones out of the student food freezer, trying to make polite conversation with Joseph. He had always seemed such an aloof fellow, who didn't encourage any sort of social intercourse. Probably shy, but always hard to talk to. "What are you doing over the holidays, Joe?"

Joseph looked at me sideways then intently focused on one of the vinyl tiles on the floor. "I'd like to go with Peter Arre, but I don't have K10.00." He looked me full in the face, his eyes hopeful. I heard and saw the unuttered plea: it was unmistakable.

In that split second, many things rushed instantaneously through my head. You could give him K10.00! I don't have K10.00 to spare! This is cargo cult again: you can't give in to it. Jesus said, "Give unto those who ask." What I did say was, "Have you asked God to give you the money?"

"Yes, but I just don't know who can give it to me."

What do you say to a fellow in this situation? He's asked God for K10.00 but is looking for someone to give it to him. To me it seemed back to front – looking for water out of a hose and being more concerned with the nozzle than the tap. I asked him, "Maybe you've asked wrongly? Like it says in James. There are lots of silly prayers you can pray." I said. "For example, you might have prayed and asked God which person would give you K10.00. Or, Please make Fr. Kees give me K10.00."

Joseph was looking especially sheepish at this point, and I wondered if I'd inadvertently hit the nail on the head. I continued, "That is telling God how to answer your prayer: it may not be the best way. It's looking at man rather than at God."

"Isn't that just someone becoming God's instrument to fulfil His will?"

Too true I guess, but so easy, too easy to manipulate. "It would be a much better prayer to ask God if and how you could get the money."

Joseph, even with his chin on his chest, managed to nod a few times, but he seemed unconvinced: after all, it's much easier to ask a man then to trust God. "I'll pray for you Joseph, and your K10. You can't worry, our God is more than able to supply your need."

As Joseph left with his bundle of 96 scones, I wondered how God would get through that huge lack of faith, or, which may be worse, a little misdirected faith. I knew God can do great and marvellous things, miracles, but my faith was wilting at this point. I had seen students before who would not ask God for something because they didn't think they had enough faith. So sad.

I was praying for Joseph later and the story of Jesus paying the temple tax flashed into my mind. The story of the miraculous provision of Jesus and Peter's tax seemed very appropriate. I hoped and prayed that it would offer encouragement to Joseph's faith. The next night when Joseph came to collect the scones I asked him if he knew the story. He said he didn't, so I grabbed my bible and we read the story together. I must admit I was starting to feel excited, I could sense Jesus was building some sort of situation. I asked Joseph what he thought, he was concentrating on the floor again. Who knows what goes through a Melanesian's mind?

I said I would keep an eye out for K10s in dogs or pigs mouths and Joseph smiled. I prayed hard that God would answer his prayers, that he would meet him, open his eyes to His Grace and Power. I was insanely hopeful. I even walked around looking at the ground. The following day was the last of term, which meant that there was not much time left (but always enough for Jesus).

The last day is one of hustle and bustle, students leaving, farewells, giving in of keys and much excitement for the students. Joseph came to see me in my office about mid-morning, clearly not very excited. I asked him if God had performed His miracle yet. "No, not yet. I just handed in my key to Fr. Rector. He didn't give me K10 and I just came here to see if you had found the K10."

His eyes looked at me earnestly, full of hope. I genuinely felt apprehensive when I admitted that I hadn't found his K10, and joked that I looked in every dog's mouth that I found. He stared into my front garden, looking for some way of escape I expect. I knew what it felt like to be hemmed in by God: I felt constrained to say something, he looked like he was drowning. My heart ached.

"Is God allowed to say 'No' when we ask him something?" He nodded his head. I continued, "The great battle is to find out what we should do after God says 'No'." I encouraged him to ask God what he should be doing now. As he was leaving – to pack his bags – I suddenly realised that the day was not over: "The day hasn't finished yet Joseph! There's still time for God."

He didn't seem too hopeful. I myself felt mortified. I'd prayed. Joseph prayed. We'd hoped. Had God ignored us? I knew I didn't believe that! But it was a horrid thought. I drew aside to pray, and the Scripture came to my mind that says, "He who trusts in the Lord will not be disappointed." But try as I may, I could not find it in my Bible. All I could find was the first part of Romans 5. I found Joseph and asked him, "Do you know Romans 5?"

He said he did, but not exactly what it says. I said, "You must read it! It's amazing. Next time you find a Bible you must read it."

Although Romans 5 talks about tribulations producing perseverance producing character producing hope, and this hope will not be disappointed, my heart was heavy. Heavy for Joseph who had to persevere, and yet, it was hopeful and buoyant too: God is no fool. He knows what He is doing with us. So after committing Joseph to God again, I let him slip from my mind. Fr. Kees and his brother and sister-in-law were driving to Goroka after lunch and I needed to get the car ready and packed.

After packing the car and wrapping the luggage in a tarpaulin, tying it up and attaching it to the crash bar (they didn't like to take any chances), they were off. They stopped at the driveway and Joseph climbs onto the back. He sat down, back to the cab, head down, looking glum. I thought to myself that the final curtain must have fallen on all his hopes. Kees had forgotten something else, and was trotting down to his room, so I took the opportunity to run up and ask Joseph, "Where are you going Joe?"

He said matter-of-factly, in a flat tone of voice, "Fr. Rector is dropping me at Kundiawa."

It took half a second for the wheels to click into place in my head: "Joe, is this answered prayer?" My heart was starting to beat faster.

"Yes." He looked up at me for the first time.

"Then why are you not smiling, shouting and dancing, singing Glories and Halleluiahs to God?"

Joseph smiled, and said sheepishly, "I don't know."

"I can't believe it Joe, God's answered your prayer and you're just sitting there?"

Fr. Kees jumped back into the car and drove off down the drive and out the gate. Joseph disappeared around the corner on the back of the ute with one of the biggest smiles I have ever seen on his face! I guess his heart was dancing, even if his feet weren't.

Sports Injuries
Modern sport is often compared to the gladiators. It is no different in PNG. Organised sport has mostly replaced the semi-organised sport of tribal warfare. The only real difference is that tribal warfare is not a spectator sport. This may help to explain the reaction of PNG spectators of losing sides – they're just carrying on the battle in a traditional manner (social habits are hard to break). This behaviour obviously does not sit well with western laws and notions of normal behaviour, but these are relative newcomers to this island. Payback has a much longer history and emotional pull than any Christian notion of turning the other cheek.

We'd organised for the Radcliffes to come over for tea on Sunday night (23rd May) at 5:30. Partly to celebrate Keren's birthday, partly to mourn the Radcliffe e's leaving on furlough. Jim rang us at 4:45. We all thought they were going to say that something else had come up again (we've had to get used to their busy lifestyle: being a missionary doctor takes it's toll, not just on family but friends as well). The fellow they had sold their car to had picked it up, so they needed a lift! We all sighed a collective sigh.

Jesse and I were dispatched to pick them up and return. I planned to give Jesse another drive (he has his L-plates now!), after we had passed through Banz. Banz can get a little crowded on the weekends, which means that people wander all over the road, moving to the side if they hear you coming. Today though was a Rugby League game between the local team (Wahgi Tumbe) and Goroka Lahanis, which meant there would be more people than normal. Last week the Tumbe lost to the Hagen Eagles and there were little heated disputes on the sideline.

The Banz football oval is situated opposite the market. It is fully surrounded by a solid roofing-iron fence. Behind the market is the hill. The unofficial seats for the loud-mouthed yobbos among us. Unofficial means free, although during big games when the hill is packed with people, police come and disperse them with tear gas. I'm not sure if they do this because of security reasons, or because they are not paying. In any case, these spectators probably do end up paying, not in the proverbial sweat and blood (that's used in the fun later), but in tears and sore throats.

There were quite a few cars parked on the road (there isn't a parking area) which meant the road was reduced to one lane. There were a few people leaving, walking on the road, as I approached. When I was adjacent to the oval I noticed quite a few people climbing over the 8-foot high fence. Climbing out, not in! I couldn't understand what was wrong with the gates, but whatever the problem, it didn't look good. A large stone lobbed onto the road about 1 metre in front of the bus. People on the hill were throwing sticks and stones into the ground, and the people inside, were throwing them out. Neither could see the other: just speculative missiles.

I quickly prayed for protection. Visions of a policeman Dr Jim had treated, who had his face caved in by a thrown rock, came to mind. We were actually following a police car through Banz: I wasn't sure if it was safer or not behind the policeman? After we had passed the ground, and were in Banz proper, the driver saw a friend, and waved. He must have been unintentionally holding onto his revolver, because when he realised that he was waving his gun at his friend he quickly retracted it, stowed his gun, and then waved again, somewhat apologetically.

We managed to get through Banz without further incident, and on the other side, Jesse took over the driving. It's an easy 15-minute drive to Kudjip, and the Radcliffe e's were nearly ready when we got there. I suggested that they might like to take as much time as they wanted getting ready, because this would allow Banz to settle down again – I didn't think their young children (5, 3 & 6 months) would appreciate being in the middle of a stone throwing disturbance.

They were ready far too quickly really, and we were off for home by 5:30. We passed the opposing team on the way back, they had a full police escort – flashing lights and all. One of the policemen – standing in the back of a ute – had his high powered rifle ready at his shoulder. Seeing such a heavily armed escort made us wonder if they had actually won or lost.

When we came up the hill from the Wahgi River toward Banz, there were large numbers of people walking out of town: four deep on either side of the road. They seemed peaceful enough, but at the edge of Banz, a human wave literally came down the middle of the road. People running, looking over their shoulders; when they saw us they shouted that we should not go through Banz. " Bikpela pait i kamap! Olgeta man i throwim ston." I turned down the one and only back road through Banz that passes the old international school and comes out next to the police station. We had to stop at one point because plenty of other people had the same idea and it was only a single lane dirt track. We could hear stones hitting the tin of the Banz buildings. The shouting was loud and excited. It was chilling to hear this commotion at the other end of the block when you've been stopped in a traffic jam.

Passing the police station and turning onto the main road again, we came face to face with four policemen standing on the road. Three had their tear gas rifles ready at their shoulders, the other his rifle, and we had just driven into their sights. They quickly raised their guns, apologised, and beckoned us through without smiling (I think I had a nervous smile on my face at that time). It was slow going, the road was full of people trying to get away. In the rear vision mirror, Banz was enveloped in tear gas. We found ourselves following another police car, suddenly it stopped – which is not hard to do at 10 km/h – and the back door flew open. A man in the back, his neck badly bloodied, was looking for someone. We surmised the blood was from a stone injury. His friend came, they closed the door, turned on their flashing lights and sped off down the road at 15 km/h.

The German volunteers from Banz #1 were visiting when we arrived home. They were sheltering from the riot, unable to get through Banz to their house. They didn't end up staying for the small party (pizza and cheesecake), which turned out to be a really nice, cosy time (14 people in our little house is tight, but when 6 of them are or nearly are teenagers, it makes it seem worse).

When we dropped the Radcliffe home again, Banz was quiet, almost deserted, looking like a curfew had been imposed. A few stones left on the road, but not what I would have thought. At Kudjip hospital a police car was just pulling out as we drove in, we wondered if they were dropping off victims of the day's play. We heard later that the police had actually shot a fellow in the head at the game (which to the locals may mean the football game, the riot afterwards, or both). The story was that the bullet kisim skin tasol, so thankfully, not that serious.

Apparently the game had to be stopped twice because the tear gas the police had used for crowd control had invaded the pitch. The players kept bumping into one another because they couldn't see where they were going. At the end of the game, the Tumbe supporters were so dissatisfied with their team's performance that they started pelting them with stones! I joked with Dr Jim when leaving that it gave a new meaning to sports injuries: stone cuts and bruises, gunshot wounds, raw eyes and throat from tear gas.

Miksmasta bilong Jisas
The fortnightly wages are delivered to the local plantations via helicopter (for security reasons: although we did hear stories of someone hijacking a plane carrying wages and flying off to another province). The fellow who has the contract for throwing the bags out of the helicopter is the son of a local businessman, Alan Raggett. They are able to take up to two extra people at a time, sometimes company guests, but usually missionaries from the local area. Sandi and I organised this special pre-birthday treat for Jesse and Keren (I think it is one of the hardest things to do as a parent: to let your children precede you in something you would kill to do!). The following is the unedited entries from the family diary by Jesse and Keren. 'Miksmasta bilong Jisas' is old pidgin for helicopter.

Jesse: 17th May 1999. Me again… this time it's not a holiday – just a rather notable event. As part of our Birthday 'surprise', Mum & Dad organised with Alan (from Wadau, Banz) to take us up with him on one of his routine pay drops to the plantations in a chopper. Keren was sick the couple of days leading up to it, although when Mum had a little talk to him he started feeling much better… (I was still in the dark!) All I knew is that we were going to do something in Hagen. It was our usual hectic getaway from Good Shepherd College but once we were on our way it was OK (although Dad was driving like the wind!). When we turned down the airport road it all clicked… Friday morning, pay day, wow! I didn't have a clue!! I was the only one who didn't know. Well, despite the rush we got there on time – the SecuriMax guys were late (as usual?) The Hevilift terminal was really quite nice compared with any of the others I've seen – nice lounges, free coffee, flushing toilets, nice pictures, nice smells… at this time I thought we were all going (memory lapse) and then Keren told me it was just us – I was feeling kinda nervous, I'm not sure why (not having Mum & Dad around if I got scared/sick?) Anyway, we met our pilot, a Kiwi (we wont hold that against him!), John (JD) who was a really great guy – heaps friendly & stuff. We went through the safety aspects – don't walk towards the tail prop… I was to sit in the front with JD, while Alan and Keren were in the back. When SecuriMax came they really turned it on – guys with shotguns, big Rottweiler dogs, everything, while they transferred the money (hundreds of thousands of Kina) to the chopper. After all the preliminary safety procedures we were off – the noise was terrific, but with the headset on it was barely audible. We could also talk through it to everyone else in the cockpit. We had a cruising speed of about 110 mph, and everything looked so smooth from the air.

In all we completed 22 drops around the Wahgi Valley to plantations that I'd never even heard of. Flying was so cool! At some drop sites we had to go in low then once it was delivered we'd climb steeply over the gums banking steeply on our side, the leaves and branches barely missing the undercarriage. When we did the drop at Fatima I got a couple of shots and we did a loop round Good Shepherd College (hopefully the pics will turn out!) After Fatima we did a couple of more drops and then one at Kudjip – I asked if we could buzz the hospital and Alan said OK so we did a lap of the station – the MK school emptied and I saw Tim and Jeffrey running out. Ben ran out of the house, it was really quite fun. We were banking quite sharply to the left so I got a few good shots – I think?

Next we fly towards Kuli and we get a glimpse of Baisu Prison Camp – not very large… Our last drop completed we headed home. The approach to the airport and landing were smooth, Mum and Dad were waiting as we arrived. Wow! What a morning: I wish it'd taken longer – only just over an hour – far too short! Thanked JD and Alan, they were cool. Stepping away from the bird I could still feel the blood pumping. No airsickness or anything, which was good – it almost felt like an anticlimax to be going back home! Still, it was great fun and I hope everyone has the chance to go up as well. Thanks Mum & Dad, it was great! The future chopper pilot, jm ß I wish!

Keren: Well, it's "Hi" again from the lazy sod who doesn't write letters and doesn't write in the diary. Anyway, I've been asked by Mum to write my account of the Skies of the Wahgi Valley. Well, it started when Mum and Dad had a great idea to have me and Jesse up in the pay helicopter. Great fun, so on that Friday we went into Hagen to the airport and went to the Hevilift terminal. We met Alan in the lounge, which was full of what looked like rich businessmen from mines and so on. We went on waiting for around 20 minutes until SecruiMax came and delivered 21 canvas bags and one strong box with two million Kina spread throughout. It's a lot of money and SecuriMax had brought along a man with a pump action shotgun and a dog.

Once we were in the helicopter (Jesse in the copilot's seat, and I went in the back with Alan), we spent about 5 minutes warming up and then headed to the helipad in the middle of the airport. Once we got clearance to fly, we were off into the clear blue yonder.

A helicopter is one of the coolest flying machines on earth, it was surprisingly stable and we flew west until we came to the first drop, just out of Hagen. Talking was difficult and we communicated through the intercom and heard with earmuffs. The helicopter manoeuvred itself pretty smoothly, and we often were skimming over the trees and small hills. Drops were made by JD flying the helicopter slowly over the area, then Alan opening the door and dropping a bag. We made 22 drops, including one landing. Places we dropped included: Fatima, Banz, Kudjip, Bunimwo, Baisu, Kuli, etc. We also passed CLTC, which looked pretty cool from the air. We took a few pics of Good Shepherd College, Fatima and Kudjip, and the hour was up. A bit too short, but so much fun. Inspiration of being a pilot just got stronger! Thanked JD and Alan, and after went into Hagen for a few bits, anyway, seeya, Keren .

[See the photos: Good Shepherd College from the air, Waiting for Wages A Village from the Air]