Christmas in Light of Eternity
This is a longer blog than normal; however, it has been a while since our last post. This will give you some insight into the recent struggles in our absence of writing and some ways to pray for us!
My home culture (Phyllis) would be considered a middleclass American family, while my primary custom (or set of beliefs) would be considered Christian. Now that I have clarified that, I currently live in Papua New Guinea. One of the ways we help and serve with those around us is by employing occasional National Papua New Guineans in our home as well as ministry projects. Stop. What just ran through your mind? Was it that I am a rich American? Was it a judgmental thought about why I’m not doing these tasks myself? While it is not ‘typical’ American culture to have such help, it IS a sub-culture here in PNG among those serving from abroad. It helps us focus on ministry, language and other responsibilities here at the college and at the same time provide employment and income to those in need. Even more than that, it helps those we employ to witness first hand the reason why we are here….Jesus. Our skin, our culture and our beliefs set us apart...there is no blending in here but that also give us an opportunity.
Intertwined in the culture of PNG, while ‘Christian’ is an identity that many would identify with, it is NOT a core belief system or custom for most. The customs or belief systems that are here are highly spiritual but darkened in their thinking about Christ. Jesus is just another way to heaven in the thinking of many around us. While that doesn’t sound totally foreign to most Americans, it is quite different in practice. Tribal warfare and restitution deaths are common repercussions of everyday life. For example, if someone dies of natural causes (ie: heart attack or stroke) there is no question in many people’s minds that it was an act of sorcery or witchcraft. So, then there are accusations and “manhunts” for whom ‘caused’ the death. The law enforcement personnel have little to do with these disputes. It is handled per tribe or clan.
Recently, there was a death among a family clan among whom was a woman who works with me in our home and Brian had several guys who were working on projects with him that were in opposing villages. The first act was the move from (village 1) where the husband was from came to (village 2) where he livedwith his now widow and their small children. (Village 1) burned the house down, killed all livestock and uprooted their garden. Then there was a demand for a restitution death in the form of a large sum of money demanded as well as several pigs to be paid to Village 1 from Village 2. Pigs are a sign of wealth here in PNG and are often part of a distribution of an inheritance. Thankfully, demands lessened with time and prayer, but several more homes were burned, material things (such as clothes and household items) were confiscated, and it was just an ugly mess. So much hurt put upon those who were already grieving the loss of a loved one! Lots of money was gathered from village 2 and paid to village 1 along with branding the widow and another women who was alleged to cause the death. Stop. Does this draw a lot of questions for you? Are you a bit stirred up that a grieving widow is robbed of every possession she and her children have on this earth, and then is forced to be indebted to her village for paying compensation? And then, she is branded with a red, hot iron to wear a mark of shame…….? I would like to say this is a rare occurrence, however it happens more often than I know.
I share all that because it is STILL wreaking havoc. There were lots of days of prayer, conversations, and questions that circulated in our minds. As we shared, we have workers that are from both villages in our home, working on projects and our church fellowship is located between these two-family clans or villages. We are seeking to serve and share Jesus in an area…notjust ONE clan.
For Christmas, the national pastor we work with along with other church leaders from the surrounding clans decided to have several days of Christmas meetings…..location as to where to have them became an issue. Due to a church building already in place at Village 1, the group decided to hold meetings there. The dispute between these ‘warring’ clans showed its ugly face. Many from village 2 were afraid to attend as they had been threatened by people outside the church but within village 1 that they would not be safe and repercussions would occur. It was agreed that Brian would provide extra transport for people to ensure Village 2 did not have to walk through Village 1 roads orareas.
Our Good God provided a way for hope to shine this holiday. We held the meetings anyway and shared that Christ offers another road. It doesn’t HAVE to be fear…our hope is in Jesus. Our lives are in HIS hands. We are gathering to celebrate HIM. I write that with periods on purpose because while I believe firmly in the hope Jesus Christ offers, it is not flippantly that I share a charge to look fear in the face and choose Christ. It may mean back biting slander here. It could mean far worse, and so? It is not without thoughtful contemplation of the possible consequences that I share the fact that we celebrated Jesus.
I recently heard a quote via audiobook by Francis Chan that said,
If you’d rather watch your children grow up than to see the face of Your Savior today, then you don’t grasp the beauty of God. If you worry about what would happen to your children if you were gone, then you don’t understand the providence of God. Pray for a deeper understanding of HIS worth and Sovereignty. Pray earnestly until you are infatuated with seeing HIS face….
Francis and Lisa Chan, You and Me Forever, Ch. 5, (emphasis added).
The words of this quote have been in my mind often. I DO want to see my children grow up. There IS an element of worry in my heart as I review and renew our commitments and wishes as to what will happen to our children if something happens to Brian or me on the field. However, Christ is worth it. WORTH it. “I consider it all loss when compared to priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord,” Phil. 3:7, (my paraphrase).
Christmas has come and gone here in PNG. However? The reason for our hope remains…..Jesus. What have you done with Him? Have you believed? Have you surrendered? Have you seen the light He offers in the midst of pure darkness? I do not share the above with an intention of guilt or condemnation. I just wanted to share honestly what my heart was wrestling with this holiday. I pray you are challenged and encouraged to consider the eternal because what we do with Jesus today will affect our eternity forever.
Our truck outside the church building with a stunning sunset behind….
A traditional mumu….cooking food with stones, ground and banana leaves to celebrate Jesus.
Another picture of the mumu when the food is finished cooking…
Our Pastor boldly proclaiming the Good News of Jesus!
Gunner and Moriah enjoying snacks at the Sunday School Christmas party.