Monday, September 1, 2014

Shaking Hands with the Enemy

After the fifth robbery attempt on our Ukarumpa house in two years, Martha and I decided that it was finally time to start venturing into the village of Ku'ina and building relationships with the people there. The village literally adjoins our backyard, but visiting is not as easy as you might suspect. Due to various security incidences in the years prior to our arrival, a security fence encompasses Ukarumpa. While necessary for improved security, the fence also cuts us off from our local neighbors. So to actually walk to the village requires walking to the nearest gate in the fence, which is nowhere near our house.

When we first moved into our Ukarumpa house a couple of years ago, there were only a few houses in Ku'ina village, but now there are more than twenty, and new ones are being built everyday. As translators, we are often exhausted when we return from Enga Province, and, honestly, we just want to retreat for a while. However, we have realized that ignoring our neighbors whom we don't know, but can see through the fence, is not right.

So we decided to take the whole family out to Ku'ina and start introducing ourselves and building relationships. We realized that on Saturday mornings there is another gate much closer to our house that is open, and so we got together with some friends and went out to Ku'ina. We had a hunch that the people who have been robbing our house have been coming from Ku'ina, and so Martha and I decided ahead of time that if we saw any of our things, we wouldn't say anything. To be honest, there is very little that we could do about it anyway as prosecuting suspected thieves is not something that generally results in any serious consequences, but it would definitely sour our relationships with the people of Ku'ina.

As we walked through the gate and up the hill into Ku'ina we felt free. Why had it taken us so long to go out and greet our neighbors? What were we so afraid of all this time? We met a couple of ladies washing clothes by a small stream and said hello. They seemed a little bit uncomfortable to see us in their village, and we did not receive the warm welcome that we would have received in Enga. We walked on a little farther up to a basic church structure that is being built. There was an older lady ahead of us on the path who also seemed hesitant to meet us, but we caught up with her and began talking. We told her that we lived in the blue house on the opposing hill.

When we told the older lady where we lived, she seemed intent on leading us on the path in a certain direction. Soon we came to a house and the lady called out to a young man in their own language (Gadsup). The young man came forward to shake our hands, and I realized that he was wearing my watch. He was a very strong young man about the age of twenty…a person the locals would refer to as a 'boy'. As we shook hands he said his name was 'Yonki'. When we told him where we lived, he seemed to grow a bit nervous. I then noticed that he started hiding his wrist so that I couldn't see the watch. As we walked along the path together he took off the watch at his first opportunity. It seemed fairly clear that this was the young man who had smashed our bedroom window and rifled through our room just one month before.

I had been extremely angry after that incident. I had visions of the people coming back and me bashing their heads in with a baseball bat or spraying them with pepper spray. I almost wanted them to come back so I could get revenge. I knew that such intense anger and desire for revenge was not right, but it was honestly how I felt. When I saw this young man's face, however, I realized that he was no hardened criminal. He was just a young man getting into mischief like so many young men in America. I'm sure that he viewed Ukarumpa as a place where people seem to have a lot more than he does and thought that it wasn't fair that all those missionaries should have electricity, clean water, well-built houses, and computers and many other things that most Papua New Guineans don't have. In addition, I don't imagine he felt that much guilt about cutting through the fence at night, smashing our window, and taking whatever he wanted. You see, in Papua New Guinea, there is not a strong sense that stealing from people outside of your extended family is wrong, especially if you don't get caught. The shame is in getting caught because it brings shame upon your whole village.

We continued our tour of the village, shaking many hands. Most of the young men we met seemed very hesitant to talk with us, probably because they felt ashamed about what they had been doing to our house. (I suspect Yonki had help.) Not surprisingly, Yonki did not stick around long. We made our way back down the hillside and met Manisa, the chief of the village. We introduced ourselves to him and sat and talked for a while, telling him that we didn't feel right about living so close but not knowing each other. As we returned to Ukarumpa, we invited about 15 children from the village to come back with us to our house to play. They stayed for about two hours and had a wonderful time.

After I got home, I realized that I was no longer angry. After seeing Yonki's face, God laid it on my heart to pray for this young man. But not only that, God had prompted me to return to Ku'ina to share the gospel with Yonki and give him the Tok Pisin New Testament on a solar-powered audio player. Unfortunately, when I returned the next Saturday, Yonki (which I found out is probably not his real name) was not there. So please pray that God will provide an opportunity for me to see this young man again, share the gospel with him, pray with him, and give him the Tok Pisin New Testament. Please also pray that God will touch his heart, convict of his wrongdoing, and open the door for him to receive salvation. And continue to pray for us as we build relationships with the people of Ku'ina.