I have a blog all typed up and ready to post but it will have to wait. Instead, I would like to tell you about something that is pressing on my heart at the moment.
When I was here in Papua New Guinea as a teenager I had quite a narrow view of PNG culture. With my impressive two weeks of language and culture training, living in a community of mostly missionaries and their kids, and my many years of third-culture experience, I believed I had it all figured out. A girl at my school was hurt by a Papua New Guinean man and all the sudden I deemed everyone in this country to be mean and bad. I even developed a fear and frustration toward Papua New Guineans so much so that I right out told God I never wanted to return.
As you can see...God and I worked some things out. In January of 2011 my plane landed in Madang, a small town where I would spend 16 weeks attending language and culture training. Though nervous, God walked me through my fears, misconceptions, and frustrations. The last day of our training, my group was waiting to leave our shopping trip when one of our leaders got robbed. Catching him in the act, I screamed at the top of my lungs "STILMAN", which means just that...man who is stealing. Startled, he backed up quickly and began to run. I'm sure he didn't anticipate my continual screams and pointing. As I was screaming a mob of people who didn't even know me tackled him to the ground and proceeded to take him to the police.
On the way home, I realized something. I realized that I no longer believed as I did when I was a teen. When one person sinned, he was the sinner...not his whole family or his whole country. Something inside of me had changed during this time of training. I had been welcomed into a Papua New Guinean family's house, into their village, and lived with them for five weeks. They had sheltered, cared for, loved, and protected me. They had become my friends. There were Papua New Guinean helpers at our training course who had helped me learn the language over tea every day. Instead of seeing them as "different," I saw them as children of God, as fellow Christian workers. This thief helped me notice the goodness of the Papua New Guinean people around me. He was stealing, but everyone else was helping us...even though we were strangers to them. They didn't want this guy giving them a bad name just like I don't want thieves in my country giving the United States a bad name.
I was reminded of these things this morning when my eight Papua New Guinean students came into class laughing about a fight that had occurred between two neighboring villages. They were obviously not aware of the consequences of such fighting and its seriousness . Changing my morning plans, as teachers often do, I decided to sit them down and give them a chance to talk through the situation.
We talked about the way of our cultures and the way of God. I explained that as Christians we need to look closely at the way our families and relatives have done things and ask ourselves, "Is this the best way?" I told them that there are many things in my culture that I don't feel like God would be happy with me doing: drinking too much, I told them, or neglecting children - things I thought second graders would understand. As followers of Christ we can't always follow the ways of our culture. If the Bible doesn't agree with how our culture and family have always done things, I told them, then we need to make a decision. It might be pretty hard.
And then we talked about things in this country that are contrary to the will of God . We talked about fighting and why people fight. Often a lot of little things build up and finally it all comes out. Sometimes they are not "walking in the way of the Lord" as Jeremiah says. I reminded them of Joseph's brothers. They didn't start with hatred...they started with jealousy and it slowly built into frustration, anger, and then hatred.
We prayed, and I told them that the desire of my heart is to see them grow into godly men and women who think of others above themselves. People who serve the Lord no matter what their job is, who seek peace and offer forgiveness. After praying, my students shared other stories of things they had experienced or heard. I was given the opportunity to tell them about the power of Jesus' name and encourage them to follow the examples of the godly Papua New Guinean men and women that work among us here in Ukarumpa.
My talk with them lasted about forty-five minutes or so. Afterwards we went on with the day, but my heart remained in our discussion. Every good teacher wants their students to succeed and grow in wisdom and discipline. Working in a different culture has challenged me. What will become of them? Their culture is very different than mine. Opportunities are limited. But I don't care as much about their academic abilities as I do their hearts. Will they choose to follow "the way of the Lord"? Will they study the Word? Will they proclaim peace, forgiveness, and love? Pray with me that they will.