I RETURNED ON SUNDAY NIGHT from a weekend in Minj and I’m very sore and tired from sitting back of a land cruiser during a very bumpy, dusty and cold ride (the Chimbu part of the road, oh help!) but had so many thoughts swirling through my head that I just had to spend today writing to sort it all out.
I very nearly didn't accept the invitation from two friends (cousins) from the same village who were to be ordained as pastors.
I’m very glad now that I did go for I met a gem of a man called Peter and another called Pastor Tumal. Both moved me and challenged me and the emotions that they evoked had to be recorded.
Although I had never met either until Friday night, they drew from me immediate respect in the short time I got to know them.
These two friends along with their clan leaders decided to build a small church (bamboo walls, kapa sheets) to try to bring a sense of community back to their clan who had dispersed and also to pursue peace talks.
When they were appointed to be ordained as pastors (both work in Eastern Highlands one with me in Goroka the other at Kassam near Yonki) they asked that it be done in their village church only just completed.
I arrived at dusk at the destination (the car had to be parked some distance away and a "small" climb had to be made up a mountain).
There was only a bush material church that was not burned during the conflict and this was now used to house all the women and children while the men built makeshift shelters outside to sleep. All were busy preparing food for the mumu that was to feed everyone after the ordination service.
Because it was so crowded in the house and I had given my space to another who had worked all day and was bone weary, I now found myself with no place to sit (the women didn't need me to help peel the vegetables in the house due to space) and so decided to roam around and make myself useful.
The sister of one of my friends took me under her wing and decided I should escort her while she was organising things. We made our way to the mumu area where the man were slaughtering and preparing the pigs for the feast and she led me toward a campfire where she had to find another man who together with her had to make a list of all people they estimated would be in attendance on the morrow and ensure that each group would be recognised and given their share of the food.
We sat around the campfire and, as they got busy making up the list, I tuned into the talk of the young men as they discussed politics and their future. As they were talking a voice rose above them admonishing them to think about family and pursuing peace and building community. My friend told me he was one of their elders called Peter [pictured].
He rose and came to stand in front of me to introduce himself. After inquiring about my lineage he told me how my tribe and my clan in particular were connected to his tribe and clan then continued addressing all of us.
What he said was eloquent and delivered with passion and I raised a prayer of thanksgiving to God for my father who had endeavoured to teach me my language so that I could hear him in his mother tongue.
Trying to translate it would have stunted the flow and melody of the words. As I was dwelling upon his words again today, I just couldn't write in essay form so have tried to capture it in poetry and hope I have done it justice.
After he had delivered his talk, he wandered away to supervise the heating of stones and the digging of the pit and muttered about finding a place to sleep.
I didn't meet him in the morning as it was busy and only briefly saw him as he was addressing the people who came but I had to leave to attend to another aspect of the gathering so did not get to say goodbye.
While I was stowing my bag (using it as pillow) and getting my sleeping bag out, he woke up and I notice how old and frail he looked. I asked the lady beside me if he was an elder from the clan and she told me no, he was a pastor.
She continued to share how when they were in the midst of the fight and hiding out in the bushes, he who was so frail that he needed help to walk would climb mountains just to find them and pray with them and encourage them to hold onto their faith and not give up.
He would talk to the leaders and young men about peace and God’s love and how blessings would be found by the laying down of arms and not the taking up of arms. Blessings would be found by letting justice take its course and not seeking revenge.
Throughout the three years he would continually visit taking Sunday service with them wherever they were at that time.
While younger pastors didn't visit because of the guns being used and the rugged terrain, this old man would make the trek to hold the hand of a mother who had lost her house, to grieve with the family who had lost a son, to just sit and listen as frustrations were expressed and to let them know he loved them but God loved them more and would help them.
I noticed the respect that all the clan had for him Christians and non Christians alike and they told me how to them he was a father figure and a great comforter at a time when they had felt that the whole world had deserted them (police didn't intervene because the other clan had guns more powerful than the police).
He through his visits had kept them sane and helped them grasp reality and see the futility of war and along with the elders of the tribe was able to convince the younger man to lay down arms.
In the morning as I wearily made my way to the vacated space to sleep for an hour or two, he was up and reading his Bible (pidgin) and I heard soft crying as he prayed to God to thank him for these people (he is from another tribe) and how much he loved them and wanted to see them live a peaceful, prosperous life.
He and his wife [pictured] had walked some hours to get to this place and I heard him thank his wife for helping to bring him here and how he knew God would bless these people and help them as he had been reading Psalm 18:1-3 "I love you, Lord God and you make me strong. You are my mighty rock, my fortress, my protector, the rock where I am safe, my shield, my powerful weapon, and my place of shelter. I praise you Lord! I prayed and you rescued me from my enemies."
The wife replied that it was the Lord’s work and they were partners in this work. I marvelled at the love that compelled them to be so faithful to their calling (he has been a pastor since 1966).
An old man on a hill in a deserted village helped me to take stock of myself yesterday morning and to see where my priorities lie.
I hope my work will not prevent me from making time to properly greet people, getting to know and love them and helping them to realise their full potential as best I can.
I am so glad I accepted that invitation and went. My life has been made richer from having met Peter and Pastor Tumal.