What Jason said angered—no offended me a little. What he said next broke my heart.
The moon had yet to rise as three Wantakian faces shown in the soft glow of my headlamp. Tonight we were hiking to the other side of the mountains to Wananara, a neighbouring dialect of Wantakia. The village rugby team would be playing the Wananara guys in the morning, so we needed to get moving if we didn’t want to miss it. As is often the case, we had no idea God had much more in store for us in Wananara than a day of rugby.
Pre-evangelism consists of many things, but the process of “becoming” must be chief among them. Christ became flesh and dwelt among us. A man of sorrows, he experienced the hardships of his time, felt the same emotions, cried against his own pain, was outraged by injustice. He became the human condition, before he cured it.
We slept on the trail around a fire in the rain. As dawn broke upon the day, we came to the end of the ridge. Our breath caught as Wananara spread out below us. Green rolling hills and a lolling river dominated a landscape punctuated by mountain peaks in the distance. My nerdy mind jumped back to the hobbit’s initial reaction to seeing Rivendell for the first time.
As the second rugby game of the day was about to begin, I laid down in the grass to catch a quick nap. We’d be hiking back another 18 miles that same evening, and I needed to recharge. BJ’s voice cut through my drifting thoughts, “We’ve got visitors.” Annoyed, I groaned as I assumed a seated position. “Who needs to talk to us?” I thought. Shame chased my selfish thoughts away as two faces materialized across my vision. Jos and Jason, elders in the church in the neighbouring Aziana language group, had hiked three hours to encourage us.
A burden for the enemy
Nearly 50 years ago, the Aziana people lived on Pinji Mountain—the same mountain we live on now with the Wantakians. The Wantakians had chased them off the mountain—killing many Aziana in the process—and continued to raid the Aziana people until they moved to their present location, about 25 miles away.
A New Tribes church planter finished the Aziana Bible translation more than a decade ago, and now three healthy churches with mature elders remain. They received God’s Talk for free, and now they have a burden to see their former enemies, the Wantakians, reached with that same message of grace.
They’ve been involved with our church planting team from the very beginning. Jos and several others hiked with us on our first survey of Wantakia. Several came to help us during house-building. Now they’ve committed to bring 100 men and women to help our people dig our airstrip for two weeks; wanting nothing in return, which is unheard of in these cultures. Today, the elders started three simultaneous outreaches in Aziana villages where they will teach from Eternity to Eternity (Creation to the end of Revelation). These guys are phenomenal. Please pray for them.
Faithful in tragedy
We followed Jos and Jason to a shaded area overlooking the rugby field below. After sitting, Jason pulled out his Bible, donned a pair of reading glasses, and looking a little nervous, said, “I have a few things I’d like to share with you all.” We glanced at each other, wondering what might be coming next.
“We’ve seen a lot of New Tribes missionaries come to Papua New Guinea over the years. You all are very well trained, which is great, but we’ve also seen many of you all leave before the work was finished. Some had a hard time learning the language. Some got sick. If something horrible happens, like if one of your children die, you cannot go back to America and leave this work before it’s finished.”
He paused to give his words a chance to sink in. I felt angry. If one of my children die? I don’t want to even think about that possibility.
Then Jason continued, “When tragedy comes upon us, we have nowhere to go. I can’t buy a plane ticket and leave the Lord’s work unfinished. God has marked me to carry on His work in Aziana, and I cannot walk away from it. If our children die, or another tragedy happens, we must continue on in the Lord’s work.”
A challenge to commitment
Opening his Bible, Jason read from 1 Peter 4:12-13, “Dear friends, do not be astonished that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as though something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in His suffering, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice and be glad.”
Then he flipped to Philippians 4:6-7 and read, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”
Lastly, Jason read about Paul’s response to the “thorn in his side” from 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, “The Lord said to me, ’My grace is enough for you for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, with insults, with troubles, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”
Again, he paused, closed his Bible, took off his glasses, and looked each of us in the eyes. “These verses have brought me much comfort,” he said, emotion growing in his voice. “Two days ago I buried my youngest daughter. She was only a few years old, and she drowned in the river.” Several children had gone down to the river to wash, but they didn’t watch the youngest well, and she drowned.
I’ve buried three children, but I cannot leave the Lord’s work unfinished. With His help I will continue, and I’ll see my children again. I walked here today to tell you all these things the Lord has been showing me these past few days. The Lord has brought you all to Wantakia to do His work, and you must finish it.
“I’ve buried three children, but I cannot leave the Lord’s work unfinished. With His help I will continue, and I’ll see my children again. I walked here today to tell you all these things the Lord has been showing me these past few days. The Lord has brought you all to Wantakia to do His work, and you must finish it. Even if disaster come upon you, you must continue to do the Lord’s work.”
I walked over and hugged Jason. I couldn’t imagine being in his shoes. Would I be thinking of encouraging others, just two days after a horrible tragedy like this? Would I be looking for excuses to quit? Would I be searching for the exits? Would I be questioning God’s wisdom? His plans? His goodness? Or would I rest in His promises like Jason? Would I grieve with hope?
For the next few hours I sat in the grass next to Jason as he showed me pixelated pictures on his cheap camera phone of his family, his daughter, his orange groves, his home. I sat and listened to his stories, his memories, doing my best to be a member the body of Christ. To provide a measure of comfort.
Slogging back to Pinji in a midnight rainstorm, I had plenty to think about.Who am I depending on for the strength to live day in and day out? In the good times, am I walking in dependence on Christ, or does it take a tragedy for me to remember Who is in control? Can I find joy in Christ during the hard times? Has Christ ever failed me? Once? Nope. And he won’t.
I may not know what the future holds, but I know that God will be faithful. I serve a God who has suffered more than I will ever suffer in this life.
I think of Hebrews 2:9-10, “But we see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death on behalf of everyone. For it was fitting for him, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings.”
Truth that is dependent upon circumstance is not truth. Truth is an immovable thing; a fixed certainty. God is completely faithful. God is enough.