A “Hevi” Moment Turns Hearts to God

I just recently came across an article that we had written sometime after the first year of our time living in a remote village in the jungles of Papua New Guinea.  The vast majority of Papuans consider themselves to be Christians, based on the fact they had been baptized in infancy, and they were able to confess their sins once a year when a priest came around.

For the rest of each year, the people mostly revert back to their animistic roots.  They are afraid of evil spirits, and would like to find out how they can harness the spiritual forces of all the spirits and spiritual forces that surround them so that they can use these powers to be beneficial for themselves.

So there is a surface veneer of Christianity, while there is a deeper core belief in the power of the animistic forces that surround them every day.  This is the backdrop against an event that happened in our village.  Here is the story….

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When an unexpected or unhappy event happens in the village it is called a “hevi” (heavy).  During an afternoon meeting we heard “wanpela pikinini em i dai” which translated says, “one little child has died!”  (An important bit of language learning here, the pidgin word “dai” by itself meant to faint or be unconscious.)

John brought his son, Nika, to our PBT house and we had prayer for him. (Names changed for privacy sake.)  John was convinced that the illness was brought on by the workings of black magic.  Jill went to the clinic to ask the doctors their opinion and the word was that Nika had cerebral malaria.  With the amount of seizures he had, they were not very optimistic about the outcome.

The next day, word came that Nika had “dai finis” (died completely).  But John couldn’t find a way to deal with this sudden death of his son.  He was convinced that an old man of our village was a “sanguma man” (sorcerer) and had worked black magic which caused not only the illness but also the death.  When the old man heard the accusation, he fled into the jungle afraid that John would now seek to kill him in return.  But I sent word to the old man to come to see me, and let me talk to him.

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I also sent word out so that many PBT people and friends would pray for both of these families, and for wisdom for all the leadership of the village.  The old man did come back and they all marked Sunday afternoon to have a village meeting.  The local council leaders would come and hear the “evidence” as John would set out to prove that black magic was used to kill his son.

I was invited to attend the meeting.  After listening to all the arguments, I then added my thoughts about how the child had been under our care, was on the mission property (which they considered to be God’s territory) when he had actually died the week earlier, and had also been covered by the prayers of many people.  I presented the thought that the child was in God’s hands before he died and that no force of this world could “cause” the death.

The meeting broke out into a heated argument from both sides.  And even though I tried to help them see what Scripture has to say about the power of God and the power of prayer being more powerful than any spiritual force of this world, John refused to change his opinion about the old man.  This had gone on for a few hours, and no final conclusions were made.  I was quite upset with how things had turned out.

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So all the discussions stopped and since they couldn’t come to an agreement on the case, it would then have to go to the provincial court.  This would not be good for anyone, and our village would be marked as one that has a history of black magic trouble.  The meeting broke up, but then the women began to bring food out for everyone.  (This is the normal way to show hospitality after any kind of meeting.)

I felt emotionally sick about the whole meeting….so I just handed my food to one of the men and said, “I’m too upset to eat,” and I came home.  Now in this culture, it is a major insult to refuse food.  However, it also shows that someone is “bel hevi” (heavy-hearted) when they do not accept the gift of food being offered.

And so I left the meeting, and crossed the shallow stream to go to my house, and I was so upset that I stomped back and forth around my house feeling frustrated at the whole affair.  But about 15 minutes later, two council members came by and said they wanted to talk to me.  I came out and they said, “It’s a miracle!  They’ve shaken hands!”

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Since “shaking hands” is a cultural way of saying that someone has forgiven wrongs done to them by someone else, I was absolutely amazed.  So I asked them to repeat what they had said, thinking that I had missed something in the language.  But both these council members could speak English too, and they said in very plain English, “It’s all settled.  God has brought us a miracle.”

And in a state of disbelief, I asked how this miracle came about.  And one village elder said, “Well, didn’t you say you and many of your PBT friends were praying?”  I said “Yes.”  And he responded, “Well, God answered those prayers.”  And that was good enough for him, and it also was good enough for me.

And just as we were speaking, we heard the sound of singing.  It was a group from the church that had come back from a village hike and they were singing and praising God for their safe return to our village.  The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.  It reminded me of Luke 15:10 about the angels rejoicing whenever a sinner repents.  I wish I could have peeked into heaven at that moment.  But I have a sense that yes indeed, the angels were rejoicing that day.

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