Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Avigail’s Birthday

So, November 19th marked our baby girl’s second birthday. Guess that means she isn’t really a baby anymore. This also means we’ve been in PNG for over a year now, since we celebrated her first birthday while doing our initial language training in Madang.

Avigail puttered around the house with mommy all morning, not knowing what was about to happen. I guess you could say it was a surprise birthday party. (I just didn’t feel like listening to her asking for all her friends by name over and over all morning long!) So you can imagine her delight when they suddenly began appearing one by one. We sang to her, and Tim read Psalm 71:5-6:
           For you, O Lord, are my hope, 
           my trust, O LORD, from my youth. 
           Upon you I have leaned from before my birth; 
           you are he who took me from my mother’s womb. 
           My praise is continually before you.
We ate birthday cake, and then went outside to play a game with water balloons.

But then something happened which could have turned a lovely child’s birthday party into a horribly tragic event. One of Avigail’s little friends found a way into the pool area all by herself. The girl’s older sister innocently commented to me that her sister was in the pool. I said, “No, she can’t be. No one’s in the pool right now…” And then a horrible sensation filled me and I felt compelled to go over just to be sure. I cannot begin to describe the dread I felt as I ascended the steps only to find her little body floating in the water. We didn’t know how long she had been there. When we got her out, we immediately prayed over her and began administering first-aid, and she eventually came to. We took her to the hospital as fast as we could. And just like that, the party was over.

We spent a suspenseful hour in the waiting room as they did tests to ensure that she was alright. Thankfully there was no brain or lung damage—just a big bump on her head. There were many people praying for her, and God graciously answered our prayers, because when she went back the next day for follow-up assessment, they said she was doing so well no further tests were needed! Praise God!

But the event certainly made a deep impression on Avigail, because for quite some time afterward she would ask about her friend and say “fall in pool!” often followed by “Thank you, God … OK!” We really are so thankful to God that he spared her life that day.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Spirits, Halloween, and Reformation Day

Papua New Guineans, and Melanesians in general, are far more aware of the reality of the spiritual world than most Westerners are. Whereas we Westerners are quite mechanistic in our understanding of the universe (even if we say that nothing happens without the will of God), Melanesians see spiritual forces at work behind everything.

 Here are a few examples we have encountered in the past week alone:

  • A mother finds some strange objects near her home and at once identifies them as instruments of sorcery. Someone is trying to cast a spell on her family. But, being a strong Christian, she is not afraid, and destroys the objects. 
  • A man can't sleep at night because he hears a lot of banging noises outside. He goes out to investigate. There is no one there at the place where the banging is happening. Demons! The family spends time praying. And then they hear running-away sounds. 
  • A girl is gang raped in her sleep in her high school dormitory and becomes pregnant. Yes, in her sleep, unaware, because she was put under a spell. It is quite common for high school students to engage in occult practices and ask Satan to take control of them. 
  • A young man whose father has passed away from cancer earlier this year has had to face relatives who want to find out who practiced sorcery to kill his father. The doctors at the hospital also encouraged this, because even a diagnosed disease must have some spiritual cause. Since his father's death, this young man has faced many spiritual attacks (e.g. the feeling of being held down at night); thankfully these have stopped since he has started showing a commitment to Christ and his church. 

You may be skeptical reading these kinds of stories. But the reality is: there is a whole spiritual world out there that we are often not aware of. It's not for nothing that Paul tells the Ephesians to put on the whole armour of God: "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12).

Mind you, these sorts of things are not at all limited to countries like PNG. Something similar could very well be happening in your very own neighbourhood; perhaps even in your own house. Before we came to PNG we lived just down the road from an occult shop. From our Wiccan neighbours we heard unbelievable and sad stories of encounters between our physical world and evil spiritual forces.

 * * * 

Halloween is always a big event in Canada and the US; perhaps the same can be said for our blog readers in other countries. Stores are stocked with candy and costumes and cultish paraphernalia for months in advance. For the most part, it's seen as a bit of harmless fun – kids dressing up in their favourite costumes and knocking on doors to ask for candy. Often there is some recognition that there are some darker elements to it, both historically and in the present, but these are often considered of little consequence as long as we ourselves don't get wrapped up in that part of it. 

Here in PNG, Halloween wouldn't catch on among the locals – because it is all too real for them. Christians certainly wouldn't have anything to do with it. It is hard to deny that Halloween has at least some connections with supernatural evil; why would a Christian want to dabble with that? Christians have been freed from the clutches of Satan; why would we flirt with him again? Truly appreciated Christian freedom will not return to slavery. 

I certainly don't claim to have a complete understanding of these issues. But living in PNG is just beginning to make us a lot more aware of evil spiritual forces – and thankful for Christ's victory over them. I'll just say this: we have to be very careful with things we don't really know about. If we, by our actions, are quick to deny the existence of evil spirits in a given area of life, we are also likely to deny (by implication) the reality of God's spiritual forces fighting against them, and we are increasingly likely to fall prey to those minions of Satan.

 * * * 

Today is Reformation Day. A day on which we celebrate the church's return to the Word of God, away from superstition and fear. It would be fascinating to study beliefs about the spiritual world in the time of the Reformation, even if not in official Roman Catholic doctrine, no doubt alive and well in the folk religion of the day. How the Reformation challenged those views would be an interesting field of research – for another day. 

For now, I'll just close with a stanza from Martin Luther's well-known hymn "A mighty fortress is our God": 

And though this world, with devils filled, 
Should threaten to undo us, 
We will not fear, for God has willed 
His truth to triumph through us. 
The prince of darkness grim, 
We tremble not for him; 
His rage we can endure, 
For lo! his doom is sure; 
One little word shall fell him. 

In those words, I sense a man who knew spiritual struggle. And in those words, I sense a man who could yet go on without fear, standing firm on the Word of God.