Monday, February 20, 2012

The Ethics of Theft

One afternoon last week I went to a store in town to pick up my wife’s birthday present. I found a parking spot in front of the bank next door, noted the four security guards standing a few metres away, and decided this was definitely a safe place to park. Normally I don’t leave anything in the car, but that day I really didn’t want to be bothered carrying around my bilum (string bag) of stuff. Besides, all that was in there was a water bottle (I thought). No big deal if someone takes a lowly water bottle. So I hid the bag in the back seat.

I locked the doors and headed into the store.

When I came out, the back door was slightly ajar. When I got into the driver’s seat and reached for a sip of water – there was nothing there. Well that’s a bit of a pain, I thought. And not really a nice thought that someone managed to break into the car, with four security guards right there. But at least there was nothing of value in the bag.

But then as I was driving I realized that my mobile phone wasn’t in my pocket. That must have been in the bag too. Well, that’s a bit of a pain – but at least it was just a cheap $20 phone and not an iPhone or something else expensive.

And then I came to the realization that our camera was also in that bag. It was about three years old and starting to act up a bit, so maybe we were ready for a new one anyway. But still, there were a few pictures on there we hadn’t uploaded to the computer yet. And a bunch of older pictures as well – did we really want a criminal to have our family pictures?

I called my own phone, and as I expected, someone answered. The guy was not at all ashamed about having stolen my phone. He said if I wanted my things back, I could meet him at such-and-such a parking lot with some money, and I could have it all back.

Now I leave it to you. What would you do?

Give him some money to get your things back?
Go to the parking lot and start shouting, so that the crowds would tackle him to the ground and get your stuff back for you?
Buy a police officer’s services for $20 and hope he does something?
Do nothing?
Do something else?

Lae begins to wake up around 6 a.m. every day.
It may look like snow on those mountains, but those are just clouds.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Searching for survivors of the Rabaul Queen

Last week, the MV Rabaul Queen sank off the coast of Finschhafen, about 100 km east of Lae. You’ve probably heard about it on the news. A tragic event, and this time quite close to home for us. And yet I didn’t realize at that time how closely I would be involved. Somehow or other, a few days later, I was asked to help out with the search and rescue mission by looking for survivors and bodies.

I would end up spending two days on a helicopter, searching over the waters of the Solomon Sea. The pilot and I spent hours covering various search areas assigned by Australian Search and Rescue, scanning the waters below, hoping against hope to find someone alive yet several days after the disaster.

When we started our search, only two bodies had been found. We added to that count. We found one woman who had died in the disaster, and not so far away, one empty half-submerged life raft. Those are unforgettably vivid images that bring a lot of emotions and questions. This is a woman who remains anonymous to me, and yet must have friends and family who will miss her terribly. I know now what they don’t know – that she has died – but I don’t know who she is and I am powerless to inform her loved ones. I wonder… what were the last few moments of this woman’s life like? Did she have children with her who also died – or survived? Was she possibly on that life raft for a while, only to die of exposure or be washed away by a wave? Will I get to meet this woman in glory some day? Many more questions were mulling around in my mind as we continued the search.

Being in a small helicopter, it was not our job to retrieve anything or anyone from the water. I’m rather glad for that; I’m sure that would be even more difficult. We just radioed in our GPS coordinates and others would take care of the rest.

We spent the night in Popondetta, and the next day continued our search. We found nothing more – just driftwood. We also some flew over and searched around some beautiful coral reefs and islands. I found there was a terrible paradox in this whole search and rescue mission. Here we were, flying over some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen, places teeming with life that the ultra-rich of the world pay big bucks to see – and yet in this beautiful place, we were surrounded by ugly death, looking for more death.

We returned to Lae. The next day, my co-worker Ian and I went to the disaster centre in Lae, where many of the survivors and victims’ families were gathered. Now there are human faces and names to this tragedy. Real people, suffering real loss. We did our best to give encouragement in Scripture and prayer, guiding people throughout their intense suffering to still cling to God, who allowed this to happen in his sovereign will and yet is also our only hope in this life and beyond. “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God” (Psalm 146:5).

Refuelling at a remote jungle location. 

The PNG coastline along the Solomon Sea.


Searching in the rain proved quite a challenge.