Sunday, April 15, 2012

Biwat ablaze

On Saturday afternoon, we saw huge clouds of black smoke coming up from Biwat. That could only mean one thing: houses were burning. The conflict was escalating.
The meeting between the community leaders and the police that was supposed to happen on Wednesday never went through, because one of the groups didn’t show up. In the end, the police gave up, telling the community: “If you’re going to be like that, you sort it out.” The police also said that if things really got out of hand, they would come in and burn down the whole settlement – and that would include the houses of our church people in the middle (the area that’s called Maramba).

That’s what we were afraid had happened when we saw smoke yesterday.

I went to get more information and see if we could help in any way. It turned out that one group (Gex) had come across to the other side (Biwat proper) in full force, and set house after house on fire. What they didn’t burn, they stole.

There were probably several hundred people gathered on the road on our side of the settlement – watching and waiting from a safe distance. Many had duffel bags and mattresses with them; they had been ready all week to go at a moment’s notice in case it came to this. Hundreds more had fled across the river on the other side of the settlement. Reports are that the people on the receiving end of this raid had run out of bullets and have had to give up. The police did move in for a while, and that seems to have helped prevent new fires starting. About 15-20 houses have been burned down, which is a significant part of the Biwat side of the settlement.

Late afternoon going into early evening, my co-worker Ian and I brought carload after carload of people over to our church building (a few kilometres away) where they could at least spend the night in safety. Some stayed back to guard their homes overnight.

This morning it sounded like things had settled down a bit for the night. People who had stayed back actually managed to sleep, for which we are very thankful. But the conflict is, humanly speaking, far from over. The violence is all built on a desire for revenge; every act of vengeance also needs to be avenged, and obviously that doesn’t lead to peace. The Biwat side has now suffered a huge loss. Once they regroup, they’ll probably want to get back.

The only thing that can help now (or ever) is the gospel. Only if people will truly humble themselves before God and one another can any progress be made. Never before has “love your enemies” seemed so relevant to us. Continue to pray for peace – for the moment and for eternity – for all the people in the settlement.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Battlefield Biwat

Tonight I was planning to preach at a night fellowship in Biwat settlement, where many members of our congregation live. But several people who live there told me it was really not a good idea, because it would be too dangerous tonight. The last few days, Biwat has become a rather volatile place. In fact, some have described it as a battlefield, and I don't think that's an exaggeration.

It's always a tough call when congregation members encourage us not to come - because it is at times like that when the gospel is most needed. We realize our brothers and sisters are concerned for our safety, but we also want to entrust our safekeeping to the Lord. Tonight it seemed pretty clear, though, that even if I did go, there would be no one there to listen.

So what's happening? Biwat settlement has three different groups, representing people who come from three different parts of the Sepik area (towards the Indonesian border). There are two larger groups, and then a smaller group which happens to live right between them. Many of our church members come from this smaller group.

For some time now (years, I think), there has been feuding between these two bigger groups in Biwat. Someone (quite likely drunk) attacks someone from the other group - slashes them with a knife or something like that. Retribution mode kicks in, and the other side has to get even. That never solves problems, of course, but only invites more retribution. Usually the conflict blows over within a day or two, but it's always simmering, waiting for the least excuse to start up again. It has started up again over the last few days, and has become bigger than ever before. Now it's not just knives being brandished and stones being thrown, but guns being fired as well. A couple of houses have been burned down, and there are plenty of threats of more violence. There are conflicting reports on whether or not anyone has been killed, but there certainly have been injuries.

The people in the third group want nothing to do with it all. But simply because they live right between the two groups, they are caught right in the middle of it. They are bystanders, but their home has become a battleground. Shots are fired on their street, and they live in fear of being hit by stray bullets. Women and children leave home for safety during the day, and come home at night to sleep - but even then have to sleep with one eye open. They don't want to pick sides - but their neutrality and unwillingness to help makes them suspect to both sides.

We as missionaries feel rather helpless sometimes. We are ever so thankful that our brothers and sisters and their relatives are not joining in the fighting. But what can we do? We did have some members of the congregation come to our compound to share what had been happening and to pray together. Prayer is what we continue to do, and prayer is also what we ask you to do. Pray that God may send his angels to protect his people (Psalm 91:11) and turn the hearts of those who are fighting to hearts of peace.

Tonight there was supposed to be a meeting between the community leaders and the police to sort things out. We're not sure yet what the outcome of that was. May our Lord use that also to put an end to this cycle of violence. But most of all, we pray that the gospel will really penetrate into people's lives. That alone will bring lasting peace.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Resurrection Sunday in Lae

Today was Resurrection Sunday, our first in PNG. Without the resurrection, we certainly wouldn't be here in PNG. There would be no good news to preach, and there would be no Great Commission from a resurrected Lord to his disciples. Thankfully, our Lord did rise from the dead – and not just to give our family something to do in PNG, but to give life to all who believe in him.

Tim preached on the resurrection story in church this morning. After the service, as is done more often on such a special day, we had a time where people could come forward and sing songs as a group. We really enjoyed that! Here are pictures of a few of the groups that sang.

We also handed out our latest issue of Tulait magazine. That's a magazine that we put out a few times per year and encourage everyone to hand out to all their friends. It seems to go over very well. One lady from our congregation got her hands on 100 of them on Friday and handed them all out at the market with great enthusiasm.

And to top it all off, we had a potluck lunch at church. We got to enjoy typical Papua New Guinean dishes of rice, greens, chicken, sweet potato, and cooking bananas. To be honest, having spent some time in the country now, we do find the food more enjoyable now than we did at first.

In the evening, we had another potluck, this time with ex-pat friends. Also very enjoyable and relaxing. The power did go out, which is not at all unsual. The building's generator also kicked in, but it seemed the building's designers had decided to prioritize on which areas of the building get generator power. And the entrance gate (which is the first one I've seen in Lae that's electric-powered) was, apparently, low on the priority list. So when we wanted to go home, we found out that we were trapped in the parking lot until the power went back on. There was no way of telling how long that might be (it had been off for well over an hour already), and we were already starting to wonder if we should walk home or sleep over. After about 10 minutes of waiting, the lights (the ones that were also low on that priority list) flickered on and off a few times, and finally stayed on long enough to open the gate. As soon as the gate was open, the power went off again, but at least we were on our way home!