Sunday, September 9, 2012

Purchasing Land

For the past half year or so, we have been working hard to secure a plot of land next to our church property (see map here). On this plot of land, we hope to build classrooms for our school, as well as housing for teachers and us missionaries (to save on exorbitant rent costs). And then there are any number of possibilities for how we could further develop the land and expand the mission work.

Acquiring land in PNG is nowhere near the relatively simple process it is in Canada. That’s because most of the land here, including the portion we are interested in, is considered “customary land.” To put it simply, customary land is very closely tied to the local people, and it is very much a part of their identity. As such, customary land (at least in Lae) can never really be sold; at most it can be “sold” as a 99-year lease so that it can always come back into the hands of the local clan.

Before saying that’s ridiculous, we Westerners do well to consider the close connection that Old Testament Israel also had with their God-given land. They also were not to sell it, and the Year of Jubilee would ensure that the land returned to its rightful owners-under-God. The parallels are not exact, but they do help us to appreciate more the very different approach to land in PNG. And while it may be frustrating as a Westerner to deal with land issues here, knowing how things were done in Israel does give us a bit more respect for the Papua New Guinean culture of land.

Customary land in PNG can become “government land” (i.e. land that is registered and that can then be leased to people or companies outside the clan). Right now, we are in the process of getting that done, so that we can have a proper title for the property. To begin development on the land before the title is in our hands would be foolish. Nevertheless, we have been clearing some of the tall grass on the property, so that people can see that we’re interested in it and serious enough about it to put some work into it.

Cutting grass, with machetes of course. In rainy Lae, grass
only takes a month or two to grow this tall. 

All that dead grass has to be burned.

In May we also held a three-night evening outreach event to dedicate the property, by preaching about marriage, family, and parenting, and showing (parts of) the movies Fireproof and Courageous.

Ready for the outreach evenings. Stage, screen, and
AV equipment hut all put up by boys from  Lae City Mission.

Land ownership within a clan is a complicated issue. Although one man in a clan may be the “owner” (or “papa”) of a plot of land, selling that plot has to involve others in the community, because it is in the end a community affair (and other members of the community also get a financial slice of the pie). We are dealing with one man who appears to be the “papa” of this property. But in recent months, the clan chief has said we’re doing it all wrong and he should be getting the money. To make a long story short, this has caused us a lot of stress as we attempt to negotiate with these two men, who won’t really talk to each other.

But this past Saturday, after months of trying to get the two men together, we had a meeting where both of them showed up. That was an answer to prayer in itself! They agreed to settle the matter through mediation with the village elders. That means that the two men, together with the leaders in the village, will come to an agreement with which everyone is happy. This is a big relief to us. Even if not everything is resolved, things are finally moving in the right direction.

Please do pray that there will soon be a positive resolution to this land issue, and that the long-awaited title will soon clear the bureaucratic red tape. Pray that the people we are dealing with may not be driven by greed for money, but by a love for God, also as they realize more and more that what we plan to do with the land will have many direct benefits for their own families.

Someday, the Lord willing, this will be the driveway into
our property. The property extends to those palm trees
in the back.

This is not a car ad – just an overview of the part of the property that has
been cleared of grass.