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.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A board visit

This past week we had a board member, Lionel, visit, along with his friend John. We enjoyed having these guys here, showing them around Lae, and giving them a taste for what we do. Whenever we have visitors, we realize how much we have gotten used to while living here in PNG. For example, before we came here, we were quite accustomed to meetings (church meetings included) generally being conducted in an efficient and business-like manner; here, however, even simple matters take a long time to discuss, because everything has to be crystal-clear to everyone (and often illustrated with a story).

Here are just a few pictures from Lionel and John's time here. You can probably spot a few other things here that look different than back home; feel free to let us know what strikes you as being different!

This crocodile was caught in the Sepik River
and now lives in a pen in Biwat.

Having a look at our new property.

Preaching at Lae City Mission.