Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Dark Side

       Since moving to Papua New Guinea, I’ve witnessed many fascinating customs, met many wonderful people, and enjoyed breath-taking beauty that I have never experienced anywhere else before. Unfortunately, I’ve also witnessed some of the darkest atrocities and heart-breaking sorrows that I never could have imagined before coming to PNG.  This past week seemed full to the brim with tragedy. It is difficult to write about and I’m sure it will be difficult to read. If you can’t bear to hear one more heart-wrenching story this week, then please do not read any further. But if you are willing to travel with me into the heart of the very prevalent darkness, then please read on.

Photo Credit:
         In many traditional PNG tribes there is a very real fear of evil spirits. Any time there is an unexpected death or tragedy, someone must be found responsible and punished. Many times, a woman is singled out and accused of “sanguma” or witchcraft and subsequently killed. This was the unfortunate case of a patient who came to us this week. A child died after choking on food. Two women were accused of sanguma and were subsequently tortured with burning sticks and red-hot bush knives for 36 hours before police rescued them. One lady died; the other was brought by a Lutheran missionary to our hospital. She had severe burns covering 70% of her body and had endured unspeakable abusive trauma. Despite our best efforts, she also succumbed to her injuries. I can’t even comprehend the depth of fear and evil that drives people to mistreat other human beings in this way. It is unfathomable that atrocities like this are still occurring in our modern world today.

         Unfortunately, the tragedies don’t end there. On Friday, we cared for a high school student who presented very ill from complications of a village abortion. Abortions are illegal in PNG, but there are a few people in the villages that will perform abortions using very crude and unclean methods. Not infrequently, we see the infections that result from these illegal procedures. This young student presented in fulminant septic shock from a perforated uterus. Surgery was not enough to control her infection and the ensuing multi-organ failure. I can still hear her mother (who had encouraged her daughter to get the abortion) wailing uncontrollably at her daughter’s bedside as we prepared the body for the morgue. 

       These are just two stories from the many sad cases we saw this week. There were also domestic disputes resulting in stabbings and shootings, family disputes resulting in chops that will likely leave people permanently disabled, and a whole family inadvertently poisoned by wild beans which contain cyanide. 

       In the midst of so much darkness, where can we turn? Jesus claimed, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).  The light of Christ has been shining in this dark land for many decades and some change is taking place, but much darkness still remains.  Jesus has commanded us, his followers to carry his light into this darkness: “You are the light of the world….let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:14,16). Lord, help us to shine your light in this very dark place. Bring healing to the brokenness, drive out the fear and hatred and violence. May your love transform this land. Amen.

Photo credit:

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Independence Day

       Today Papua New Guinea celebrates it's 42nd Independence Day. Here at Kudjip the festivities started at sunrise and are still going. The festivities included a sunrise service and flag-raising ceremony followed by a day of games. Everyone came with the whole family in PNG colors and regalia. Here are a few glimpses of a fun-filled day celebrating Papua New Guinea:

Flag-raising celebration. Credit: David Wan

Miriam and I sporting our colors

OT Staff representing....

...and crushing it in the volleyball tourney

Kickboxing demonstration drew quite the crowd
Surgical ward staff playing in the basketball tourney
Future basketball stars learning to pass the ball

The future here looks very bright.

Happy Independence Day!

Friday, September 8, 2017

Going Home

A few months ago, I shared a story about a crazy day when we had many procedures and sick patients. One of those patients, known as trauma guy “T”, is going home today!

Thomas was one of three pedestrians struck by a truck almost 2 months ago. One of his companions died before reaching the hospital. Thomas had femur fractures in both legs, a pelvic fracture, and severe internal bleeding that required emergency surgery. His course was rocky over the first few days and we weren’t sure if he would survive. He really needed intensive care that we don’t have here. By God’s grace, he turned a corner. After several surgeries for his legs, he started the long road to recovery. Without a physical therapist or a rehab center where we can send him, he has remained in the hospital making slow but steady progress towards regaining mobility. I am happy to report that he is now walking (with assistance) and ready to head home. 
Please continue to pray for Thomas as he recuperates and transitions back to home life. Pray that this experience will increase his faith. He recognizes that God spared his life and he had many opportunities to hear the good news during his 2 months at the hospital. Please continue to pray that we, the hospital staff, may shine the light of Christ to each patient we treat. 

(Patient name and picture shared with permission)

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Unity in Diversity

The Papua New Guinean motto is “Unity in Diversity”. Nowhere is that more apparent than at a PNG cultural show. Once a year, dozens of tribes from several surrounding provinces gather in Mt. Hagen, the largest city in the Highlands region to showcase their unique, traditional dress, music, and dances. Cultural shows were originally organized as a way for warring tribes to gather peaceably in friendly competition. Now it is a way to celebrate and showcase the diverse cultures of Papua New Guinea. 

It was fun to walk through the grounds during the pre-show preparations as each tribe applied their distinctive face paints, feather headdresses and ropes of shell necklaces. I enjoyed learning where each group was from and what unique ‘bilas’ (decorations) they used. 

Many tribes wear the long, colorful plumes of the famed ‘kumul’ (bird of paradise), which is the national bird. Others feature feathers from roosters, peacocks, ‘muruk’ (cassowary: a large flightless bird), or parrots. Some headdresses are hats woven from moss, bark or colorful yarn with beaded bands or leaf decorations. 

Breastplates can be made of bamboo, large shells, boar tusks, or animal furs. Many people use the fur of the ‘kapul’ (cuscus) in their hats, breastplates or skirts. Skirts can also be made of grass, strings of chicken feathers, woven fabric, or just a loincloth with traditional tanket leaves covering the backside. 

Some of the more unique characters are the mud men and the skeleton men. The mud men come from Goroka, a town in the Eastern Highlands Province. It is said that they were once chased by an enemy tribe and forced to hide in a muddy river bed. When they emerged, covered in grey mud, their enemies believed them to be spirits and ran away in fear. Now the mud men make gruesome clay masks to complete their other-worldly guises. One mud man was quite friendly and even let me try on his mask!

The skeleton men are another unique group who paint their bodies with charcoal and ash to give the appearance of skeletons in order to frighten their foes. One man showcased their traditional battle cries as he danced with a pretend spear.  He was quite the performer and seemed to love all the attention.

It was also fun to see the children getting involved, learning the traditions of their ancestors and adding immensely to the cuteness factor. 

Many local artisans attend the show to display their traditional paintings, carvings, shell jewelry, and artifacts. It is truly amazing how God created people with such widely diverse customs - each beautiful and creative in their own way. 

Before the end of the day, my face was painted too (with a bird of paradise in PNG flag colors) , and I joined my new friends as we smiled and laughed. It seems that smiles can cross any cultural barrier and truly unite all of us, no matter our culture. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Christmas in August

        Some of our hospital supplies come from the government; but with budget cuts and supply shortages, we rely heavily on donated items. Lately, we have been short on sterile gloves, sutures, dressing gauze, IV fluids, essential medications… pretty much everything. So you can image our joy when a 20ft shipping container arrived this week packed full of donated medications, surgical supplies, dressing supplies, and much more. It was like Christmas in August! 

Boxes of new supplies lining
the hallway to Central Supply
Unloading boxes in Central Supply.
        The surgical team spent the whole afternoon after clinic opening boxes and squealing in delight when we discovered sterile gloves (we have been out of Dr. Ben’s and my sizes for almost a month now), elastic ACE bandages (who knew a simple bandage could bring such delight), real dressing gauze, foley catheters, hemostatic agents, sterile surgical kits, and so much more. They may seem like simple things, but it’s very hard to do surgery and run a hospital without basic supplies. 

Mr. Joe, Anesthesia Officer, unpacking
much needed anesthesia supplies.
Note the shoe cover he was using as a hat,
until a box of surgical hats was unpacked.
      These containers come approximately every six months, traveling on a cargo ship across the ocean to port in Lae. After passing customs (which can take weeks to months), it is loaded on a truck and makes the 400km journey from the coast, over the mountains, to the highlands (same route through the mountains I traveled when I went to Madang – see earlier post). I can’t imagine how those large trucks make it up some of those grades on the pothole-filled roads. The whole journey can take between 3 to 9 months. 

Ben's favorite item:
hemostatic agents. 
Excited for gloves that fit!
     This container was sent by Project S.A.V.E. a non-profit group that “collects, then re-distributes, quality recycled medical and dental equipment and supplies both locally and around the world, free of charge, in an effort to help people receive needed care who otherwise might not.” Other organizations that regularly supply containers include Nazarene Hospital Foundation and Samaritan’s Purse. We are extremely grateful for these dedicated partners and for everyone who donated supplies or funds to help with shipping costs. These supplies will enable us to continue performing surgeries, saving lives, and sharing God's love to the people here in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.

**If you are interested in ways to donate, please see links to our partner’s website above or check out my How to Support page.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Making A House A Home

When I first arrived in PNG in February, my house was just newly built, surrounded by gravel and rocks from the construction vehicles coming in and out during the wet rainy season.  On the one hand, it looked rather plain without any flowers or gardens, but on the other hand I was given the gift of a blank canvas to fill to my hearts content. Every place I’ve lived in the last 5 years, I’ve always made a vegetable garden. Maybe it’s in my blood, having grown up on a farm, or maybe it’s just the joy of watching things grow and then enjoying the sweet fruit of my labor. 
My neighbors building a 'haus kuk'.
 In the foreground is my garden
plot before work began. 
Barets dug, ready for planting. Note
neighbor's completed cook house in
the background. 
Whatever the reason, I was delighted to find a plot of ground set aside for my garden. Many friends (from my language tutor to co-workers at the hospital to my housekeeper) have helped me get started: weeding, prepping the ground, digging ‘barets’ (ditches), obtaining and planting seeds, and the continual weeding and maintenance.  

Beans, tomatoes, corn, cucumbers,
...pineapple, kaukau,
and bananas.
In addition to a vegetable garden, one of my co-workers built stone planters around the front of my house and filled them with beautiful flowers that have started blooming the last few weeks adding color and cheer.  Now, after 5 months, I have started harvesting tomatoes, cucumbers and green beans. Other crops that are still growing include corn, peanuts, carrots, pineapples, and kaukau (sweet potato). 
Bananas hanging on the
front porch to ripen
Today's bountiful harvest.
There are a few banana trees at the end of my garden and I was very excited when a large bunch of bananas on one of the trees was ready for harvesting. The bunch was hung from my front porch to ripen, covered in a towel to keep the flying foxes (a type of bat) from helping themselves. This week, the whole bunch turned yellow and I have been enjoying banana bread, banana fritters, banana ice cream, banana splits, and just fresh bananas. Keeping gardens is such a big part of the PNG culture and it has been a fun way to connect with and learn from my PNG friends.

Friday, July 21, 2017


I am pleased to introduce the newest member of my household: 

Kira is 8 weeks old. She loves to climb. I frequently feel her little claws shimmying up my pant leg and before I know it, she is perched on my shoulder. Her favorite activities are playing, getting into trouble, and biting fingers or toes. 

Her favorite toy is a crocheted yarn ball. Her favorite foods are tuna and milk, but she will eat sweet potato on occasion and likes cabbage more than I expected. 

She currently resides in my laundry room, but she is gradually overcoming a fear of the great outdoors. Hopefully she’ll turn out to be a good mouser in the future.

Until then, she makes a great neck warmer.