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: www.abc.net|
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.