Sunday, November 20, 2011

Life Goes On, But...

It's been just over 2 weeks since the unrest began in Lae and at first glance it would seem that things have basically gotten back to normal. There are no longer thousands of armed young men roaming the streets of Lae preparing for a fight! We're thankful for that, but when you look a little closer, you soon realize that the situation remains volatile and still needs much prayer.

Our children had a full week of school, but the public schools have all remained closed. Even the hospital's services have been affected and it is only open for emergency situations. This past week, some of the businesses made the decision to evacuate their ex-pat employees to Australia. But I think the worst of it all is the rumours that continue to fly around which cause greater uncertainty and evoke fear in the hearts of many Papua New Guineans. Such as, the rumours of fights happening in different areas; of counterfeit police officers arresting people and later killing them; of doctors and nurses not properly caring for patients and letting them die if they are from the other tribal group; and of witchcraft and what they call "nature-men" who are gathering their young men together and wielding the powers of darkness against their enemies.

The thing about rumours is that it's often difficult to discern whether they're true or not. In the case of the rumours of black magic, however, it is apparent that there is a very real spiritual battle going on here (Ephesians 6:12). Although PNG is a "Christian nation", there are many who still bend the knee to Satan and take part in traditional ancestor worship. We were not surprised then to have it confirmed that the leader of the large group of rioters who started all of this, was one of these so-called "nature-men". In what became a deadly deception, he believed he was invincible and that his black magic would protect him from the bullets of the police officers. Our neighbour is a member of the police task force and was involved in setting up the barricade to try to keep the large group from coming back into the city two weeks ago and wreaking more havoc. As the leader continued to bring the crowd past the police barricade, it became apparent that they would have to shoot him down if they wanted to get the crowd under control. And that is what they did. It is so sad that he, and so many others, could be so deceived. Still the situation could've been that much worse if the police had not succeeded. Praise and thanks be to God for using them to keep it under control. He most definitely is , our Mighty Fortress, and He will win the battle!

And so we do ask you to keep praying, always being thankful for your faithfulness in prayer...
  • for all those who have been and are still being affected by this tribal warfare (those who have lost loved ones and their homes; those still living in fear).
  • for those who are being deceived by the father of lies, that the TRUTH of the Gospel may illuminate the darkness in their lives.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Getting There

On the morning of Day 7, it seems safe to say that things are really settling down. They did not need to declare a State of Emergency and so the army has not been sent in to restore order. Schools and businesses reopened yesterday, although probably only about half the children and employees were there. Many still stayed home out of fear, and public transportation was not fully operational yet. Hopefully, another day of peace will help to put the schools, businesses and public transport back into full swing again, albeit with tighter security.

Yesterday, 3000 Morobeans gathered to present a letter addressed to our Prime Minister Peter O'Neill. In it they stated that they will agree to stop fighting if certain conditions are met, the most significant one being the call to maintain law and order at the major bus stops and main areas in town. And certainly this seems to be the straw that broke the camel's back and started the unrest---when the Morobeans felt they needed to take the law into their own hands to deal with the crimes being committed in these areas by, supposedly, the youth from the highlands.

If any good has come out of this whole ordeal, it is that the government has been forced to take action and it certainly seems it has been negligent. One of the newspapers reported that the Morobe Provincial Law and Order Committee set up many years ago to monitor law and order trends in the city hasn't met for the last three years! Now the government has appointed an assembly law and order committee to look into ethnic tension in the city. Here's hoping they will take their task very seriously! They also stated that there will be more police presence at the major bus stops in town.

Lessons have been learned, eyes have been opened, solutions to the problems will be sought, but this has all come at a great cost. The official report is that six are dead. We're sure many more have been injured. Many houses have been burnt down and a large number of innocent families have again been displaced. And possibly, the tension between the two groups is even higher.

That's when you realize again the great need for prayer. We need to pray for this city -the youth, the leaders, but no less the parents and grandparents and children. For at bottom the issue is one of the heart. Theft, rape, murder, rioting, uncontrolled anger, disrespect, lying and corruption are all indicators that the heart of 'man' is desperately evil...continually. That heart needs to be purged and cleansed, atoned for by the precious blood of our Saviour, the Prince of Peace. We will soon enter the time of advent, we pray that the people of Lae will understand what that means.

There is one who has come to redeem, to set free, to bring peace and reconcile us to God carrying our sin and guilt and shame on the cross so that in Him and only in Him we can know true Peace! That is the kind of peace that will last forever!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Day 5

Thank you everyone for your support and prayers! It's amazing to know that people all over the world are praying for Lae. And your prayers are needed! We know this is more than just a physical struggle, and that there is also a very real battle going on in the spiritual world. The Prince of darkness will do what he can to keep the hatred and fighting and killing happening and to try to break up the unity within the body of Christ. He may try, but Christ will keep His flock together, and protect His own!

Last night around 9:00pm, we got a frantic call from the families living on the church property saying that there was panic again in the settlement, with people running everywhere, saying that the Morobeans were coming to fight, but they weren't sure which way they were coming from. They were very afraid. Ian asked if they wanted him to come pick them up, but they didn't want to risk him coming over there either. In the end, they turned the lights off so as not to attract attention to themselves, and they prayed. After that, in the midst of the chaos, they felt the peace that passes understanding. And the Morobeans never did come. We think that the increased police presence (recruits were sent in from Port Moresby and the Highlands) held them off at the back of the settlement.

Today, was almost a normal day. Stores and businesses reopened; people seemingly went about their lives as they normally do. We were able to re-stock our fridge and cupboards. Jonathan and Karlyn had a fun day off of school swimming in the pool and playing with the other kids in the compound. However, there was another reality check, in a certain area outside of the city, we heard that the fighting continued and that there have been more deaths. It's difficult to know what's really happening and what are just rumours and certainly the Father of lies loves to twist the truth to put fear in the hearts of many. A friend called this morning to say that she heard from more than one source that the town water had been intentionally contaminated and that we shouldn't touch it. This put us into a bit of a tailspin, especially since I was in the middle of doing the dishes and laundry. We were very skeptical that this could occur, but then again nothing really surprises us anymore and many people were saying it was true. In the end, it wasn't, thankfully, but this just added to the stress of the whole situation.

Tomorrow, school will reopen again and we hope we will be that much closer to a peaceful resolution. Please keep praying--not only that the fighting will stop, but also that God will use this to bring people to Himself!

We also want to praise God for His care and protection over our coworkers, Tim and Francine Sikkema, this past weekend. As they are in the middle of cultural training, they're living in a village for 5 weeks--and are about 2 hours from town and the nearest doctor. Tim ate some grubs and had a toxic reaction to them--and even went in and out of consciousness a few times until his village papa told him to eat some charcoal. This worked quickly to help absorb the toxins in his stomach and stop the effects of the allergic reaction. It was a very frightening experience for them, and we're thankful that the Lord spared his life. And he is doing much better today! Their village papa has sent out a "decree" that no one in the village is allowed to give him anything unusual to eat--looks like it's just kaukau (sweet potato) and kumu (greens) from here on in!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Unrest in Lae--Day 4

When we woke up this morning, we weren't sure if it would be safe enough to worship at our church, but a couple phone calls to the members there and we decided it should be ok. The benches were a little emptier than usual as many stayed home because of the uncertainty. Smaller in number, but still we offered worship and praise up to the Lord and a message on Ephesians 6:18 was very fitting during this time of unrest. ("And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints."). We do need to be fervent in prayer as reports of injuries and deaths continue and the crowds are massing for payback.

Those living at our church witnessed much pain and at times feared for their own lives when they met up with the crowds yesterday. One couple shared that they were walking along the road when a father and son came running towards them and basically fell into their arms, just shaking with fear. They had just escaped from their burning house. Another family fled their home and slept on the floor of the church, fed and looked after by the members who were still there. Others spoke of being up all night, watching and waiting, wondering what would happen.

The situation remains tense and uncertain. There are rumours that the Morobeans will try to present another petition to the Governor tomorrow. Police patrols are around town and also along the outskirts. It looks like the military will also be deployed. But even as we say all this, we know that the Lord is in control. Nothing will happen outside of His will. So thankful for that.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Things Have Gotten a Little Chaotic


The headline on the front page of the newspaper yesterday read, "Lae in Chaos" and certainly things have been a bit crazy around here the last few days.

As is most often the case, the chaos is a result of a clash between two tribal groups--this time two very large groups--the people from this province of Morobe and those from the Highlands. "More than a thousand Morobean youths had decided to take the law into their own hands to bring back peace", the paper read. Except they were trying to bring peace with bushknives, sticks and rocks, in their hands. While this large group was waiting outside government offices to be addressed by the governor, a fire broke out at a shop near the main market and hundreds rushed to the burning building, hoping to loot whatever they could. As the police came to restore order to that part of the city, others took advantage and tried to begin looting shops at another area in town. It really was chaotic.

This resulted in many shops, businesses and schools being closed. Our children's schools are already closed on Monday too. Later in the day yesterday we saw large groups of men and even boys, still carrying knives and sticks and rocks, walking past our gate and apparently heading out to an area further out of town to fight.

It's too early to tell what's happening today, but definitely we will be more careful when we go out---we have no choice as we do need some groceries to get us through the weekend. We will be careful but we do not worry about being targeted as this issue is really between the two groups and we are very noticeably not part of either of them! Although there is the chance of unknowingly getting caught in the middle of something. And that uncertainty makes the situation a bit worrisome...But we are in the Lord's hands--there's no better place to be!

All the shops are closed. There will be no buying groceries today. We can make the food in our house stretch for a couple days, but our PNG friends who typically buy what they need for the day everyday will find it more difficult. Thankfully, quite a few of them have gardens, but still the situation will get desperate quite quickly.

Throughout the day, we make and receive phone calls--our friends and church members are all ok so far, but there is fighting in a few areas around the outskirts of town. Everyone is very tense and it is uncertain what will happen. It is confirmed that the police have already shot and killed 2 of the Morobeans. Rumour has it that there have been other deaths as well.

Ian receives a call from the families living on our church property asking if he can pick up the women and children and bring them to a safer place. Our church is situated on the edge of one of the largest settlements and as Ian drives up, he witnesses hundreds of women and children carrying as many of their earthly belongings as possible and fleeing the settlement. Where they will all go, we have no idea. But the Morobeans have been burning down homes of the Highlanders at the back of the settlement already and the worry is that a big fight will come up in that settlement.

Please pray with us for PEACE.