By Brian Paris
On a past survey I was on, the survey team quickly completed all our work after we arrived in the village of Uruf. That night we slept in a room in someone’s bush house and since we had minimal travel to the next village, we woke up slowly. While we were in the room packing up all our stuff, an old man came to the window. I leaned my head out to see what he wanted and he whispered to me, “I have a coconut for the lady if she wants to come with me to get it.” Essentially this man was asking me to get the single female member of our team and let her go alone with him into the jungle.
Immediately the sirens went off in my head. This would feel wrong at home, but here it is much worse. Men and women do not make these sorts of ventures alone unless they are married. It’s highly unusual for someone to be so forward about something like this. I tried to deflect it by saying he should just bring the coconut to us and give it to her with all three guys on the team present. He was insistent on going with her, so I told him she was too busy and offered to go with him to get the coconut for her.
He was obviously disappointed at having me instead of her as we walked together to the other end of the village, but there was no other acceptable solution. When we got to his house and sat on his porch, our legs swinging in the breeze, I tried to make some small talk. Mid-sentence he interrupts me by placing his hand on my thigh (a sign of friendship), leans in close and asks me very quietly, “Are you Simon?”
Now the warning bells are really going off in my head. I say, “No, my name is Brian.” He leans back and we sit in silence for a second. I have two options: forget about it because we’ll be leaving shortly and I’ll never see him again, thereby avoiding a conversation that could take me to some very weird places that may leave this man even more confused than he already is; or, pray hard and push the subject. So I prayed in that moment, not sure what to even ask for other than direction.
As the silence deepened and the sun rose higher, bringing the first of many beads of sweat to my forehead, I asked, “Who’s Simon?”
“He is the son of the man whose house you are sleeping in.”
“Did he die?”
He whispers, “Yes.”
This is a common lie that swept PNG when the first whiteskins came over 100 years ago; that white people are the ghosts of deceased Papua New Guineans come back to bring with them a better life. I tried to explain that I am just a man and that all white people are humans like him.
His quiet and saddened response was, “So, the lady is not my Tia?” Now it all makes sense. He wanted my teammate to come because he thought she was his daughter, not because he wanted to make inappropriate advances. What followed showed me that this man, a church leader, loved his daughter (who had died in childbirth three years prior) very much and that he was desperately grasping at any hope to see her again. He told me that she was a Christian and that he too is a Christian. So I talked to him about the hope of heaven and the joy that Tia is currently experiencing in a place so much better than this life. I encouraged him to put his faith in Christ and not the false hopes offered by a world devoid of trust in Christ.
I finished by praying aloud for him asking God to give him strength to deal with his grief and faith to believe that God is looking after Tia and will soon reunite them. When I finished he prayed for me, thanking God for the team coming and the truth God brought to him. He closed by asking God to look out for his daughter and to help him let her go.
Please join me in praying for Simon (his name is also Simon), who is a deeply grieving father. He is struggling with reconciling the reality of pain in this world with the reality of an all-powerful, loving God looking after us. Something I have yet to understand myself. Pray that soon he will be able to read the Bible in his own language to be better equipped to fight the father of lies and come to a better understanding of who God is.
Brian and Hannah Paris are serving as co-linguistic language surveyors.