By Bethaney Butler
December 2010. A couple of things happened in December that were not fun things to have to experience. First, I went to the village for a couple of weeks. Normally, I fly to the village and within 50 minutes of leaving Madang, I am at my front doorstep. This particular time though, I chose to travel from Madang to Wewak (the capital of East Sepik Province) via a passenger ship leaving at 4:30pm on December 7th and arriving the following morning around 7:30am. Then I spent the morning doing some last minute buying in Wewak before travelling 6 hrs in public transportation, which broke down along the way. By 7:30pm though, we were loaded into a dugout canoe with an outboard motor attached and heading up the great Sepik River. About 11:30pm we were all tired and fading quickly. We stopped at a village along the way and crashed with some friends for the night. Early Thursday morning we again piled into the canoe and continued the journey to the village.
The first Saturday that I was there, I came up at 8:00am on the 2-way radio, my only way of communication to the outside world, only to receive some unpleasant news. My Dad had gone to see our private doctor after severe vomiting on Thursday afternoon. The doctor diagnosed him with cellulitus and his blood sugar levels were not good (he’s diabetic), the doctor felt like he needed to be admitted to the main hospital immediately and put on IV antibiotics. He was later advised that he needed to seek medical help outside of PNG.
What could I do? I was in the middle of the jungle. To get my mind off things, I went to the river to do laundry. After my laundry was done and strewn across the beach to dry, I spotted a huge log that had washed up on the shore. Perfect, I thought. I went over and laid down on the log, away from everyone. I began to pray. I prayed for Dad, of course, and many other things. One part of my prayer sticks out so clearly in my mind, I prayed for the Waran people, people who are so close to my heart. I prayed that there would be a revival in that land and that God would reveal himself in new ways to them, that they would trust him and rely on him in the good and bad times, that there would be transformation through receiving the Word of God in their heart language.
Shortly after I finished my prayer and rejoined my group that I had come to the river with, there was commotion in the village. My best friends husband ran down the bank to the river yelling, “Bethaney! Hold up! Hold up!” People started grabbing everything from their houses and shoving it in large bilums (string bags). People I knew were running past me with bush knives and spears. I tried to stop some of them to get a better understanding of the situation, but everyone was focused on warning others and getting out of the village.
I quickly ran to my house and grabbed anything of real value. I grabbed some food and water too, not knowing how long I may be away from the village. Someone had already disconnected the 2-way radio and had it packed. I came out of the house and just started following the crowd up the village, where we were going, I didn’t know. After about an hour of briskly walking through the jungle we came to my village brothers’ garden. He has a small house there. A group of about 20 of us gathered there for the next couple of hours, waiting, silently and impatiently.
It took awhile of sitting in the thick, lush jungle before any clear news got to me and I eventually was told it was safe to return to the village. I made my way back to an eerie, empty village. Most of the people around were men who were still armed with bush knives and spears. Once back in the village, I went directly to my house and hooked up the 2-way radio. It turns out that an armed gang of 11 men stopped 2 canoes just below the village, an approximate 15 minute walk from where I was at the river and robbed them taking their canoes and outboard motors too. Thankfully no one was hurt. I was able to let our sister village down river know about the situation and to be on the watch for these armed me. The gang ended up holding up 2 other canoes along the river and robbing them of everything.
Just two days before this, on Thursday, I travelled to the village the same way this gang left. On Friday, I travelled with a canoe full of people to a nearby village, which is where the two canoes that got held up were coming from, with the intention of spending the night and returning on Saturday. At the last minute my group made the choice to go ahead and return to the village instead of spending the night there. Had I spent the night, there’s a big chance I would have been in the middle of this hold up.
By Monday my parents had decided that it was best for Dad to be taken to Cairns, Australia for better medical attention, and had tickets to leave on Tuesday.
A SIL helicopter pilot stopped by one afternoon to refuel, he asked me how I was doing, and I told him I was alright. He had heard about Dad and offered to get me out of the village if I needed/wanted to leave. As tempting as his offer was, Mom and Dad had already left for Cairns, and I preferred to stay with my Waran family. I knew I was exactly where I needed to be.
There were many opportunities to share about God’s goodness and his love for his people. This mostly took place in deep personal conversations. I always feel as though I am encouraged more than I encourage when I am with the Waran people. God has definitely not forgotten them, and some are slowly finding their way back to Him. It is encouraging to see them struggling and growing as Christian men and women. I am always so encouraged to see my Waran brothers and sisters standing firm in Christ and reflecting his glory. Please continue to pray for them and me as we continue to try and mirror Christ in our everyday lives.
A small Cessna 206 aircraft picked me up on December 21st and took me back to Madang. I was greeted by my wonderful roommate with a thermos of iced coffee! I had decided to remain in PNG for Christmas and celebrate with my PBT family. On December 27th though, I flew to Cairns, Australia to be with Mom and Dad.
Bethaney Butler is a Short Term Assistant serving in the area of logistics.