Franceska, a 70-ish Papua New Guinean (“My mother held me as a baby during The War [WWII].”) has been my friend for over twenty-three years. I met her when I first came to PNG in 1993 and she worked part-time as a housekeeper for a PBT family, a popular job for uneducated women coming to town from the villages. When that family left for the States, I asked Franceska to work for me one day a week. I had in mind that she could help me learn the Tok Pisin language. However, God had other plans in mind, and He provided me with a strong Christian friend, and at times a substitute mother for my own, living so far away. I also often encouraged Franceska in her faith in Christ.
In July, I boarded a plane in the States to spend a month and a half in PNG. The first thing on my agenda was to join over 300 people at the Mborena Kam New Testament Dedication. I wasn’t about to miss seeing God’s Word arriving into Mbore hands. What a celebration we all had!
A few days after I arrived in country, I drove to say hello to Franceska at her poor village house on the outskirts of town. In the front of her yard was a large tent made from a few big blue tarps. Underneath the tarps sat Franceska along with about ten others. Her family was finishing up a haus krai, a PNG custom to mourn the death of a family member. When Franceska saw me, she came and wailed on my shoulder and told me that her eldest son had died the month before. I was able to sit with her as she shared with me how Willie had died. I returned later on a Monday to check on her.
I returned on Saturday, the last day of the haus krai when Franceska, as well as Willie’s widow, had now bathed and exchanged their black mourning clothes for clean clothes, and the family would take down the tent. I gladly complied when Franceska asked me to take photos of her with her elderly brother and sister and print them at the PBT office.
It had been a month since Franceska had been outside the yard and her mourning was now over. So, after sharing a family meal under the tarp, she appreciated that I was able to drive her and her son around town to distribute thank you gifts in return for those who had brought food to the haus krai.
This week while busy in the Publications Office I got another call from Franceska asking if I would take her to the hospital. Bees that have an unusually painful sting had stung her. I stopped what I was doing and drove to her house. She met me with a hand of bananas in the PNG practice of reciprocation.
On the surface, all this help I was giving to my long-time friend wasn’t any big deal. But I saw it differently. I arrived in the country with the intention of serving God in the Publications Office. Nevertheless, as He often does, He had other plans as well. On my second day’s visit, Franceska was alone with her grandsons and we were able to talk. I knew that she was concerned that Willie died because he took care of all her needs. I shared encouraging Bible verses that remind us God is our Provider, not man. She agreed and told me that when Willie died, she had been praying and worrying to God that he was the only son who took care of her, and how would she now cope? God had been reminding her to trust Him. Then, when I arrived unexpectedly, she saw God encouraging her that He knows her needs and He would take care of her. Knowing Franceska, what God teaches her from this experience, she will then use to encourage her sons, daughters and grandchildren to trust Jesus. But not only them — anyone God has plans for her to share with!
Lori Witham works in the Publications Department, serving remotely from the USA as a desktop publishing specialist.