For more than a year, our village has been anticipating the election of the Member of Parliament (MP) for East Sepik Provence. MPs live in the capital city and are powerful people in the Papua New Guinea government. Last year the eligible adults in all the villages in our district were counted and their names put onto a voter list. Our province has five districts. We learned that 24 men and one woman were running for the MP seat. Johnson, an Adventist man from May River, was on the list of candidates. This would be his sixth run for the MP seat. In the past, he had consistently come in second or third. But three months ago, our province’s current MP died. Suddenly, Johnson was considered the candidate most likely to win.
A house was quickly built in May River so the men could gather and talk politics. Posters with Johnson’s face appeared everywhere. Excitement began to build, and all work stopped. The men we had hired to construct our house hurried off to gather with the other men and talk politics. Riding in motor canoes, the candidates went up and down the rivers, making many speeches and promises.
Finally, the first day of voting arrived (the process would take about three weeks). Three teams were assigned to collect all the paper
ballots in our province. A helicopter transported these teams with the ballots and a police escort from village to village. Each village had one day for everyone to come and cast their votes. If someone was absent from the village at the time of the election, his relative could vote in his place.
Johnson came and spent a couple of afternoons at our home. He has a nice house here at May River, but as a business man and politician, he spends the majority of his time in the city, so we rarely get a chance to connect. We talked politics and shared our dreams. My dream is to construct a Center of Influence here on government land. The building would be an adult education school where we could teach Bible classes, literacy in Tok Pisin and English, computer skills, typing, health awareness, mechanics, carpentry, business, sewing, woodworking, welding, etc. These classes would not happen all at once, but as we had time and materials. Johnson spoke of the projects he would like to bring to our area, such as an elementary school, more medical clinics and an airstrip.
After three weeks, all the ballots had been collected, and it was time to count them. My most experienced construction worker left to help count the votes and provide protection to Johnson. Here in PNG, everyone votes for their first, second and third choices for MP. So they count and recount the votes eliminating candidates and distributing their voters according to their second choice until one candidate wins with a majority of the votes. This process took a whole week and was a very stressful time in our village. Early in the voting, Johnson was running in eighth place because they had started the count with a ballot box from another district. But in the end, with support from nearly 100 percent of our district’s voters, Johnson won the election, becoming the first-ever MP from the Upper Sepik.
When news of Johnson’s win arrived by canoe everyone started shouting and dancing. People beat drums and raced back and forth along the riverbank in ecstasy. Only a few minutes later, they became an out-of-control mob of drunks and vandals. Carrying machetes, axes and bows and arrows, they stormed Johnson’s brother’s house, broke it apart and stole all the valuable metal roofing. Next, they demolished an old government house and took all the lumber and roofing, broke into the community center and stole paint and other government supplies, and finally destroyed the government school building where we have been teaching Tok Pisin literacy. People shouted at them to stop destroying our school building but they responded with arrows. In a matter of minutes our joy had been turned to sorrow. I don’t believe they were trying to be malicious against us, just caught up in the excitement.
Others were greedy and took the opportunity to loot materials.
We had 10 students regularly reading the Bible out loud in that classroom. We believe Satan used this opportunity to try to stop our school. It is difficult having class out in the rain and blazing sun. This past week we met under umbrellas for shade. But the students still want to study. When we told them that we wouldn’t stop classes, they stood up and clapped their hands in joy.
We talked with a village councilman about the loss of our school. We found out that his son was one of the men who stole the school’s roof. We asked for justice to be done, but he just shrugged and said he was powerless to do anything. He told us that the looters had been drinking beer and smoking marijuana and couldn’t be stopped. If Johnson wants the police to come, he can call them himself.
Please pray for our students that they will not get discouraged and stop coming to read the Bible Monday through Thursday every week. We know that we are struggling against the powers of darkness, but we serve a mighty God who can turn this curse into a blessing.