Knock, knock. It was Sabbath evening, and we had just arrived home from the church AY program when we heard the knocking. It was one of the local carpenters we had hired to help us build a fuel shed on the riverbank. Hesitantly, he told us that he and the other men on our construction crew would not be at work the following week. “Why?” I asked. Our trip to town to purchase 1,400 liters of fuel for our boat was fast approaching. “Did something happen?”
“A man from Pekwe village died and will be buried tomorrow.”
“Oh, sorry! Was he your relative?”
“No, but we will be showing respect for him by not working.”
“Okay,” I said, “we understand. David and I will work on the shed next week since we need to get it finished.”
“Oh, no! You can’t do that!” the carpenter gasped. “Everyone must be absolutely quiet and make no noise in the village for the next three days. We must show respect.”
Now we were confused. We were familiar with the PNG custom of burying the body within 24 hours after death, but this local custom of stopping all work to respect the deceased was new to us. If all the surrounding villages did no work for days every time someone died (which, sadly, happens quite often), how would anything get done?
The next morning, David and I showed our respect by not turning on our generator to use power tools. Instead we cut boards using a hand saw, and we refrained from making loud noises. But we didn’t stop working. The relatives of the deceased asked to borrow our motor canoe to carry the body to the burial place. We showed respect by removing our hats and standing at attention as our canoe passed by, loaded with mourners. Not everyone went to the burial, but no one else worked. Someone told us that anyone not showing respect could be accused of causing the man’s death. How could this be? We began asking questions, but no one seemed willing or able to explain.
The second morning, we again worked on our fuel shed using hand tools. We could tell some of the people watching us wanted to help but were afraid. Somehow, we felt that we were doing the right thing.
That night, a church member came to our house to talk. He told us that the respect ritual was actually for the spirit of the dead man. It was part of a larger ritual that lasted four days. During this time, no one in the village could cook or make noise close to the house of mourning. The relatives of the dead had to stay inside the house of mourning where they smoked marijuana and drank beer. Even if they needed to use the toilet, they couldn’t go out alone. On the third day, the relatives would chase the dead man’s spirit from the house and send it into the jungle with food and anything else they thought it would need in the afterlife. This was demon worship, not respect for the dead in the sense we had been led to believe.
On the third morning, we got up and went to work on our fuel shed with a prayer in our hearts. We knew we were taking sides in a spiritual fight. We were heartsick that some of our local church members were participating in the ritual of demon worship, coerced by fear that they would be blamed for the death. Later, as we talked about it with our church members and asked them questions, they began to open up about the supernatural occurrences taking place in the village. Fear is a strong motivator for them.
The gospel first came to the May River and Ama region back in the 1960s, but the people here are still slaves to the rituals and customs of their demon-worshipping past. The Bible says in John 8:32, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
Unfortunately, the villages vacillate between Bible truth and old customs. When a missionary comes, they break from the rituals of Satan. But when the church has no leader, the people go back to their old ways.
We have come to teach the people about Jesus who has the power to free them permanently. We have come with a gospel of peace and not of fear. We take their hands and encourage them to break away from the power of the demons. Matthew 10:28 says, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
Please pray that our people will open their hearts to the Holy Spirit. We so much want them to enjoy the fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Are these not much better motivators than fear? They must decide.