Cargo Cults and Cookie Tossing

This week kicked off with one of the most unique experiences our lives!

Matt and Christine are New Tribes Missionaries to the Manam people.  They live on a volcanic island just off the coast of Papua New Guinea.  Recently, the volcano erupted (which happens quite frequently), and they were forced to leave the island from the ash and smoke.  On Sunday, they were set to return and asked us if we would like to take the 6 hour boat trip with them to help clean out their home and meet their tribe.  We jumped at the opportunity.  Early Monday morning, we headed for the boat launch, got our things packed on their speedboat, and began the long trek to their island with them and the boat driver from their tribe, James.  I took a Dramamine just in case I got seasick because I’d never been out on the open ocean for that long before.

a picture I found online of Manam Island
a picture I found online of Manam Island

We were going along smoothly, enjoying the view for about an hour and a half when suddenly, the boat engine died.  At this point we were out on the open seas (which were pretty rough).  As James and Matt struggled to get the motor to kick back in, we were getting pounded by waves.  It only took about three minutes before Jacob, Christine and I began getting really sea sick.  I was really nauseous and slipped down into the fetal position on the boat floor, where dirty water kept sloshing all over me.  But I didn’t care.  I was so nauseous and dizzy and thought I was going to lose it all to the ocean.  Meanwhile, Jacob was throwing up at the front of the boat, and Christine at the back of the boat.  James and Matt were unaffected, but could not get the motor to start.  Land was much too far away to swim to, and the one paddle we had on board was useless against the giant waves.  Matt attempted to call people for help but got no response for about 20 minutes.  Those were the worst 20 minutes of my life.  I was praying so hard that God would push our boat towards shore and not out to sea, and that someone would respond so we could get help from this horrible situation.  Finally we got a mechanic on the phone and he said he would head out in his boat to come find us and help us.  The downside: we had to float for about 2 hours.  Jacob and Christine couldn’t stop throwing up and I was in so much pain trying not to get sick.  It was the longest two hours of my life.

But here is how God is so gracious: we floated IN towards land.  Not only that, but our boat floated right to a dock in a place named Malalo, meaning place of rest. (how cool is that?!) And a place of rest it surely was.  We had a bunch of people from Malalo help us get out and let us sit in their village while we recovered from our harrowing experience.  I have never in my life been so thankful for dry land.  The mechanic showed up right as we were pulling in to fix the motor.  We were driven (on land) back to base, and spent 2 days in bed recovering.  I never knew how intense sea sickness could be.  We found out later there was a stretch of 20 miles of no cell service not too far from where we were.  I try not to play the what-if game, and instead chose to thank God that he protected us.

This was the type of boat the people came out to greet us in
This was the type of boat the people came out to greet us in

The second half of the week was spent learning some fascinating aspects of Papua New Guinean culture.  So you all know, or you’re about to, that I’m a huge history buff. One thing we studied this week was a very prominent piece of PNG culture: The Cargo Cult.  Back in the days of WWII, the Japanese took over PNG for its strategic location.  This had a profound impact on the virtually untouched population of Papua New Guinea.  Among people who were still in the Stone Age and didn’t know a world existed outside of their immediate villages, suddenly there were enormous boats, planes, machine guns and a full war.  Can you imagine the shock and confusion of the people as the Japanese set up camp in their villages? Where did these foreign people come from and more importantly, how did they have all this stuff?

As we visited a local village, they brought us to these enormous Japanese guns left behind from WWII
As we visited a local village, they brought us to these enormous Japanese guns left behind from WWII

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Two worlds colliding
Two worlds colliding

Modern hit Stone Age so fast, the people had no way to evaluate what was realistic & what wasn’t. Because they had never seen factories or thousands of years of development in the world, they could not figure out how suddenly all these new objects appeared.  So they spiritualized it and decided the gods had given the foreign people cargo.  The people of PNG wanted this cargo that made life easier (tools, weapons, food), and so they decided to start trying to appease the white man’s god in order to get the cargo. As some missionaries began to tell the people about God without learning the PNG culture, they saw many “converts” as people flocked to obey this god in order to get the goods that the white people had.  When they didn’t immediately get the cargo, they began cults where they would do sacrifices, pay money, sing and dance, anything to get this cargo.

Now this may sound crazy or silly to our western, logical thinking.  But are we really that different? Don’t we struggle just as much with the exact same issue- MATERIALISM? The human heart is the same, whether it’s in America where we rack up debt to pay for things we want right when we want them, or here where they perform rituals to get things they want. The only way to defeat materialism is to find something more valuable than what you are desiring. What God has promised to those who trust Him FAR outweighs any material possession we could ever dream of here on earth.  In order to teach the PNG people who God really is and what He has in store for them is only possible through a discipleship relationship, understanding the root issue and walking through it side by side.  Re-calibrating the heart, not only theirs but our own selfish hearts, is a day by day refining process with the Lord.  Finding this common ground between cultures is an amazing process which has been teaching me that no matter how completely different our worlds look, we were all created by the same God and all have the same, desperate need for Him.

sweet girl
sweet girl

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As we’ve been trying to bridge the gap of language and culture, we have been putting in 40 hours a week visiting local villages every day, making friends who are willing to work with us on language. Jacob has made some good connections with Gabinus, Ramos, Patrick, Allu and Sylvester- guys from the nearby village Susu Banis.  He visits them frequently throughout the week and they help him both in learning Tok Pisin and in culture by bringing him along on various excursions and activities that are part of their daily life.

learning how they weave blain (or walls)
learning how they weave blain (or walls)
Gabinus teaching us how to do it
Gabinus teaching us how to do it
a blain in the schoolhouse
a blain in the schoolhouse

We also spend time processing what we see, practicing the new language we learn each day, and documenting culture finds.  These relationships are so valuable and are where we start to bridge the gap between us.  Tomorrow I am going to meet with a woman named Ellen who is going to show me how she gets clams for her family.  Each of these activities brings friendship, learning, and valuable insight into the world of the people here in PNG.  We feel so blessed to be here!

Prayer Requests:

  • For Matt and Christine as they did end up making it safely back to their tribe a few days later.  They are almost done with the first phase (learning the tribal language and culture) and are about to move into the next phase (literacy) which is one step closer to teaching through the whole Bible for the first time among the Monam people! Pray the hearts of the people would be preparing to hear the word of God!
  • For our relationships with the people here to grow and for us to be a blessing to the people as we learn their language.

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