When we first started traveling to Papua New Guinea, friends and family could wait at the gate with you while you waited for your flight. I miss that. We would be leaving for three years at a time and we appreciated the ability to linger with loved ones just a little longer.
I’ll never forget the day in 2000 when we were at our gate. There were the expected tears, hugs, and goodbyes. My dad, a quiet man who didn’t talk much about what he was feeling, walked up to me and grabbed me around the neck. He leaned in close and said quietly in my ear, “I love you, Son.” Those were the last words I would ever hear from him. He died while we were on the field, expecting us to bring him home not one new grandbaby, but two. I needed those words. I still do.
John 17 takes us inside an intimate moment that Jesus had with his Father as he prepared to depart the earth by the rough road of crucifixion. “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” On his heart was oneness, unity. It was a tender moment of Jesus crying out for all those who would follow him.
I believe that his prayers been answered in some unexpected ways. The Somau Garia people, with whom we worked for ten years, highly value oneness in their culture–to the degree that they safeguard it with taboos, laws, village courts, etc. For example, adultery is an offense that must be dealt with publicly, with recompense, in village court. Broken relationships, to some degree, are restored through societal mechanisms and pressures. Land rights and boundaries are closely guarded as they represent life and the ability to care for one’s family. Each kind of offence in their society has an appropriate means of restoring societal conciliation or oneness.
This value, this inner pressure extends to the spirit realm and much of the more esoteric culture is meant to restore oneness between offended spirits and the people who offend. In Somau Garia society the recently dead are still part of daily life for some time before they pass into the land where the long dead dwell. Hence, much is done to keep the recently dead, the local deities, and other supernatural beings appeased and of one purpose with the people (rather than being at odds–dangerously so–with the people).
Herein lies great opportunity for the Word of God to enter this culture with power. The gospel is about God taking the initiative to reconcile the world to himself. Jesus prayed that all those who would follow him in ages to come would be one in heart. He prayed that in doing so we would be one with him. The opportunity here is to introduce the meme into Somau Garia culture that the Creator God himself is not distant, but intimately involved in daily life (rather than those daily duties being left to lesser deities) and that He has not only been offended, but has provided the means to bring unity once again. Access to the Word of God is essential to validate this notion to these folks, that they might respond to Him willingly, repenting of their sins, accepting the gift of grace, being washed, dying with Jesus and being raised to new life in Him. What an opportunity!
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