I was sitting at the wheel of our Nissan Patrol one afternoon preparing to take a sick friend the 40 miles to a hospital situated several miles outside of the provincial capital, Madang. He was a young husband and the father of two toddlers. He had been sick for some time with what appeared to be tuberculosis. Just as I turned in my seat to see whether or not he was ready to get going, something odd happened. The club-footed shaman named Peter hobbled up to the back of the Patrol and, leaning in, he blew a handful of grayish powder in my friends face. He started wailing and speaking some sort of incantation over him. A few guys who were standing at the back of the vehicle grabbed Peter and took him aside, warning him to control himself–or else. They slammed the rear doors shut, I pushed in the clutch and put the 4 x 4 in reverse, turning around. Peter was still shouting at the vehicle as we rolled away. Three days later, the young daddy died.
A few weeks later, as I was trying to verbally unpack what had happened with one of the men who taught me language and culture, I became angry and disgusted at the whole affair. The young husband had been to town some months earlier to see a doctor. The doctor had diagnosed tuberculosis and prescribed appropriate medication–which happens to be a certain kind of antibiotic that must be taken for several months. When the local shaman found out what had happened, he upbraided this young man for taking “white man’s medicine” and told him to throw it away, that his real problem was that he had offended ancestral spirits. The Somau Garia view of the world is much more likely to see troubles as having spiritual roots than physical ones. My friend threw the medicine away. He started follow the prescribed rituals given him by Peter. It cost him his life.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path, writes the Psalmist (119:105). Peter’s worldview was one that lacked the light of God’s word. His worldview would overshadow physical realities, making all spiritual. (In the West, we overshadow all spiritual realities with physical ones, making the opposite error.) His heart was darkened by an ignorance of the light of God’s word and was not only personally deceived, he led all astray who would follow his direction.
I wish I could tell you that he was the only one. He was not. He was only one of five shamans that lived in a village of 240 people at that time. That’s about one shaman for every fifty people. It is vitally important that the 4,000 people who speak the Somau Garia language have the opportunity to have God’s word, his lamp, in the language that speaks to their heart.
When Jesus began his ministry, he moved to Capernaum, fulfilling a prophecy from Isaiah, “Galilee of the Gentiles–a people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned. From that time, Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ ” (Matt. 4:16-17)
Many Somau Garia people live in the shadow of death, dwelling in the darkness of those who would lead them astray into demonic practices and fear. Will they have the opportunity to know the light of life? Will they have the opportunity to have a lamp for their feet and a light for their path? Will they have the opportunity to step out of the shadows into the light?
Thank you, friends, for your ongoing prayers and support.