While exploring another nearby village during our Culture & Language Learning, we stopped and greeted yet another family working in their garden outside their home. As is culturally appropriate and would be rude if we didn’t, we lingered for a few minutes, chatting and getting to know them a bit. I took a picture of the mother standing in front of her home. This particular photo received a lot of attention on Facebook because of the purple baby bilum hanging on the front of the house. As strange as it seems to us, the women here in PNG carry their babies in these incredible strong bags they make called bilums. The baby bilum is carried across the mother’s forehead and hangs down her back as she walks about or works in the garden. A PNG woman’s work is hard and she needs both hands available. The babies love the cozy cocoon and swaying motion as Mom moves about. When Mom is home, she hangs the bag from a post on the house while baby sleeps. I was excited to share this picture and a glimpse of life here.
One day last week, we left our center intent on visiting a new friend that had just come home from the Haus Sik after giving birth to a baby girl. It had been an especially eventful week for this couple. Just a day before their daughter was born, their nephew was killed when he was hit by a truck while walking home from school. This horrible accident happened right in front of our mission center. With the screams and cries of women and an angry mob looking for revenge on the driver, everyone on center quickly learned what had taken place. Many were praying for the boy’s family, especially this couple, who are new believers trying to show Christ’s love to their family. We hoped our visit that day would be an encouragement.
When we reached their place, we found several women sitting together, mud on their faces, grieving the loss of this little boy. The men had all left for town to settle business concerning the accident. Without going into a lengthy and complicated explanation, the compensation the family has to make when a child dies is great. With the “it takes a village” mentality and practice of raising children, the family actually owes for the loss of a child. When we arrived, the men were out attending to this business and the women were mourning. As the only woman in our party, I went over to each of the grieving women, greeted them with a hug and a “Sori tru”. I was introduced to the mother of the boy who had died and embraced her as well, crying as I learned that her child was the same age as my McKenna. Her face and hair were completely covered in mud and she sat amongst the other women in a seemingly numb, exhausted state. Never having experienced this situation in PNG culture before and knowing so little of the language, I felt like a fish out of water as I sat with them. I wanted so badly to show them how sorry I was for their pain but was terrified that I would screw up royally and somehow offend or hurt them. God sent me an angel in the form of an older PNG woman sitting next to me who actually knew quite a bit of English. In hushed whispers, she translated the concepts I didn’t understand and explained the customs I was unfamiliar with. The mud was to show their mourning, similar to the way we would wear black while mourning in America. As the women told me the story of the boy’s life and tragic death, I was stunned to realize that the grieving mother caked in mud was the very same woman I had taken a picture of in front of her home just 2 weeks ago! I brought my phone out and showed her the picture I had taken. I told her of the many people back home who were interested in the picture, interested in her life! I told her that I would tell everyone what had happened to her son and that we would pray to “Papa God” for her and her family.
Soon after, I heard a wailing cry coming toward us from down the mountain trail. After a few minutes, the grandmother of the deceased boy, who came from the other side of the mountain, could be seen walking toward us. She was wearing only a skirt and was covered completely in mud from head to toe. Her daughter, the boys’ mother, also started crying out loudly, weeping, and falling into her mother’s embrace not two feet in front of me. My first thought was how terrifyingly strange this all was. But then I thought of my daughter, McKenna. If it had been her that had been taken from me so suddenly, how would I mourn? At that moment would I really be any less of a wreck than this mother? Would embracing my own mother after being apart so long and enduring such a loss look that much different? Not really.
My hope, my comfort, and my strength are in Him. Please pray that He will be theirs as well.
Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer. From the ends of the earth I cry to You when my heart is overwhelmed; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For You have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe.