Wednesday: As is usual, we headed to the next village for language class and Bible study with the ladies there. For our Bible study we watch a portion of the Jesus Film in Kope, read the same story from the English Good News Bible, and use study questions from an Easy English guide to Luke. This week we looked at the story of the demon possessed boy in Luke 9:37-45. One aspect of the story which we highlighted was that while Jesus had power over demons (v42), he also was going to allow people to have power over him (v44). When we, like the disciples, do not understand what is happening, we still need to trust that God is in control and has a plan.
Luke tells the story fairly briefly. In Mark we are told that "Many times the evil spirit has tried to kill him by throwing him in the fire and into water" (9.22). Matthew says that "He is an epileptic and has such terrible fits that he often falls in the fire or into the water" (17:15). These details did not matter to me on Wednesday, but they came to mind soon enough.
Friday: As is usual, we started the day with language class followed by gathering on my veranda to translate hymns into the Kope language. This is always a pleasant way to end the week, as there is much singing involved and people are enjoying the task. Not too far away, a group of mothers were sitting in the shade making new thatch for the elementary school roof, chatting and enjoying each other's company while working for the community.
We were working on the song "Come to the Saviour*", which has the chorus "Happy, happy, happy we will be, when from sin our Saviour makes us free; and we shall gather, Saviour with you, in our eternal home," when a ruckus broke out. The mothers by the school started talking louder and louder, with occasional cries being mixed in. The noise and the crowd came closer, to the house across the path from us. This is when the wailing started, as the body of their recently drowned 14 year old daughter was returned to them.
Stories were flying, but from what I could gather, she was an epileptic, and it was assumed that she had had a fit while near the water, and that it had caused her to drown. When her younger siblings found her, it was too late to save her. The kind stories called her an epileptic; others called her a mental case. No one called her demon possessed, which I was thankful for after the story we had studied two days earlier.
For a dead teen to be brought home to the neighbours while we were singing a song about the joy of our eternal home was quite a juxtaposition. This juxtaposition grew greater when to close our work for the day we quietly sang "To God be the Glory". This is a hymn that has been sung at many funerals in my family, so to sing it with wailing in the background brought the realities of life and death home in a very personal way. Yet the message of Wednesday remained true, that we need to trust God even when things make no sense, such as the drowning of this teenage girl.
Saturday: The village is quiet.
During the evening before, the girl's body has been moved from the house across the road to somewhere else, most likely the church, and we could not hear the wailing from our house anymore. While a village usually has the sounds of people chopping wood, kids playing and people laughing, there was the silence of respect for the dead. The only noise was the roosters, who respect no one. Late afternoon the wailing built in volume as the family, mourners and body came our way. They did not pass by to the cemetery, which is along the path from our house, but stopped across the road, to bury the girl beside her house. It was a brief ceremony, with the young men filling the grave and decorating it with leaves and flowers afterwards.
Sunday: Before dawn I woke to the sound of wailing, as someone from the grieving family sat by the grave and let out their feelings. In Australia we grieve quietly and wear dark glasses to hide our red eyes. Here feelings are expressed with much volume, and in many ways I think it is a healthier path.
Later in the morning, I sat on the front step of our house, enjoying the sunshine and waiting for the church bell to ring, indicating it was time to gather for worship. As I sat I watched a range of butterflies flit by, each one with its own beautiful and colourful design. Each butterfly reminded me of the brevity of life, the beauty of the hope we have in resurrection, and the unpredictable flight path of God's design in the world. Their life as beautiful butterflies is rumoured to be quite short, yet it is glorious while it lasts. I too should live out the fullness of the life I have, while I have it. They have gone from caterpillars to butterflies, while we go from broken humans to a perfect eternity. Butterflies rarely fly in a straight line, but weave their way about on a route that makes sense only to them. Just as unknowable are the details of God's plans in the world. When death has come so close, these were good reminders for me to have.
*Sing His Praise #101. This hymn book has revised and adapted hymns to have easier English, so that they can be better understood in the PNG context.