A Dramatic Conversion
My wife Wapke and I spent nineteen years working among the Momina people of the southern lowlands of West Papua. We lived in a small village called Sumo, which had the only grass airstrip in the region. During that time, we saw the vast majority of this primal and stone-aged people come to faith in Jesus Christ. They came clan by clan, in all thirteen Momina villages in a people movement of multi-individual conversion. Whole clans came to faith at one and the same time. Only one individual Momina person, whom, I know of, came to faith by himself. It is the story of this man’s conversion that I want to share with you now.
Prior to our first furlough in 1981, Maenee, a young man in his early twenties, was very receptive to Wapke and I, and also to the Christian faith that the whole village was hearing about at that time. By the time, we returned from furlough in Scotland to Sumo early in 1982 he had taken Toomora as his second wife. The Dani evangelists had strongly advised against this practice and the local community was experiencing a lot of strife as they struggled to resolve this issue. Lacking experience, I mishandled the situation and responded unwisely, out of concern that this might set a precedent and adversely affect the spread of the gospel. The result was that I alienated Maenee and he became very hostile to both the Gospel and me personally.
Over the next four years, Maenee went from bad to worse. On several occasions Maenee’s first wife, Aikuretena, who was about twelve years old, came to the clinic suffering from serious burns because Maenee had become angry and held her into the open fire. On other occasions his other wife, Toomora, who was in her twenties, came to the clinic with serious injuries after being severely beaten by her husband. Often he would walk round and round our house muttering my name and seeking to put curses upon me.
Just a few weeks after the birth of his first child, a girl, to his older wife, Toomora, he went off to the jungle with her and the child. I knew that he was unhappy with Toomora for giving birth to a girl child and suspected that something might happen. About an hour later, still feeling uneasy, I went to the village and found it deserted. Apart from a few older children, most of the villagers had gone off to their gardens for the day. Later that afternoon, as people returned to the village, I saw Kotakenee, a village elder, and shared my concern with him. I asked if Maenee would return with the child. Kotakenee puckered his lips indicating a negative response. Three days later Maenee and his wife stole quietly into the village, late in the afternoon, without the child. Next morning when asked about the child, he replied that she had become sick and died, so he had buried her in the jungle. No one believed him, but no one said anything; rather they avoided him.
In 1985, after returning from furlough, I heard how Maenee had severely beaten Toomora in a fit of rage and how she had died a few days later with blood coming out of her mouth. A few months later, Maenee picked a fight with a young man whom he badly cut with a knife. By the time, I got to the village; Maenee was marching up and down threateningly with his bow and arrows. Having had enough of Maenee, several of the older men were in the process of taking the matter into their own hands. Trying to calm things down, I walked up to Maenee and took away his bow and arrows and threw them onto the roof of a neighbouring house out of his reach. I then proceeded to take him by the arm and march him off to my house in order to remove him from this tense situation. On the way, he broke loose and attacked me, I tried to restrain him but he struggled free and ran off into the jungle.
After that, we did not see Maenee for about two years. During that time, he was living at the village of Makoo and causing the two Yali evangelists, who had moved there the year before, all kinds of trouble. However, from the time he left Sumo and over the next two years the church at Sumo prayed for Maenee that God would meet with him and deliver him from his evil ways. There was scarcely a church gathering that he was not remembered in prayer. Then one day in early 1987, as he was walking alone in the jungle between the Makoo and the Boru River, Maenee encountered Jesus in a vision. He fell upon his knees in the mud asking Jesus to forgive him and to become his friend. He quickly returned to Makoo and told them of his experience and from that moment on he was a changed man. A few days later he returned to Sumo and shared his experience again. He asked the people to forgive him and we held a special service of thanksgiving. Everyone was so excited about what God had done in answering our prayers. Six months later, the change in Maenee’s life had become so obvious that he entered the Momina Bible School at Sumo and later returned to Makoo where he served the church faithfully for many years as a medical worker-evangelist.
God normally brings people to faith in ways that are congruent with the decision making processes existent within their society. In individualistic societies people normally come to faith one by one, while in communal societies they normally come to faith as a clan or village group. However, there are always exceptions and we need to be open to and be expectant of God working in unforeseen ways that are above and beyond that which we can anticipate. While God takes culture seriously he is not restricted to the cultural channels that he normally uses and may work in extraordinary ways.
Must we always be open to God working in both ordinary and extraordinary ways.