with guest blogger Mrs. Margaret Reeson MA (National Committee Member, Relief and Development) on reason no. 13 of 21 to register now for Lent Event 2011. Check out the Act Reflect Connect blog for the full series.
It was a clue. A notice taped to the door of the waiting area at a small regional airport in Papua New Guinea instructed us as passengers to book through our weapons and ammunition at least 30 minutes before boarding our flight. Right…
In January 2011, three generations of our family visited the Highlands of Papua New Guinea to the area where the grandparents had worked in the 1960s and 70s and the mothers had been young children. All ten of us had a wonderful time, with a loving welcome and exceptional hospitality from our Highland friends.
There was a darker side.
First, the people of the highlands face any number of social issues such as poverty, ill health as well as a lack of infrastructure for clean water and education. Similarly access to health care in PNG is very limited and as a result HIV/AIDS is a major issue with the World Health Organization categorizing the situation in PNG as epidemic. The Church Partnership Program website lists some concerning statistics:
- PNG ranks 139 out of 177 on the UN’s Human Development Index, the lowest score of Pacific countries.
- around 49% of the population live in poverty on less than $US1 a day.
- life expectancy at birth is 56.4 years for males and 57.5 years for females
- adult rate of illiteracy (ages 15 and older) is 37% for males and 49% for females
- only 39% of people have access to an improved water source
- under 5 mortality rate per 1000 live births for males is 82 and females 93
- maternal mortality rate per 100,000 live births is 300
- HIV prevalence (15-48 years) for males is 1.4% and females 2.9%
Second, and more to the heart of my blog today is that in the Southern Highlands tribal violence continues to cause death and destruction of property as unresolved conflicts escalate out of control. This tribal fighting has forced many trained teachers to leave their positions in United Church schools in the region and a number of the schools have been burnt down.
Days before we arrived in Mendi serious tribal fighting had broken out in another place in the Southern Highlands Province. One armed group had attacked a United Church community in the middle of the night, burning buildings and sending frightened people fleeing. Their church, all the school buildings, minister’s house, teachers’ houses and many private houses in the area were left in ashes. When our group arrived, we learned that our hosts, Bishop Wesis Porop and his family, were sheltering the traumatised minister and his family as well as finding beds for our tribe. They had been evacuated from the troubled area after their house was burned down. The trouble was very close to Bishop Wesis. Not only was the attack on a United Church community under his pastoral charge, but it was also his own home area, and those under attack were his own tribesmen. One of the burnt houses belonged to him, and another to his brother.
How should he respond? He asked, ‘What is the biblical basis for right action now?’ He pointed out that although he has done helpful courses on peacemaking in the past, they did not give much guidance about how a Christian leader should act when the ashes of your church and school are still smouldering and your relatives fear that their enemies will return at any moment to kill their family. He had already told his tribesmen not to retaliate, but how could they protect their families? By running away? By being armed? Would a police presence help? A police mobile squad would only wait for a limited time, just in case something more happened, but most signs of active fighting had evaporated and it was almost impossible to know who they might arrest. Compensation for a prior problem had been offered and rejected. What was going to happen now for the congregation without a church building and a school without classrooms, let alone so many families without houses?
Why this fight, and why now? When we asked questions, it was like peeling the proverbial onion. There is always the story behind the story and it will be complex. Conflict has been going on in the region in one form or another for years. Tribe against tribe, church denomination against church denomination, potential owner of a valuable resource against another, disputed ownership of property, and suspicions of sorcery. Almost certainly we as outsiders did not hear the whole story, nor understand it.
It was too easy to offer simplistic solutions. Any genuine resolution will need time and care. This is a scene where UnitingWorld and its Young Ambassadors for Peace (YAP) program may have an important role. Indeed in parts of PNG YAP has played a key role in building peace between conflicting communities that has paved the way to significant development activity. The peace process in Tari that culminated in an historic peace agreement in 2009 is a prime example. Without such action for peace sustainable development that tackles the wide range of social issues and alleviates poverty will not be possible.
So you can imagine how I am delighted to see Peacemaking integrated into Lent Event in 2011. Not only will funds raised support programs such as Water and Sanitation, Economic Empowerment & Livelihood, Education & Vocational Training and Health and Nutrition but also from this year Peacemaking and the YAP program will benefit. And this is crucial in a place like PNG.
So as Lent Event has embraced Peace and the YAP program and my family was embraced in the highlands earlier this year - join me in an embrace of Lent Event.
So with just 9 days until the beginning of Lent Event 2011, we send out the call. Sign up now for Lent Event via www.lentevent.com or call 1300 536 838. Check with your Church leaders that they have the material and a Lent Event Coordinator is ready to roll. If not, call us, get the resource kit which gives full directions, a copy of the 2011 video and get down to it. The journey begins on Wednesday March 9.