The people of Papua New Guinea love “to story.” It is an oral culture that has only recently had the luxury of printed materials. Previously all knowledge was passed down—generation to generation—through their story telling. As a result, the people still love to sit together and ‘story’ with each other. Their memories are fantastic, I think largely because of the scarcity of printed material.
For example, in Papua New Guinea, Scripture memorization is hardly the chore that it is in the developed word. After all, many people do not even own their own Bible. In Papua New Guinea, we had to resist using our android tablet for the lyrics to our church hymns and songs, because just owning a hymn or song book was a highly sought after luxury item. Yet almost all church attendees could sing verse after verse, of song after song, without printed or projected lyrics.
One particular conversation I had in Papua New Guinea stands out in my mind as significant. Just like every day in Lae, Papua New Guinea it was hot and steamy. It transpired when I had not been in Papua New Guinea very long and was 'storying' with my guard. Our house had eight-foot fences with razor wire at the top, a guard on duty 24/7, and two blue heeler guard dogs. Of my two guards, this one was the least educated and yet the easiest to communicate in English with, and I wanted to know why.
His story went something like this. He couldn't read or write and yet his church gave him the responsibility of church elder. He felt that he could serve far better in this capacity if only he could read his Bible and understand some English. So he prayed and he said that God gave him the ability to read His word, and not only that, but to understand and speak English.
My guard's story was not an uncommon story in Papua New Guinea. Nor were stories of miracles and visions.
Why is it that the Lord is able to work so powerfully in the lives of the impoverished? I believe that in many ways the impoverished are richer than we in the developed world. They are often happier, less stressed, have stronger family values and relationships, and are more grounded in their relationships with God. They have much need—needs we should help meet in a sustainable way—but they also often have much to teach us about the Jesus we claim we know. I am reminded of the beatitudes, found in Matthew 5:3–12:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
It seems that the more needy we are, the more God has to offer. Those of us in the developed world are so rich in money, possessions, and experiences that we have a hard time seeing ourselves as needy, or allowing God the time and space to work in and through us.
In Revelation, the message to the Laodicean church is this:
“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see” (Revelation 3:17–18)
How aptly this Laodicean message applies to those of us living in developed nations today! The apostle Paul imparted similar wisdom:
“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7–8).
Like Paul, may we “cast aside all hindrances” and seek God with all of our hearts, our minds and our souls; and like my guard in Papua New Guinea, may God bless us richly in the things of eternal value (Hebrews 12:1).
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