…that God would turn it to such good, that the devil would be sorry he ever had the idea!
About a month ago, right after the guys put up some of the first posts for a gate and were working on the corners of the big fencing project, an older man from Karurua came to visit with Pastor Danny and me. He explained how he was the “owner” of the land we are on, and he had not given us permission to use 14 acres and fence it in. Of course, there were some big problems with that complaint. Primarily the fact that the government purchased this land from his tribe MANY years ago, and neither he, nor any other Karurua man, is the owner. I explained as nicely as I could the current situation, and assured him that we had a proper lease for this land from the government, but my explanation fell on deaf ears. If we continued to build the fence, he would cut it down. I told him if he pursued this course, we would be sad to do it, but we would go to the police. Student Murphy and I nicknamed him “Sanballat”.
Things were very quiet for over a month. During work details, and on some voluntary Saturdays, the students put in 275 posts without incident. Over half of the posts needed were in place. Then all the men students went to an Easter fellowship in Kikori, and planned to be away for 5 days. The first full day they were out, Pastor’s boys and wife came hurrying to get me. A man was chopping down posts! Yes, the same old man. When I got there to speak to him, he reminded me that he was doing what he said he was going to do. And I reminded him, that we were going to speak to the police! He did go with me to speak to the police; he seemed quite confident they would side with him. Upon seeing the lease paperwork, the police on duty explained to him that he was in the wrong, but the policeman that makes decisions, and the District manager that governs land issues were both out because of the holiday weekend – PNG has an Easter Friday and an Easter Monday, and this was Friday. We planned to meet together Tuesday with the police chief and district manager.
So our first meeting was attended by Sanballat, (actually, many men came, even their village council), the District Manager, the police (who were crowded out of the DM’s office by Karurua), Pastor Danny and myself. In the short version, my paperwork was COMPLETELY honored, the Karurua were told they were absolutely wrong – in their claim, and in their actions. The District Manager treated me in a very respectful way. First, the Karurua wanted to address it as a “land owner issue” – but the DM shut them up quickly, explaining that in this case, the Baptist church now was the rightful owner of these 14 acres – a big parcel. Then, they wanted to say that I was building outside of my boundary – but, actually I am a meter inside of each previously cemented post, the land being surveyed years before by a PNG surveyor.
Then, they just wanted to “call it even”, now that they understood about the paperwork. No, I really couldn’t “call it even”, since a man had destroyed 6 posts that had to be purchased again, and “undone” work that had already been compensated. Even the district manager asked the man why, if he felt there was a land problem, why did he not come to the DM himself before taking some foolish action? That type of conflict is exactly why we have a DM! Then the Karurua said that, in reality, the Vocational School had asked them to destroy the fence, so the Vocational School should bear the burden of the cost. Pastor Danny stood up and told the ax owner – “Even if that is true, YOU could have said no. You are the one that did the damage.” So, a second meeting was planned that would include the vocational school leaders, Philip and his son Paul. They were asked to face their accusers. Philip came by to visit with me. (This is the Philip that has been attending church regularly, bringing a daughter-in-law and two grandsons; the one for whom we have been praying.) I assured him I in no way accused the Vocational School of anything – that was the Karurua’s doing. Philip went down to visit with the District Manager himself. That was just SO like the devil, to try and disturb this relationship being built with Philip, his family, and another couple that work at the Vocational School that just starting visiting the church!
The second meeting was very poorly attended. No ax-wielding vigilante. No crowd from Karurua. No council from Karurua. (Rats always leave a sinking ship!) No one from the Vocational School – Philip had already come by to declare his and Paul’s innocence. Just the District Manager, Pastor Danny, and I met in front of the locked little tar paper office. We had to actually wait until the cleaning man came with a key to let us in. We waited a bit more, and then walked down to the police office to press charges against the man that cut down the posts. The police were out of fuel, so they had no way to go and get the man from Karurua. They said that if they got fuel in the next few days, they would go arrest him. I told them I could sell them fuel since the trading post was out of engine fuel, if that were needed. On our walk back towards the DM’s office, who should we see but that post chopper, sitting in the shade near a little store. He jumped up upon seeing us, and was full of apologies. Now he understood he was in the wrong, and it was going to cost money. The possibility of consequences is a “bikpela samting” here! I told him a public apology at Friday’s market needed to be a part of his restitution. I told him we would meet with the police following his Friday apology. And then I gave him an alternative to financial reimbursement to consider: Land in Karurua. A place to meet and teach the truth. We have been praying about the spiritual needs of Karurua for some time. Perhaps this was to be the means God used to open a door of opportunity for us!
Maria, pronounced MAH-ri-a, (aka Sanballat) did actually show up at Friday’s market to publically apologize for his wrong actions against the Baptist Church. The district manager came too, and made an announcement that this fence we were building should be no problem to anyone, as we had taken the proper steps to obtain a lease, and many using land in the station were just squatters! People should wish us well as we only desire to bring good into the community. A nice public service address from a man running for office next year and looking for rich, white supporters. (I most definitely do not qualify!) Then Maria and I walked over to the police station. As we discussed a settlement with the chief, Maria offered us a piece of his own land to use for evangelizing in Karurua and said if a group formed that wanted to build a more permanent building, he would not oppose it. That was awesome; Danny and I will visit there soon and take a look. We will see what comes of that! Pray that the chance to have property and preach and teach in Karurua only comes to be if God has a work to build there. It would be wonderful if God would make a road into this sin-filled, empty community.
But following this meeting, a more amazing, God-like thing happened. He walked with Pastor Danny to his home, and as they sat together and talked, the Spirit illumined a dark soul, and Maria became my newest brother in Christ! One of my personal prayers has always been that if Satan had some particular plot against us, that God would turn it to such good, that the devil would be sorry he ever had the idea! To God be the Glory – we are on the winning side!