Closing the distance between people groups is God’s mission and ours. My recent trip to Papua New Guinea (PNG) placed me, physically and spiritually, in the midst of a group of women who understand the incarnational power of Christ. They believe Jesus is enough, worship Him without reserve, and sacrifice the most basic of needs to be with one another.
I was invited to join the women’s conference celebrating the 36th anniversary of United Foursquare Women in PNG. Foursquare to the core, 10,000 women gathered in Goroka, a city in the Eastern Highlands Province, anxious to fellowship, hear His Word, pray and worship.
This tropical land is beautiful. The poverty and lack of infrastructure, however, are heartbreaking. Garbage is piled into the streets and burned. The sewer system is insufficient, and the roads are atrocious. School is only for those who can pay. AIDS, malaria and typhoid are a constant threat to the health of huge portions of the population. Unemployment is at 80 percent in some areas, according to World Vision.
Natural resources would make this one of the wealthiest nations on Earth, but the wealth remains in the hands of a few and brings little benefit to the average citizen. The high level of violence is the result of ongoing tribal disputes and lack of gainful employment. The poverty is so great that it seems insurmountable. But then—as the women often repeated in praise—we serve a “Bik Pella,” Pidgin English for “Great God.”
It is the work of our “Bik Pella” among these women that amazed me. The first full day of the conference began with a five-mile march through the city to share their faith. The crowd was divided by region and designated by the colors of the Foursquare flag. Quite impressive! These women are a force to be reckoned with!
We met Popsy, an endearing and wise elder who once served as the national United Foursquare Women president. Alarmed by statistical data—for example, that as many as 90 percent of women in some remote highland communities experience physical and/or sexual abuse, as do 80 percent of children, according to UNICEF—she could not sit by and do nothing.
With the help of a friend, Popsy began a ministry to counsel abused women and connect them to helpful resources. And when a young prostitute gave birth to a baby girl and could not keep her, Popsy and her husband adopted the child. She proudly stated, “I’m raising her to be a pastor!”
We were also introduced to Sarah, a woman from Bougainville. She and her husband oversee the churches on this remote island off the coast of PNG. The political struggle and tension have created hard times for their villages, but still the churches continue to flourish.
Sarah worked every day for a year to earn the money to come to the conference. The women from her island stirred our hearts as they joined the group in singing, “Come islands, come to Jesus!” He is the reason they came and, no doubt, Sarah will invest the ministry she received in her fellow pastors and leaders upon her return home.
The tangible, Spirit-led, life-changing moments we shared were many. My transformational moments came as I “buried” myself among the thousands (many of them sick) to do exactly what Jesus would have done among the multitude—love.
In the face of overwhelming need among masses, the crowd became “a person,” and women became “sisters,” as I simply stood with and among them. Somehow barriers of race, language, culture and social norms dissolved in the presence of God’s compassionate power. I became one with these women, and they represent the best of what heaven will offer, second only to Jesus Himself.
Our last night in the country was spent in Port Moresby, the capital and largest city of PNG, and the most dangerous city on the island. Our host took us to the top of a hill where the wealthy (mostly white) people reside. The homes look down at the coastline where the poorest of the poor live in houses made of sticks that stand on stilts in the water.
Our team questioned, “How can they see the need and live with themselves?” Then it occurred to me: “How can I live with myself? The same kind of poverty exists in the U.S. I just can’t see it from my house!”
The world’s need brings life into perspective quickly. I never want to forget the wonderful feeling of being among the people instead of looking out over them from a comfortable distance.
By: Sue Spousta, an ordained Foursquare minister who serves with the North Pacific District