Recently we attended our first MAF Family Conference here in Papua. The last day of conference, I wandered into the kitchen to see where I could wash out a couple of buckets that were used for trash. An older local woman who was helping in the kitchen gently took them from me and washed them out herself. As she handed one bucket back to me, my eyes fell to her hand. Something seemed wrong with it. Then I realized with a shudder that she was missing the parts of her four fingers above the knuckle. Her thumb was still intact. A wave of compassion washed over me for this woman as I recalled hearing about the tribal tradition that when a relative died, the women who were related to that person would sever one of their knuckles with a little stone ax as a sign of their grief. I had been horrified to think about it, but now I was looking at it.
Sometimes as a missionary here in Papua, it’s easy to lose hope. Just outside of our gate lies a world filled with shrouded faces and absent eyes, poverty and ignorance. And in the deeper villages, a world filled with immorality, an ensuing AIDS epidemic and war. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming, like we’re fighting a hopeless battle.
And then, hope stirred in me. I marveled that she is the first woman I have met with missing finger parts. The fact that this dark practice is much rarer in the younger generations gives me hope that the Gospel has borne fruit in the past, and will continue to work in the darkness that remains. Like a breeze that gently rustles the leaves, though it may not be visible, the Gospel is quietly working.