This Christmas I looked for a simple heart-warming story that might leave you in awe of the range of blessings brought by Jesus’ coming to earth.
Perhaps you can relate to the wonder of God’s taking an everyday, plain tool to reach deeply into the heart of a tough young man. Perhaps you once “were” that man. Perhaps you’d like to join in God’s Christmas (and all-year) work of reaching such men and women around the world.
Papua New Guinea (PNG) is where this story happened, as reported by S and B.
“It Was Only a Simple Health Education Lesson!”
I recognized the voice on the other end of the phone immediately. Mama J is what we all called her. She was a competent registered nurse and Community Health Evangelism (CHE) training coordinator for one of the larger provinces of Papua New Guinea. She spoke with excited animation in telling her story of the committee training that she had carried out the previous week in a community an hour outside the provincial capital.
As is so common in PNG, a person can never expect to conduct a training in a community with only the invited participants! No, typically half the village shows up and hangs in every window of the open-style church or community center. After all, there are not many events to break the sameness of their village life and certainly no television for entertainment. The gate crasher participants are usually respectfully quiet, laughing at all the appropriate places or quietly snickering when someone makes a comment that they find embarrassing or surprising. Children giggle as they hear serious statements from the mouths of the adults. Such was the scene of the story Mama J was relaying to me on the telephone that day.
“I was just doing the Dr Akia lesson when it happened,” Mama J began.
This lesson, titled with an appropriate name within any given culture, is a story of an overworked doctor whose patients really should be learning to prevent most of the illnesses that they are bringing to poor Dr Akia for treatment. The participants are asked to use their understanding of prevention to decide which of the patients in the story could have prevented their illness either at home or with the help of a nurse at the local health center.
Mama J had told the story, then as usual handed each participant in the room a cut-out picture of a person bearing the label of a specific medical issue: measles, scabies, pneumonia, alcoholism etc. She had pictures of the three possible facilities at the front of the room-- the doctor’s office, the local health center and a home. Each was asked to walk to the front of the circle of participants, tell the name of the illness and place it at one of the three pictures on the basis of whether or not it was preventable.
As she described the scene to me, it seemed that all went as planned until a young man stood up with his picture figure. Instead of placing it at one of the three facilities he began to sob. Great big man-size tears were streaming down his face as the whole room, along with the window gazers went totally silent. Such a culturally unusual spectacle in a macho setting like this one. A grown man crying in front of his community!
After a few moments he began to speak. “I am holding in my hand a picture of a pregnant woman,” he stated, eyes cast downward, face wet with tears. “I am feeling so sorry for her! I am one of those guys who has made several young women pregnant but not taken any responsibility for the baby. I am so sorry, and I want to ask this community to forgive me.”
“Well you wouldn’t have believed what happened next,” Mama J continued. “And I tell you, honestly I didn’t say a thing!”
“What happened?” I asked, not sure what to expect from the volatile Highlander community where she was conducting the workshop. They could have lynched the guy right on the spot. Emotions run wild in situations like this.
“The whole room started to cry!” she said, hardly able to keep her own voice from breaking. “Everyone had something to confess and ask forgiveness for. Soon they were on their knees on the floor, asking God to forgive them and to heal the ugliness in their community. And I tell you the truth, it was just a simple physical lesson! There was nothing spiritual even said, no mention of God at all. I had planned to do that next.”
“Mama J,” I said quietly, my own tears flowing by now. “The Spirit of God is not limited by our words or lack of them. You have, by your very presence, brought the Kingdom of God into that community. Your own humility and desire to do his work has given him permission to speak into the hearts of these dear tender people. You have done a great thing for them, just by being there and giving them opportunity to speak about issues important to their lives.”
“I guess this is what we mean when we talk about the CHE facilitation method of teaching,” she added. “When we say it’s learner-centered we state it’s all about them, not about me. My whole lesson was side-tracked by their need to deal with some deeply rooted community problems! In the end, I guess that is what will make CHE work here.”
That concludes the story, just as I was told it. Doesn’t it feel wonderful to see how God can allow you to stimulate transformation through MAI and the CHE strategy? This is the kind of hope Christ brings to our world. The Christian Health Services, which delivers most of the rural health care in Papua New Guinea, is so excited about CHE they are using this to structure their whole approach to public health.
Of course Community Health Evangelism is much more than good public health. It is a strategy that can transform a whole country both physically and spiritually through changed individual lives.
Your prayers and gifts are doing amazing things in Papua New Guinea though MAI. Most of what is being accomplished through CHE in PNG has been done through local or government resources, but you too have had a part. God used you to catalyze a spontaneous reaction that continues today—an investment in God’s work through MAI that has borne great dividends. Thank you! Your ongoing generous investment is something Jesus will multiply around the world in 2017.
Thanks for listening, and may Jesus make your Christmas just as special as it was for those who witnessed his birth in a cattle barn more than 2,000 years ago.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,
John Payne, MD
P.S. Below is a response section that may make it easier for you to take action. Please read it carefully. Then ask God what he wants you to do. If you are like me, letting things wait may mean I will forget. Don’t lose out on being part of this great opportunity.
We appreciate your prayer and financial support. Without you as a member of the team, this ministry would not be possible.