There was jumping, dancing and singing—the kind of singing that springs from the joy of the soul. People waved branches and pieces of cloth. The atmosphere was infused with a feeling of genuine joy. A smile crept across my face as I thought; “I’ve never seen an offering with so much feeling take place in an American church.”
It was thanksgiving Sunday, a Sunday to come and thank God for His faithfulness over the past year; a time when people brought special offerings, sang songs in their local languages, performed cultural dances and just spent time celebrating. The last group offering seemed to peak with a new level of joy. It touched me so much because this was the group who, as a congregation, had lost the most. The church we attend is made up of three separate fellowships that meet individually on a weekly basis but come together once a month and celebrate communion as one body.
The last group to give their thanksgiving offering was from the church on the mountain. The church that had their building bulldozed to the ground. I happened to be there the day it happened. A road was coming through. Most people in the area were given eviction notices. We had dropped by the pastor’s house on some quick errand, and he was heading up to the church because some people who had been given eviction notices had moved their things to the church property.
There was a feeling of chaos and helplessness on the mountain as people stripped tin sheets off the roofs of their buildings and threw them into the back of pickup trucks. I met the pastor’s wife from the church at the bottom of the mountain. Their church, even though it was not in the direct path of the road had been told to move.
Then the shock—bulldozers drove up and started bulldozing the trees around the mountain church as well. Even though no eviction notice had been given and the church was well off the path of the road, the mountain church somehow also fell in line for destruction.
Despite documents being shown by the church leadership that talks had been happening between the University (who were said to own the land) and the church, the documents and pleas were ignored. There was no official land title (something very difficult to obtain in PNG). No verbal or written evacuation notice had been given; but, while many congregation members watched helplessly, the building was demolished.
We did not stay to watch. It hurt too much. I thought of the first church service I ever attended in PNG at this very church. The children welcomed us with flowers sprinkled along the walkway and colorful leis. I thought of the little boy Bradley that we took care of for nine months and how he loved climbing those beautiful trees surrounding the church building. I thought of one of the widows that we worked with and how her husband had been the one who did all the masonry work on the building.
The next Sunday, after the building was destroyed, we met in the hot sun with just umbrellas for protection. A few reporters from one of the local papers stopped by to take some photos of the rubble.
That Sunday now seems like ages ago. The road is nearly finished now. Both the church at the bottom of the mountain and the church at the top of the mountain still meet under makeshift tarps and temporary structures. My husband preached there yesterday to the faithful congregation that a week ago sang and praised God with their whole bodies as they gave their thanksgiving offering.
What a year they have had. It is humbling to see that in spite of unforeseen circumstances, injustice, and pain they still meet. This is their fellowship. They meet with the sun beating down on the wind blown tarps. They meet in the rain (like yesterday) pulling the wooden benches back out of line of the drips. They meet with a generator buzzing in the background to provide power for the sound system.
They meet with gladness among the rubble and it is a beautiful testimony—thanksgiving and genuine joy in spite of hardship.