God loves to laugh
I lived in the Teacher’s House at the foot of Mount Turu in the East Sepik District of (then) New Guinea. The beautiful mountain intrigued me: local legends told stories of magic and sorcery, of isolated tribes, of the Sanguma (sorcerers) and longlong men (the mentally insane) who dwelt there. I was 22 years old and in my second year of teaching in a Mission school. An insatiable sense of calling was often easily convinced by my equally insatiable sense of adventure. So I asked my young 13-year-old student, Hongien, to take me there as my guide and interpreter. I drove the Mission jeep as far as I could go along the tracks through coffee plantations and then we set out on foot with nothing more than 2 Navy bread biscuits and a couple of red bananas to sustain us. I was never well prepared when I felt compelled to act. Call it reckless if you will but an overriding sense of mission compelled me to throw caution to the wind. We had been walking for many hours and I was hot and sweaty; my heart was pounding and I stopped to catch my breath. “There it is, Miss Lynne-George,” said young Hongien. “The village where we are going is up there.” She took one look at my face which must have registered abject horror: we seemed to be faced with God’s vertical garden with dense jungle strung together by wrist-thick vines. So Hongien surprised me yet again with one of her many pearls of wisdom: “No, Miss Lynne-George, you are looking at the tops of the trees. They are very tall trees.” So we set out climbing under and over, walking through God’s vertical garden. It was dripping with humidity and the path was slippery. After a time some locals joined us. They excitedly milled around us, laughing at the white-haired teacher who had come to visit them.
Night falls quickly on the equator so by the time we entered the village it was pitch black with no moon to light the path. (No, of course I didn’t have a torch!) The garamuts (slit drums) had signalled our movements so we were warmly welcomed on arrival and taken to the Haus Kiap (Patrol Officer’s temporary hut) to spend the night. Bright eyed faces pierced the darkness, staring back at us over the walls. They had seldom seen a white skinned person and never seen a white woman, let alone one with long blonde hair. Suddenly heinous bloodcurdling screams came from the jungle followed by manic screeches in a language I didn’t understand. The eyes observing us widened in alarm and instantly disappeared. We were left alone to our own devices. I asked Hongien, “What’s he saying?” “He is saying what he will do to us!” answered Hongien: her eyes were also wide but now fear replaced that wide-eyed wonder that so frequently delighted me. Instantly I was faced with the consequences of reckless action: I had told no-one; no-one knew where we were. The responsible teacher had put her student in danger with no exit plan. “Lord, have mercy!”
“Hongien, do you remember the story of Joshua and the walls of Jericho?” “Yes, Miss Lynne-George. He marched his army around them 7 times.” “That’s what we’re going to do Hongien. We’re going to march around this hut 7 times and we’re going to shout out louder than the longlong man. We’re going to shout ‘He will give his angels charge over you and give you peace’.” (It was a bit of a twist on Psalm 91:11 but it would do). “Yes, Miss Lynne-George”.
We loudly began our shouting and stomped our feet to the end of the hut. I did mention that it was dark when we arrived. What neither of us knew was that this village was built on a ridge; the ground fell rapidly either side of the track. So when we turned the first corner outside the hut we were faced with nothing under foot — the rest of the hut was built on poles. But we had made a declaration and there was nothing else to do but scramble from one pole to the next, sometimes swinging like monkeys, then up the other side and around again. One! Two! Three! We didn’t stop shouting for a moment — not even to discuss the dilemma of the steep incline. We simply did what we said we were going to do. Four! But by the time we had gone around 4 times we were laughing loudly. Our arms were aching — our hands were blistered, but it was so absurd that it was funny. That’s when I decided that God loves to laugh. Why else would He drop that idea into my head? Hongien said, “Listen, Miss Lynne-George. The longlong man has stopped.” “Doesn’t matter Hongien, we said 7 times and that’s what we will do”. Was it superstition? I don’t know. But I felt compelled to complete those 7 marches. Adrenalin pumped through our veins and we knew that God’s angels forged an impenetrable wall of protection around us. Five! Six! Seven! After the 7th circuit we fell into the hut in utter exhaustion, still laughing until sleep took us. The next morning we awoke to those excited faces looking at us over the wall again. A meal was prepared for us and a place of honour in the ples bung (village square, or should I say, circle). What a wonderful day we had explaining how God had protected us and how He would protect them also from the spirits that caused them so much fear. The entire village declared that they now believed in God the Creator and Ruler of the mountain.
I left Yangoru in December 1968 but met up with Hongien again 47 years later. We still laughed until tears flowed at the memory of that village on the ridge. Hongien went on to a life of Christian ministry, pioneering a church of more than 200 people as a single young woman. Then she met her Joshua, also a minister of the Gospel. They married and eventually moved on to ministry on the Sepik where Joshua and Lucy (Hongien) Maiyap are still having adventures with God.