Night Prayer of a Missionary

by Aidan Kay, C. P. - Papua New Guinea

Good evening, Lord. Here I am again. I know you've been with me all day, but I'm happy to spend a little time with you now that things are quiet. Actually, today's been bit of a holiday, hasn't it? Especially after yesterday's rush. But then nothing really worked today quite as planned! It all started with that child at Oup village, in fact, with both of them....

I'd driven there fairly early Sunday morning for Mass, since their village is on one of the few roads in Ossima parish.

Arriving there at 8:30 or so gave me plenty of time to strike the iron pipe which acts as a bell outside their tumbledown church, notifying anyone in the vicinity that confessions were about to start and that Mass would follow in due time.

I had a visiting priest with me, so we finished setting up for Mass and arranged that he would read the Gospel while I would dramatize it a little with the help of the Congregation. Then we sat in different corners of the little church and waited for the confessions.

It was six weeks since they'd had Mass there (they're only one of 14 little bush churches in the parish) and slowly, about half of the women and then the men drifted in for confession. It was about 10 am when Mass got started. The guitarist made every hymn sound like every other and the singing was a bit weak, but they were enjoying it all. Then came the Gospel.

It was Jesus' Kingdom story about the King who threw a banquet which was rejected by the invitees, and so he sent out his servants to the hedgerows and byways to find some guests.

Everything went well in the drama, as different ones became Pharisees or servants or guests. But then at the end, the King found a guest without a wedding garment and the servants hustled the poor unfortunate out of the church, much to the mirth of the rest -- except for his four-year-old son sitting next to him.

The little boy looked on in absolute consternation. When the King happened to look towards him, the child thought he was the next to be chucked out. He set up such a wail that the father had to dash back in, grab him and spend the next ten minutes settling him down. Despite the interruption, Mass drew to an enjoyable close for the little community of about 15 adults and 25 children.

Just as we were finishing, we had a visit from a couple of lay missionaries from Vanimo who were showing their visiting New Zealand Coordinator some small part of the work of missionary. As they were meeting the people, their attention was drawn to one nursing mother who had a tiny, newborn babe in her arms. How shocked our visitors were to find that the child had not been born within days or hours, but rather was fully one month old. Carefully, I explained that it was the mother's malnutrition and lack of health understanding that was so visible in the tiny child. But what can be done at that distance from a clinic? I can only leave that child to you, Lord.

After chatting for a while, we all went our ways, we two priests off to Bewani, (some 30 kilometers further on the rutted, washed-out road) to find three trainee Catechists who were supposed to be standing ready by the road to be picked up for a month's Course on the coast. Two hours later we'd finally found them and were off to find two more in another part of the parish.

Since no one has a watch, time is not of the essence for them; but it was for me because I had to get back to the Station, pack my rucksack and be off for ten days or so round the east side of the parish.

Finally dropped off at 4 pm at the last roadside village. I found the river too swollen to attempt the few crossings on the two-hour walk upstream to the next village, so there was nothing to do but stop in this village for the night and make a start on the morrow. They'd had their Sunday service for themselves in the morning, so Night Prayer and a long discussion with the villagers made the unplanned stop well worthwhile. Try again tomorrow....

At 6:30 in the morning, I could hear the river long before I saw it. It was well over the banks -- up at least 12, perhaps 15 feet -- and by now about 100 yards wide. Not a hope of going upstream. No choice but to catch a lift into Vanimo town and try for a plane that night that might skip a couple of villages and land on a bush strip up towards the mountains. I could visit the other villages going downstream on another (probably equally swollen) river. But first I had to find my lift into town....

Three hours later I was on my way in the first truck that came past. But even that was not wasted time since one old man sat with me on the side of the road and discussed a picture book on the Creed that I'd given him some three years before. Unable to read or write, he would 'read' the pictures and discuss them with his two wives after the children were asleep of an evening. By the time my 'lift' arrived, we were on picture No. 15, with only my comments on each one to add to his perfectly adequate 'teaching.'

And now it's mid-afternoon, Lord. There's no hope of a plane today, so I'll just have to wait till tomorrow -- if the clouds round the mountains have broken and the strip is not too wet. And that will leave me still six villages and seven days from home.

Stay with me, Lord. I think I'm going to need you along the road. Goodnight though, Lord, for now.....

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