Recently I had the opportunity to visit the Gulf Region for the second time when I was asked to speak at another men’s camp. This time we stayed two nights in the village of Meii (sounds like May), and I was graciously provided a room in the officers’ quarters. For two-and-a-half days, I felt almost like just one of the villagers – and I loved it!
The trip began much like the previous one, taking the property truck on the six-hour drive to Kerema, dodging constant potholes, speed bumps, craters, pigs, fallen trees and pedestrians. It really is exhausting just bouncing and swerving for six hours. We arrived in Kerema at the regional headquarters just before sunset, and once we found a dingy and agreed upon a price which included our own jug of fuel, we took off across the gulf with the sun casting its last orange and red rays over the water.
As we turned up the tributary that would take us to Meii I was grateful that our boat captain knew the way, because I could see very little. I was also grateful that we slowed as the river grew smaller, and that a couple of small flashlights were brought out to find our way to the right landing spot. We drifted slowly into the shallow waters of the shore and I was surprised to find several people wading out toward us. I grabbed my four small bags and began to head for shore when a young woman approached me and reached for my bags. I tried to object, but she made it clear that they were there to help. She took my two biggest bags (the computer and video projector was the heaviest bag, and the most precious!) and said, “You follow. This way.”
We wandered barefoot and briskly through the hard-packed paths between the houses, and as we turned in at The Salvation Army property my porter said, “You go there,” as she headed off into the darkness with my clothes and computer. From out of the darkness we heard the rhythmic sound of sticks on bamboo and a welcome song being sung by the Meii Corps men’s group. We were served a fresh coconut and a warm piece of sago as small children danced around us and laughed. People kept coming out of the darkness to shake our hands and welcome us to the village.
Eventually a generator was fired up, and we set up our equipment in the hall for the opening program. The generator was too small to provide enough electricity for other than two bare florescent light bulbs, but with several villages not yet having arrived for the weekend, the crowd was small enough that I just set my laptop on some stacked benches facing the men and did my keynote address.
After the program we had a late supper – rice, sausages, boiled green bananas and potatoes. Then I hung my mosquito net over the low wooden bench with a thin cloth-covered foam mattress that was my bed, unpacked a few things onto a bare shelf, and then crawled inside my net bed around midnight.
I drifted to sleep listening to the generator churning away, the sound of the sea just a few hundred meters from the house, and the men across the way, sleeping on the floor of the youth hall, singing to an acoustic guitar late into the night. Sometime in the night I was awakened by the sound of heavy rainfall on the roof – the sound and the smell were refreshing.
Saturday morning I walked down to the sea and waded for a few minutes, then went back to take bathe. The bath was a two-booth set-up just apart from the house, made from poles and corrugated iron. A loose piece of iron served as the door, and a piece of inner-tube was stretched around a peg to hold the door shut. There was no roof, and you hung your clothes and towel over the poles, and stood on a small concrete pad that had a rough trough dug around it to drain water away. A large steel tub held water drawn for me from a well between the house and the bath. A coconut served as
the scoop to douse myself with cold water to bathe and shampoo my hair.
Breakfast was canned meat and chicken-flavored “biscuits” (a thick cracker), and coffee.
The morning sessions went well, with a larger crowd, and with a larger generator so that I could set up the projector for my presentations. They lashed tarps on the sides of the hall near the front in order to provide a darker “screen” that consisted of two strips of white material draped overlapping against the back wall of the platform. The men responded well to the discussions of family, and being a good husband and father.
Saturday afternoon I rested, walked to the beach, reviewed my message for Sunday morning and visited with the men. Before dinner Capt. Henry and I went to swim in the ocean. We waded far out and dove through the big waves that were preceding an incoming rainstorm we could see far out on the water. It was exhilarating and fun, and we felt like we had gotten our exercise for the day. Afterward I “showered” again (this time drawing my own water – part of the adventure!) to get the salt water off, and then dressed in fresh shorts and t-shirt.
At dinner we had rice, sausages, potatoes and bananas and some fried chicken. As darkness fell, there was trouble getting any generator to work, so the evening movie was cancelled. The men visited and sang again long into the night. It had rained the previous night, but Saturday night we had what was truly a deluge! There was no thunder and lightning, just pouring rain like I’d rarely seen. It was really nice falling to sleep to the cacophonous sound.
Somewhere in the middle of the night, a dog right under the house suddenly let out a shrieking yelp that set off a chain-reaction of dogs reporting in from around the village. Though I was really irritated at having been so rudely awakened, it was humorous to listen to the chorus of yips and yelps rounding the village for about the next twenty minutes.
Sunday morning I awoke to the sound of metal pots clanking, and looked out my window to see one of the ladies who had been cooking for us all weekend carting seven or eight pots and kettles across the new lake that flooded the property. She went to draw water from the tank near the youth hall. Henry and I donned our suits and headed to the beach again, and this time the waves were enormous. What a way to start a Sunday morning!
After our “exercise” we walked back through the brush to the house to get ready for morning worship. I again drew water for my bath and was a little disappointed when I discovered that the coconut had been replaced by a piece of a plastic bottle fashioned into a scoop.
Breakfast was some whole fried fish. I was pleased to see that they had been cut in half, so that I could simply take a back-half and avoid the front half with the eyes. This was fine with the others, since to them that was the choicest part anyway, and I was happy to have been able to oblige them.
We dressed in our white “Number 1” shirt-jackets and went over to the hall for the service. The big generator was again being obstinate so we proceeded without the PowerPoint I had prepared. I used the opportunity to connect with the congregation (which consisted of the 40 or so men from the camp as well as the rest of the Meii Corps attenders). I carried my computer around to let everyone see one photograph of the art of Kintsukuroi which was the theme of my message on the transformation and regeneration of the woman at the well from John chapter 4.
It was humbling and rewarding to see many men lining the altar to rededicate themselves to being the men God created them to be, and then joined by many others from the corps as well. Combined with the fatigue from the weekend, it made for an emotional impact on me as I quietly thanked God for the awesome opportunity to minister in that place!