The church floor was filthy. I had never seen such a dirty church floor. Clods of black dirt covered the shiny white tiles and black bare feet stood on it or traipsed in more. At first I thought, “Why don’t they clean this up and take more pride in their church?”
But then I looked at the eager devoted faces, then at their dress, then at their feet. If they wore shoes they were all now left at the door and by removing their shoes at the door, they were showing reverence for God’s House. This was the church at Bulolo in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.
The flower decorations were brilliant and vases of bright lilies and crotons filled the many vases at the front of the church. Obviously the women had contributed and created these marvellous displays. Besides, I had seen them preparing the church with flowers on a previous visit.
Hundreds of faithful church members had come from near and far to see and hear the important people from the church Union office in Lae. They wanted to hear the news of the world church, to hear a sermon that would encourage them and to share their music with us. A number of fine singing men’s groups sang their hearts out and the congregation joined in beautiful harmony when we sang the old time hymns. The deacons passed the offering bags along the rows and over the heads of the many children filling up the aisles. They bags were bulging when they reached the rostrum.
When they were told that PNG had the highest offering/tithe percentage per membership in the South Pacific region, they were elated and broad smiles precipitated a loud applause. They were justifiably proud of their church.
The divine service proceeded followed by the Sabbath School lesson because the electricity would be cut off at that time and no loud speakers would be available. The teacher was an enthusiastic school master and many men responded to his proddings and questions. The president of the Union, Leigh Rice and then Bob Butler, CFO, spoke after the lesson time with more news and current event stories from across the country of PNG. Many men again asked further questions or asked for clarification about this or that. Not one woman spoke although all had eager anticipation written all over their faces.
I turned to the women near me and said, “Why don’t you ask something? You must have some questions. Ask what the church is doing for women.”
They shyly looked at me and said “Oh no, the men can speak.”
I was disappointed with this lack of confidence but was well aware that these same women led the community with their activities of caring for their own homes, for the cooking and cleaning of homes and churches, for the flower arranging, for the teaching in the Sabbath School and the nearby church school, for the heavy gardening work they would do and the carrying of huge loads of firewood on their backs. They were the ones who put together the exquisite flower arrangements in the church – put there to honour my visit and to bless me with their kindness.
I knew that ultimately they held the society together and without them, this church would be empty, the town would be wild, the streets dangerous for it is here that there has been big tribal tensions with men warring with each other.
But I wished that these same women might feel freer to stand up, speak out and be leaders in their church – equal with the men as Jesus taught us. PNG has one of the highest rates of domestic violence and abuse in the world. It is time for my church to help change that by demonstrating their acceptance and support of women in equal partnership in the church.
I thank God for the women of PNG who clean the church floors, arrange the flowers, care for the children, grow and cook the food and are wiling to sit back and let the men speak. I suspect they might be just a bit too tired.
Written July 25, 2015