The scent of burnt wood, grass, flesh, and various debris filled the air in the highlands of Papua New Guinea in September 2015. It was Independence weekend, but tribal war in this Pacific Island nation is still a reality. A death the day before tragically had triggered tribal rivals’ revenge, burning many homesteads, animals, and destroying other property. It left nothing but ashes and brokenness behind.
On the grassy hillsides of the Wahgi Valley are the communities of Kudjip and Banz. Nearby live people who for centuries have worked the ground and built their lives there. Out of vengeance for a man’s death in a fight, one tribe burned about 200 homes in the other area. In a setting where legal systems struggle to effectively solve conflict, many people still resort to tribal violence, often destroying all that people have built.
With so much hurt on both sides of the conflict, there needed to be some sort of relief and help. During the next several months, Nazarenes came alongside both the families and communities, and even the men in prison, trying to build bridges of peace.
The Dooley family — Dr. Scott Dooley, Gail Dooley, and their three daughters — live at the Nazarene Hospital at Kudjip. The Dooleys are just 10 kilometers from the Banz tribe. Dr. Dooley is the Nazarene hospital administrator. Along with many from churches and Nazarene Health Ministries, he was involved with relief efforts in areas affected by the tribal fighting.
Dr. Dooley said there are four branches of Nazarene Health Ministries in Papua New Guinea: The first is the hospital in Kudjip. Many doctors there are missionary doctors, and many on staff live near where the devastation took place. Second, is the Nazarene College of Nursing, which offers a three-year diploma program. Graduates not only receive degrees, but they also receive a certificate of lay ministry from the Nazarene Bible College. Third is Primary and Rural Health, which runs several clinics, specifically in remote areas. Fourth is Community-Based Health Care. It is community holistic training, which disciples people while influencing and teaching them to work together and learn how to better take care of themselves.
It has been a priority of these Nazarene institutions to spread the love of God to the people impacted by these recent events. It has especially been an emphasis of the hospital because it is so close to the areas impacted. The town of Banz and the men who fought are some of the hospital employees' nearest neighbors.
Funds from a variety of places have been raised to help with rebuilding. Some hospital staff contributed, along with people involved with the National Women’s Meeting. Missionaries have followed up in the places affected, and a local Nazarene church, Cornerstone Church of the Nazarene, had a particularly large impact on the relief and rebuilding efforts.
Baru Dirye, the Nazarene National Health Secretary, and his wife, Christina, felt the Lord asking them to start a church about five years ago. They lived in a house on stilts, so the church met in the open space beneath the house. Over time, it has grown to almost 300 people, has a new building, and is still growing. Meanwhile, because it is so close to the devastation, Cornerstone has partnered with families and has been reaching out to help. They were even invited by that community to plant another church nearby.
Nazarenes recognized that people on both sides of the conflict needed help and ministry, so Dr. Dooley, other doctors on staff), and the hospital chaplain began meeting with the men in prison. The chaplain even had the opportunity to preach to all prisoners. The inmates began Bible studies twice a day; it was evident Christ was working.
“Many said they’d given their lives to Christ while in prison,” Dooley said. “They are now being followed up with for encouragement.”
The men were imprisoned about four months, then were released because no charges had been made officially, and no trial was scheduled. Since their release, however, more peace and change has occurred. The missionaries and hospital staff remain involved in Bible studies and spiritual growth for those who gave their lives to Christ.
Many on both sides of the conflict have been amazed that people would be so willing to help after so much violence, while sometimes even close family members would not. This has helped relationships between the hospital and the Kuma tribe grow, as well as the people of Banz.
As tension lessens and the love of Christ and a tentative peace rise up to take their place, prayers still are needed for rebuilding and renewing the town of Banz. Many of the people have gone through — and continue to go through — hard times, simply trying to survive day to day. They need prayers for endurance in their faith.
“We just pray that we’ll continue to be able to follow up with people and show them how Christ can really change who we are and how we react to situations,” Dr. Dooley said, “and when situations come up like this, people will truly learn something and really learn to turn to God for the life that only He can give us.”