Immersion. It all hits you when suddenly you’re miles and miles away from the comfort of your own bed, family that used to be a phone call away, and away from any sense of familiarity. When you’re sleeping on the floor of a stranger’s home made from metal and wood scraps with 25 other Papua New Guinean strangers. When you’re looking into cracks that reveal the Pacific Ocean just a few feet below, and swaying because the stilts holding up the house are moving with the waves. When you go to the bathroom into a hole in the floor, with no door… Or toilet paper. When your nightly lullaby is rabid dogs outside fighting, pigs on the dock ready to be sold for bride price squealing and grunting, or the five day old baby crying out for food. When you get served endless amounts of food and watch the rest of the family eat your scraps, or eat nothing at all. When you hear the cries of a young child with malaria; when you see the bruised face of a woman living in constant abuse.
Or when you realize that this is someone’s average everyday life.
You cannot escape the culture. It transforms everything about you if you let it. It is one thing to hear about these things, but when these realities become your realities, they change something in the depths of your heart. It is powerfully confronting to live in the midst of such a culture, surrounded by the pain and poverty Papua New Guineans face every day. Except I have the option to escape it; they do not.
Nearly 40% of Papua New Guineans live below the national poverty line. This number comes alive when you meet these people face to face, when you live in their homes and hear their stories. Families of 15 or more live in one house the size of an average Australian kitchen, fighting for floor space to sleep on. Who needs a pillow? If the crops are bad or the fish aren’t biting, hunger strikes. Severe illness is almost inevitable with 94% of people affected by malaria, while receiving healthcare is almost impossible. I lived among the individuals represented in these statistics. I experienced these unavoidable realities firsthand. And all of these things are normal there. These people live with nothing… according to western standards.
However, the people of Papua New Guinea are the richest people I have ever met.
I was wrecked with a perspective change as soon as I saw and experienced the depth of relationship that is another normal and unavoidable reality in Papua New Guinea. I am the one who has been deprived my entire life. I have never experienced such love. These people adopted me, a perfect stranger. They gave me the very best of the very little they had, without reservation. They gave and gave and gave…and gave until they quite literally had nothing left give. Even when they exhausted their physical resources, they still poured out more. They listened to me. They prayed for me. They invested in me. All as if they were serving The Lord, hoping for nothing in return. And this was normal for them.
I went to Papua New Guinea to serve people, but I was served more than what I thought was humanly possible.
The Papua New Guineans gave me a deeply intimate revelation of what a lifestyle of true and selfless love looks like. Their normal way of life allowed me to tangibly experience a taste of God’s very essence. Just when I think His love couldn’t get any better, He shows up with so much more! The richness and generosity of His love cannot be separated. This true love is a love with the sole purpose to draw people in and build people up.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
Most Christians have this verse memorized and have heard it hundreds of times. It is one thing to read about this love in The Bible, but it is a completely separate and all-consuming experience to receive this love firsthand from people who were once strangers. To receive everything from people who have nothing.
How could I possibly go back to living my normal life: giving nothing when I have everything?
See, these people understand what has true value in life. Life is not about the house, car, or even the diploma you have. Things will always fall away. Things fail. Things distract from the heart and face of God.
But love… love. Love stands eternal. Love never fails. Love draws you deeper and deeper into the depths of God, leaving us in saturated awe.
I have seen the heart of God in action. I have been immersed in the kind of pure love Jesus commands everyone to give. A love that comes from overflow, not obligation. Papua New Guinea exposed me to a new definition of normal life. A lifestyle with pervasive and unavoidable love. Immersion.