Friday, as I was flying home, friends sent me links to six different articles regarding the cruel, public murder of a woman, Kepari Leniata, in the street of Mount Hagen, Papua New Guinea, near where we will be living. A boy from her village had died in the hospital, and the family accused her of sorcery, of causing his death.
In PNG, it is often believed that things do not happen for no reason. Even if an older person dies, it is believed that it does not happen on accident: sorcery. Someone made it happen for some reason, and that person must be found out and punished in order for things to be made right.
Kepari Leniata was tortured publicly and then was doused with gasoline and burned alive in the street. People watched as it happened and recorded it with their cell phones. The world has cried out at the barbarism.
Mount Hagen is a town that I will probably be in often. It is one of our closest airports, it is where the larger markets are. It is the biggest town in the highlands, but it is certainly not big.
Just a few days before I came home, I was sitting in the chapel of Concordia University Irvine, listening to my husband preach at their chapel. Part of his message was to bring comfort, because two of their alumni -- Monica Quan and Keith Lawrence, who were engaged to be married and on the verge of their lives together, had been brutally murdered for no apparent reason. It became clear soon after, that they were shot by a former LAPD officer who had been fired, and who had decided that the way to redeem himself was to punish all those who had ruined his life. Her father had been the man who was responsible for his firing. When it had happened, they were college students, probably oblivious to the world. They were innocent of any wrong-doing, but their lives were taken in order to punish her father. And Christopher Dorner, the murderer, has a whole list of people he wants to punish.
This hit home to me. My father had been a high-ranking police officer, and had certainly disciplined and fired subordinates. As the facts unfolded, there was an eerie "but for the grace of God, there go I" feeling. My family had always had an unlisted number (back when that mattered and seemed vaguely antisocial) in the off chance that a former criminal that my father arrested or someone else might be tempted to look him up. It's not outside of the imagination. My brother had a moped when he was sixteen -- one of the first kinds that you didn't have to pedal. A cop who didn't like my dad pulled him over 50+ times when he was on his way to work and made him release the pedals every time to prove it was street legal. When cops broke up parties, they would often just send everyone home, but would make my mom come and get my brother. I'd gotten the message that I could never really know who was on my side, because of who my dad was. I walked the straight and narrow in high school.
Dorner had also served with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, like my father, before joining the LAPD. Dorner had gone to my college, Southern Utah University, and he killed alumni from my husband's school. Being small schools, one predominantly Mormon and one predominantly Lutheran, I doubt there is another couple in the history of the two schools who can say that.
Right now, the LAPD is scared. So scared that they have fired on people who were clearly innocent if they had their wits about them. Motorcycle cops have been pulled off their assignments and put in cars to serve as partners so they can't be fired at on the streets. Some of them have no idea if they are targets, or if their families are.
So yes...the Mount Hagen murder is shocking and barbaric, but this kind of barbarism is seen all over. Human rights and modern justice need to be found in the Highlands. But as a woman's life was taken from her cruelly without any fault of her own, I was also experiencing more closely a murder of two people equally innocent, and a murder that is equally barbaric. Both of these are situations where the love of Christ is needed; not to absolve the sinners, but to instill a love and respect for God's creation so that these situations do not happen, and also to give comfort to the grieving who are left behind.
In Papua New Guinea, women are frequently bought with a bride price and can be viewed as property. But there are many women there who have joy in Christ, whose husbands have learned to love them as Christ loved the Church. A missionary priest wrote a few years ago: "Catechesis is creating the family in Papua New Guinea." Today, we often expect civilizing to occur at the hands of the United Nations or the Peace Corp. But it is the Holy Spirit who has been civilizing people for 2000 years, by claiming them for Christ and then teaching them to live as God wants them to live because they are a light in the darkness, a city on a hill...because they are loved and redeemed.
Women have few rights in Papua New Guinea, but Monica Quan's rights didn't help her escape the force of evil. Evil doesn't care about your rights. The only humanizing force that we have is Christ. If Christopher Dorner trusted that if he was wronged, God would avenge him and provide for him, if he had respected Monica and Keith as people whom God created and Christ died for, this never would've happened. If the family of that little boy had trusted that God had their son, and that things happen in His time, they would not have felt the need for an arbitrary vengeance against Kepari, whom God created and Christ died for. But Satan, the world, and our sinful self tell us that when we are wrong, we should be vindicated, and others should suffer because we have. And this happens all the time, everywhere in this world.
In fact, little girls and boys are being torn apart and burned with chemicals in just about every town in the United States right now, not to mention in so many other countries, and their only crime is the same crime that Monica, Keith, and Kepari committed -- they exist. The world is indeed barbarous.