When I landed in Port Moresby more than four months ago I was told about and could observe the increasing number of cars on the road. Here in Madang the town roads have visibly deteriorated due to the increased number of cars coming in and out of town. When I first lived here, expat references to “traffic jams” almost always came with a smirk. Now, we can ask quite seriously about how the traffic was on the way in and out of town. Granted, the traffic situation may still be exacerbated more by potholes than by congestion, and it in no way approximates the kind of traffic one encounters in most of the world.
But things are changing. I’ve read that GDP growth has been over 8% over the past three years here. This means that last year GDP growth was higher here than in China. A lot of this growth appears to be coming from natural resource extraction, especially the investment coming in through the LNG project in the Southern Highlands. I don’t quite understand the intricacies of which companies have differing stakes in the project, but I believe the American company Exxon-Mobil is involved as a major partner.
|Logs ready for export just across the inlet from us|
I've heard from multiple sources about rampant illegal logging in some parts of the country. There have been newspaper articles and a government report. I am by no means well informed about the latest developments on this front, but we can observe dozens and dozens of round logs being loaded onto a ship just across from us in what I presume is one of the legal logging operations. (We can sometimes hear the low roars and beeps of the machinery followed by the thunder-like “thud” of the logs being dropped into the ship’s hold all through the night) I don’t mean to take a radical stance against all logging, but I would greatly prefer that all logging be done in an environmentally sustainable manner that allowed Papua New Guinean landowners to benefit more and which made more room for more “downstream processing” of the wood here in country.
As with many developing countries, there are many, many young people who want education, jobs, and a better future for themselves and their children. They are sometimes frustrated, but are far more likely to give off a vibe of optimism and ambition than disillusionment or despair.
Violence has always been an issue here in PNG, but it has apparently made the international media repeatedly in the last few weeks. The burning of people (especially women) accused of sorcery appears to have taken a modern turn towards sheer cruelty and spectacle in some cases. Last week I heard it first suggested that the increased media attention may not be as helpful as some would think. A researcher insisted that the key is to get the whole concept out of people’s minds. In some cases, the “power of suggestion” may be more harmful than the good done by public condemnations.
Now I hear that foreigners (including an Australian and an American) have been violently attacked within the country within the last week or so. Tribal warfare continues in many areas, and the rascal gangs (“rascal” has a far, far more serious connotation here than it does in the States; it is the primary word used to refer to “gangsters” or “outlaws”) continue to be a major problem in many areas of the country.
I hold all of this in the back of my head. I have a desire to somehow “synthesize” all of this information, but have yet to do so. I sometimes feel disappointed that despite my BA in International Relations, I sometimes feel just as perplexed as everyone else as to what can be done to help countries like PNG develop.
And what does the Gospel have to say to all of these situations? How should I pray for PNG? What should I pray for specifically? How can the self-sacrificial and transformative love of Christ be incarnated in this context?
Our first short term break starts next week. I plan to take a PMV (public motor vehicle) along the greater part of the length of the very important yet inadequately maintained highlands highway. I know that I’ll be observing what I see at the roadside stands, PMV stops, and markets of the highlands. I am sometimes tempted to embark on an “expat rant” about road quality, corruption, and whatever else may not be the way I would have it be. Complaining about government is by no means limited to expats (or by any means to PNG!), but I feel as an expatriate I may be tempted in a particular way to forget the corruption, greed, and violence that characterize my own culture, let alone the extent to which greed and selfish ambition can and do continue to wound my own soul.
And there is so much beautiful about PNG, its people, and its cultures. Not everything is doom and gloom, but I’m sometimesacutely aware of the fact that this country is encountering the stresses and pains of a national transition to modernity. Indeed, that transition seems to color nearly everything that I observe or read about in the national newspapers.
By writing this post I hope that I can remind myself to not just observe and analyze this transition, but to pray as well. We are still in the Easter season; we Christians are still living with, in, and through the risen Christ. I need not be naively optimistic about this country’s future, but as a Christian, I can live with a firm and historically grounded hope which also invites me as an individual to ask what it means to follow Jesus here in PNG in light of the signs of the times.