It is an amazing thing when evil rears it’s ugly head with such sickening and destructive power that almost everyone can see it for what it is—evil.
A young man in the mountains here just harvested his vanilla crop. This is no small feat.
For those who don’t know, growing vanilla is a very time-consuming, labor-intensive, high-risk operation. Vanilla is not indigenous to Papua New Guinea, so there are no bugs here that can pollinate the plants effectively, which means a farmer must pollinate his own crop flower by flower on every vine throughout his garden. These gardens are often either right next to one’s house or hidden deep in the remotest parts of the mountains due to theft. The price of vanilla beans is so high that many have found it nearly impossible to protect their gardens from even neighbors, friends, and family. Stealing just 10 vanilla beans (which can easily fit in a pocket) can provide enough money to sent a child to school for an entire year.
So it is a time for rejoicing when people are able to gather the fruit of their labors. The young man previously mentioned took his vanilla, packed it carefully, and traveled three days to the nearest town in order to sell it. He took his profits and bought a lot of supplies for his family and community: rice, noodles, canned tuna fish, batteries, razors, and tools (items not available in his remote mountain home).
He found a friend to help him ship these supplies over the bay to the foothills of the Finisterre Mountains. However, neither of them knew that one of the other passengers had a plan for all the cargo on the boat. As the boat headed out into Astrolabe Bay, this man called his fellow thieves who met them in the middle of the bay with a small speed boat. These men boarded the boat and unloaded all the cargo into their own. Those who resisted were cut with machetes or stabbed with screw drivers. The young vanilla farmer was stabbed in the thigh.
Two hours later this young man, bloody and empty-handed, made it to shore, and began the painful hike back to his home with nothing. It will take him a year to harvest his vanilla again.
This farmer does not live near the village of Mawerero, but news of him reached us within a day of the incident (which is amazing in itself when you consider the rugged terrain and lack of social media in these parts). The outrage here was palpable. “It’s those coastal people!” they cried, “They are all heathens!” Being called a “heathen” is perhaps one of the worst labels you could place on someone in these mountains. It is a loaded appellation. It is a term reserved for cannibals, sorcerers, and back-stabbers (the literal kind). It is people calling out evil for what it is.
It is amazing to be able to call evil by it’s name because evil is so often veiled by secrecy or the appearance of decency. Sometimes evil is confused through controversy or even accepted because of it’s prevalence. Evil loves the darkness and hates being exposed. So when evil is uncloaked for all to see, this is amazing.
But the unveiling of evil can go further. In fact, it must go further. To point out atrocities committed by others is one thing, but to rightly estimate the depth of evil in one’s own heart is another. The people here can readily identify the barbarity of their coastal and urban neighbors, but are less apt to apply terms like “heathen” to themselves. To see that “they are heathens” is a step in the right direction, but no one seems to come to the conclusion that “we too are heathens.” From a Biblical worldview, this is a problem.
As Jesus was teaching people about their great need for rescue, some who were listening to Jesus questioned him about a recent outrage (See Luke 12:54–13:5). The head of the Roman government in Israel, Pilate, had slaughtered a number of Galileans when they were making their sacrifices. They were wondering how their guilt compared to that of Pilate (who was a known tyrant) and the Galileans (who had obviously done something dreadful to warrant such a gruesome death).
To which Jesus said: “Do you think these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
“Look at Pilate! Look at the Galileans!” they had said. But Jesus said, “Unless YOU repent.” His audience saw evil in others but failed to see it in themselves. Jesus knows this is deadly thinking, so with blood-earnest words he tells them: “Unless you repent (meaning they have evil in their souls that must be recognized, called out, and despised), you will all likewise perish.”
It is important to see evil for what it is. But it is vastly more important for us to see the evil in our own souls that will justly condemn us. Outrage at injustice is a good thing, but it will do us no good when confronted with our own fate. We are heathens. Our own souls have the same greed, lust, anger, racism, and pride as our enemies.
Let’s pray for one another, that when we see the evils and ills of the world, we would be quick to think of eternity and people’s souls as Jesus did. And pray for the people of Mawerero. Rejoice that they can identify injustice around them, and pray that they will someday see the injustice in their own souls so that they might turn from it and not perish, but have everlasting life.