It was a simple health lesson

Forgiveness sought as a community

“It Was Only a Simple Health Education Lesson!”

I recognized the voice on the other end of the phone immediately. Mama J is what we all called her. She was a competent registered nurse and Community Health Evangelism (CHE) training coordinator for one of the larger provinces of Papua New Guinea. She spoke with excited animation in telling her story of the committee training that she had carried out the previous week in a community an hour outside the provincial capital.

As is so common in PNG, a person can never expect to conduct a training in a community with only the invited participants! No, typically half the village shows up and hangs in every window of the open-style church or community center. After all, there are not many events to break the sameness of their village life and certainly no television for entertainment. The gate crasher participants are usually respectfully quiet, laughing at all the appropriate places or quietly snickering when someone makes a comment that they find embarrassing or surprising. Children giggle as they hear serious statements from the mouths of the adults. Such was the scene of the story Mama J was relaying to me on the telephone that day.

This lesson, titled with an appropriate name within any given culture, is a story of an overworked doctor whose patients really should be learning to prevent most of the illnesses that they are bringing to poor Dr Akia for treatment. The participants are asked to use their understanding of prevention to decide which of the patients in the story could have prevented their illness either at home or with the help of a nurse at the local health center.

Mama J had told the story, then as usual handed each participant in the room a cut-out picture of a person bearing the label of a specific medical issue: measles, scabies, pneumonia, alcoholism etc. She had pictures of the three possible facilities at the front of the room—the hospital, the local health center and a home. Each was asked to walk to the front of the circle of participants, tell the name of the illness and place it at one of the three pictures on the basis of whether or not it was preventable.

As she described the scene to me, it seemed that all went as planned until a young man stood up with his picture figure. Instead of placing it at one of the three facilities he began to sob. Great big man-size tears were streaming down his face as the whole room, along with the window gazers went totally silent. Such a culturally unusual spectacle in a macho setting like this one. A grown man crying in front of his community!

After a few moments he began to speak. “I am holding in my hand a picture of a pregnant woman,” he stated, eyes cast downward, face wet with tears. “I am feeling so sorry for her! I am one of those guys who has made several young women pregnant but not taken any responsibility for the baby. I am so sorry, and I want to ask this community to forgive me.”

“Well you wouldn’t have believed what happened next,” Mama J continued. “And I tell you, honestly I didn’t say a thing!”

“What happened?” I asked, not sure what to expect from the volatile Highlander community where she was conducting the workshop. They could have lynched the guy right on the spot. Emotions run wild in situations like this.

“The whole room started to cry!” she said, hardly able to keep her own voice from breaking. “Everyone had something to confess and ask forgiveness for. Soon they were on their knees on the floor, asking God to forgive them and to heal the ugliness in their community. And I tell you the truth, it was just a simple physical lesson! There was nothing spiritual even said, no mention of God at all.”

“Mama J,” I said quietly, my own tears flowing by now. “The Spirit of God is not limited by our words or lack of them. You have, by your very presence, brought the Kingdom of God into that community. Your own humility and desire to do his work has given him permission to speak into the hearts of these dear tender people. You have done a great thing for them, just by being there and giving them opportunity to speak about issues important to their lives.”

“I guess this is what we mean when we talk about the CHE facilitation method of teaching,” she added. “When we say it’s learner-centered we state it’s all about them, not about me. My whole lesson was side-tracked by their need to deal with some deeply rooted community problems! In the end, I guess that is what will make CHE work here.”