Friday, September 28, 2012

Pinayanga (part one)

The day after my birthday, Roy arranged for me to go to Pinayanga*, a small village about 30 minutes drive into the bush. There was an untrained medical worker there providing basic healthcare to the people and living in a small clinic that the village had built him. His name is Anthony.

As we bounced down the well-graded road Roy reminisced.
-- “You see that field?” he asked, pointing at a patch of overgrown shrubs. “That used to be rice fields as far as the eye could see.”
I strained hard but could not imagine the cracked clots of vermillion soil soaked in enough water to grow anything rice-like. “Really? Rice fields?” I asked incredulously.
-- “Yes,” he said softly. I could see him stepping back in time in his mind. Remembering.
-- “Is this where you met the rebels?” I asked.
-- “Yes. This is the spot there...” he remembered softly, signaling off to the right.

The week before over a dinner of stewed venison and rice, he had told me about The Rice Field Meeting. It was during the war, not long before he and his wife were taken hostage. Trying to smuggle in food for the starving population, his Land Rover was fired upon by semi-automatic weapons and a rocket launcher. But as they sped through the rebel’s trap, God protected them supernaturally. Of the countless rounds shot their direction, only one stray bullet grazed the hood. No doubt rattled... they had nevertheless made it through unscathed.

But the story didn’t end there.

A few days later an anonymous note was left on Roy’s desk asking for him to secretly meet the rebels in this rice field. He was not sure if it was a trap, so he prayed first, then hopped in his bullet-scratched Land Rover to find out. “What could the rebels possibly want?” he wondered as he road out to meet them under the cover of night.

But once he reached the rice fields, they looked empty. So he waited.

After some time, shrubs started moving and pools of water rippled to reveal rebel soldiers all around him. They literally rose up from plain sight and started walking his way.

He confessed over dinner that when their mud-covered AK-47s started in his direction, he was tempted to worry. What had he gotten himself into this time?

But the overly-friendly smiles on their faces quickly told him he’d not die that night. Instead, they addressed him politely, explaining that they hadn’t eaten in days; the government troops had effectively cut off all their supplies; and now their wives and children were starving in the mountains. Could he help them with food, too?

He readily admitted that his first thought was not Christ-like. Here were the very men who had  tried to shoot him... and they had the gall to ask him for food!

-- “Why should I help you when just last week you shot at me and my family?” he asked half jokingly.
-- “What? When did we try to kill you?” they asked innocently.
-- “I was driving the red Land Rover last week,” he stated flatly. “You shot at me.”
-- “Oh, yes! Yes, we remember you,” they laughed. “That was us shooting!”

Still laughing one man stepped forward and proudly confessed, “I was the one with the rocket launcher.” Then slapping him on the back good-naturedly he asked, “There are no hard feelings are there, brother? This is war.”

What do you say to that?

Long story short, God’s Mercy won the day and by the end of the meeting, Roy had agreed to smuggle them food. He explained to me simply that he was not there to draw political lines; he was there to feed the hungry, cloth the naked, and bind up the broken and wounded. To him there was no difference to a starving orphan and a starving rebel. They both needed Jesus.

His story replayed itself in my thoughts as we bounced further down the road, until he abruptly pointed to a new stretch of road and said, “That road used to be cluttered with land mines.”

I smiled encouraging for him to continue on.

Trish and Roy Perkins.
-- “Just after the war... and before the land mines were cleared, I drove down it on a tractor with Trish and Nana**,” he started to recount. The cogs of memories turning slowly as he drove on.

-- “We drove all the way to Pinayanga and back... and we never hit one land mine,” he added flatly in disbelief at the sound of his own words. “I cannot believe that I did something so stupid... but I did,” he confessed with a slight chuckle then asked, “What was I thinking?”

Then he grew quiet again withdrawing into his memories.

Then we bounced on silently again... and I waited for more. Hoped for me. More was sure to come.

A few minutes passed then he continued. “You know... it took me two months working six days a week to clear this road.”
-- “How did you do it?” I asked expectantly.
-- “I bought a metal detector... then slowly walked every inch of it,” he started. “It was painfully long work as every coin and paper clip would send off the alarms.”
-- “Wow,” I whispered. “You did this by yourself?”
-- “Yes.”

I could not help but smile as he spoke. Here sat a man who was so moved by the needs he saw in this war-scarred country, that he has spent the last 27 years of his life feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and binding up the wounded. Sometimes that meant having midnight meetings with rebels. Other times that meant digging up land mines. Most often it meant making sure nearly a hundred orphans have their next meal.

When we parked in front of the Medical outpost my smile widened. This was EXACTLY what I imagined it would be. A small brick building painted white with blue trim sporting a simple sign in hand-painted cobalt blue: “Posto de Socorro.”

To be continued...

 *Pinayanga means Witchdoctor’s Cauldron in the local tongue. Even though the famous witchdoctor has long since passed, it is still a hotbed for witchcraft to this day.

**Trish is Roy’s wife and Nana was the nurse who ran the medical clinic until 7 years ago when she had to retire and the clinic closed.