by LCMS missionary Michael Ritzman
You may have heard about the Day of Repentance worship service we had in Papua New Guinea (PNG) on Aug. 27. If not, then briefly, the day is a government holiday, but we missionaries decided to use this opportunity to gather bishops, pastors, evangelists and anyone else who wanted to come, and make a statement. Three statements, actually.
First, we gave out a newly-translated version of Luther’s 95 Theses. Why? Because they are mainly about repentance and God’s forgiveness, won for us by His Son Jesus Christ.
Second, we distributed copies of Luther’s Large Catechism translated by LHF into the Tok Pisin language (almost nobody had a copy, including pastors). We also gave out English-language copies of Bible Stories in Pictures [provided by LHF and WELS Multi-Language Publications] to everyone who came to the event!
Third—and this was probably the most important—we missionaries in PNG wrote our own “theses” about the false beliefs surrounding what the PNG people call “Sanguma,” or what we would call witchcraft. It is not true, of course, but many people here believe it is (even some Christians!).
Usually it happens that when someone dies unexpectedly (or not), the family will go consult a “witch-finder” and pay to have them locate the person they think is the culprit. The accused person (usually a woman) will be tortured until he or she confesses to being a witch. They may also accuse others of helping, which leads to others being tortured as well.
Often times the victims are killed, either as a result of the torture or just outright.
So we used the Word of God, our best weapon to combat spiritual darkness, and created statements against these false beliefs and the horrible practices that accompany them. We gave them to pastors from all over PNG so now they can go be voices in their communities, speaking out and training others to combat these un-Godly beliefs and practices.
Sometimes we missionaries are criticized for what we are doing. Some say we are spoiling other cultures by spreading our beliefs. In response to this, I once heard a missionary say something like, “Yes, we are ‘spoiling’ their cultures — because they are worshiping rocks and stones and going to hell! They need to know Jesus, God’s Son who rescued them from their sins.”
When I see what is happening in PNG with women, men, and children being tortured and killed because of false (satanic) beliefs, I think of what that missionary said. Now when someone accuses us of ‘spoiling’ other cultures I want to say, “Yes, we are. Because today in places like PNG they are burning and torturing witches! They need the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
And that is what we are bringing.