Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Martyrs of New Guinea

I'm catching up on my saints this morning.

OK, so there's sacrifice and then there's stupid. For the Martyrs of New Guinea, given what I've read about them, I'm leaning towards stupid. God forgive me, for I don't know what I'm doing.

But here's the thing: these folks were missionaries in New Guinea who could leave before the Japanese invasion of New Guinea. But their bishop said, ""We must endeavour to carry on our work. God expects this of us. The church at home, which sent us out, will surely expect it of us. The universal church expects it of us. The people whom we serve expect it of us. We could never hold up our faces again if, for our own safety, we all forsook Him and fled, when the shadows of the Passion began to gather around Him in His spiritual and mystical body, the Church in Papua."

Point 1: Is staying in New Guinea the best work that these folks could do on behalf of the people they are serving?

Point 2: If the missionaries have done their job, can not the church carry on its work without them?

Point 3: Does their staying and association with locals put the locals in any danger?

(All three of which are really the same point: what's the best way they can serve the people they are trying to serve?)

Point 4: Is this about doing what's right or not looking like a coward?

Point 5: Where was the bishop during this invasion?

I read this story and I just get mad. I know that there's a lot of the story I do not know. Maybe staying in New Guinea really was the best thing for these people to do, the best way they could love God and their neighbor.

But I also believe that getting yourself killed is not always martyrdom. Sometimes it's just dumb.


Anisa Willis said...

Very interesting. Still ruminating. I'm posting it on my facebook wall--Thanks!

Laura Toepfer said...

I'm still ruminating too. Goodness knows I cannot claim to have any special knowledge here.

CFB said...

Hmmm, I'm preaching on this feast day this evening. I've never heard a take like yours... giving it some serious thought.

Anonymous said...

Probably less informed about the martyrs of New Guinea than anyone else here, but this will not keep me from pitching my own two cents in. While I am no fan of martyrdom, the missionaries' refusal to leave the island might serve as a powerful symbol of their total identification with the people who already lived there, their refusal to make self-serving distinctions between themselves and all the others on the island who were at risk. I wonder how the people of New Guinea remember the dead of those days, and what place the missionary martyrs hold in their memory.

Laura Toepfer said...

I'm curious what the New Guinean take on it is, too. I may still look into that.

The more I think about it, the more I disagree with myself. I don't think the martyrs were stupid; what I fear is that they were victims of a hierarchical church. I continue to ponder the Bishop's message and wonder how much choice the missionaries actually had about whether to stay or not.

But again, this is entirely speculation on my part. Mostly, it makes me intensely curious about what was REALLY going on. As if that could ever be fully known.

Greg said...

From what I know of the Japanese occupation of SE Asia (I lived & studied in Malaysia some years ago), the local people suffered greatly. (For instance, most food was confiscated for the soldiers; my friends told me they pretty much lived on tapioca.)

The missionaries were probably hoping to be able to comfort and care for the people.