Across the Cultural Divide
Last year, Martina and I were pregnant at the same time, she with her fourth and I with my first. We commiserated over morning sickness and constant fatigue. We shared about how our babies were kicking and growing. We joked about having water births in the local river. Martina rejoiced that my life would be changed forever. She was also honest with me, telling me straight that my clothing was too revealing for a pregnant woman in Papua New Guinea. I needed to wear the traditional meri blaus, a bright, voluminous top. I was so thankful for her candid comments in a culture where many people say only what they think you want to hear.
My husband and I were new; we had been in-country a total of six months when we moved to Martina’s community. I was eager to make new friends and become part of the community. I was sure God would have prepared everything for me, and that I would immediately fill some important ministry and become an invaluable part of people’s lives. I quickly realized that the transition would not be as straightforward as I had thought.
After a month there I was feeling discouraged and lonely. I had met plenty of people; smiled constantly, and greeted neighbors, but I still felt out of place. What does God have for me here? I wondered. I don’t even have one genuine Papuan New Guinean friend. One Sunday afternoon the female students from the hospital invited me to join in a game of volleyball. It was just a social game for fun, and women from all over the community joined in. They enthusiastically welcomed me into the game, and it was there that I met Martina.
Martina is a wise woman; she is kind, generous, and loving, with a girlish giggle that begs everyone near to join with her. She has encouraged me many times to get involved in community life and not become apathetic. It took me a while to get to know her, as she is not one to push herself on people. After all, she is a busy woman. Working full-time at the hospital, she has four kids of her own as well as numerous relatives and people in need living in her house.
Sports provided a bridge to friendship, and Martina took advantage of it. She asked me to join her volleyball team, which played in competition each Saturday at the sports field and practiced during the week. I loved being part of the community in this way. It opened doors which I never would have discovered otherwise into people’s lives, and it created many opportunities for friendship building.
Martina and I now each have a gorgeous boy, born just two weeks apart. The women in the community speak of them as if they are destined to be best friends, growing up together on the station. This act of inclusion speaks volumes to me.
My family has now lived here in this community for almost three years. The people are familiar to me; I can now put names to faces and stories to individuals. The community has become a welcoming place. I love to hear the phrase, “Hello my friend,” when people visit me or I am greeted at the market.
Martina is a treasured friend who reached across the cultural divide, which sometimes seems so wide, using our mutual love of volleyball as a bridge to include me in the community. The times I spend with her lift my spirits and help me continue living in a place that is far from my family, and this at a time I feel I need them the most. She showers attention on our family, including us in her wide circle of love. I know God provided for me through Martina. He had prepared everything for me, even a friend, before I came to Papua New Guinea. Martina was open to God, to be used by Him, in whatever way He saw fit.