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Royree Jensen (Sons of Thunder, 2009) tells the story of powerful revival in Bougainville, east of Papua New Guinea, during the decade of war from 1988, sparked by the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) to defend their land and culture from devastation caused by mining. Spiritual leaders worried about the western evils that arrived with the mining: pornography, alcohol abuse, drugs, smoking and immorality. Here are selections from Royree’s story.
Friday, November 6, 1987 marked the first supernatural revival event. It was at this time that the crisis was about to boil over. The stories of that day and the period of time that followed have been told to me by Papa Luke, a genteel man – white-haired, 73 years of age, a school teacher, world-travelled. He lives on Saposa Island, 30 minutes by banana boat from Buka Island. He was a small boy during World War II and can remember the time when the Japanese invaded his island. Having lived through so much turbulence, Papa Luke now spends most of his days sitting with God. When we finally found him, he was sitting by the ocean reading his Bible.
Both teacher and story-weaver, he began to talk, vividly recalling the day the revival began, in the circular story-telling style of the Melanesian people.
“Before revival came up, I wrote a drama about God that mixed the culture with the Word of God. We had a drama group of young people who travelled around Buka area.
Around this time, nine people got sick from black magic. Out of the nine, five died and four were left.
“My cousin Salome was one of the four people who didn’t die. She was brought to the hospital in Buka but she didn’t recover, so she was referred to Arawa General Hospital. She didn’t recover there. The Indian doctor told her and her husband that he had seen witchcraft in India and knew that this poison came from the witchcraft. The doctor discharged her and she came home.
“They had a ritual ceremony where they asked for the sorcerers to release her by making a sacrifice to free her. She was meant to get better but didn’t improve. After black magic failed, her brother, the chief, requested for the drama group to come back to our village and pray.
“By Sunday morning, my cousin was still sick. My family brought her to the Lotu (church service). They prayed for deliverance and healing. She got healed immediately along with the other three who were still sick. Five dead. Four healed. On that Sunday, many spiritual gifts fell. Everyone received a spiritual gift – all different kinds of gifts.
“Now the group went to the island where Salome and the others got sick. They were going to heal the island of the witchcraft that had killed the people. They put their hands into the ground without having to dig and they pulled out the poison. Their hands went through the ground to the exact spot of the bones or whatever artifacts had been used for the witchcraft. Their eyes were closed but the Holy Spirit led them to these places.” (As he told me this, he shaped his hand as they had shaped theirs – like a rigid blade extending straight from the arm.)
Walking on water
“Now things became wild, exciting and interesting. Supernatural things began to happen. By the power of the Holy Spirit, my cousin Salome discerned that there was some witchcraft poison on another nearby island (a burial site) that was put there by a sorcerer. We began to pray. While we prayed, fifteen people stood with their eyes shut. Still with their eyes shut, they began walking on the water from our island to the nearby island. The Holy Spirit led them while they walked. When they reached the other island, they put their hands into the ground and pulled out small parcels of scraped human bone. This powder was being used by sorcerers in their witchcraft rituals. They brought these parcels of scraped bones back to our island, still walking on top of the water with their eyes still shut. They did not swim.
“We prayed over the parcels and threw them away into salt water. This broke the power of witchcraft. We don’t know how they did the walking on the water except by the power of God. Plenty of people saw them walking on the water. There were plenty of eye witnesses. The distance between the two islands is one kilometre.
“The effect that this had on the island was that we became very excited about God. Many became Christians and worshipped God. It didn’t stop there. Some of our school boys and girls, including my son, visited another island. All the mothers prepared food for them to share out. My son climbed a tree leaving his plate of food for a friend. The friend ate the food and died, along with eight other children and their teacher. My pikinini only got sick.
“This was not the only group to visit that island and die so we were waking up to the fact that the island had something no good on it. We notified all the ministries around us. For one week, we fasted, prayed and read the Bible.
“First we went back to the island where our 15 people had walked. We found more black magic – enough to fill a 10kg bag of rice. We prayed over it and threw it in the water. A big flying fox with legs like a man settled on top of the house where I was staying with another pastor. We could feel the wind from his wings. We rebuked this evil, black magic. It was powerful and even those who were praying fell down. This battle went on for quite a while but the people in our church were skilled in deliverance and intercession and eventually we started to win over this black magic.
“Two days later, we visited the island where the school children had died. We circled the island in a small boat worshipping God. We were all a little bit afraid. First people who could discern black magic went ashore. Then those who could fight black magic went ashore. Then we all went ashore.
“We stood together and worshipped God. Then we split into two groups, heading around the island in opposite directions. Just before we joined up, one team stood under a tree and looked up. They saw a live bird that they knew was part of black magic. They said, ‘In the name of Jesus come down.’ The bird died and began to fall. By the time it hit the ground, only the skeleton of the bird was left.
“One month before, some plantation workers had been on the island. A man had sat under that tree to rest. He took sick, went to hospital and died. However, after we fought the black magic, it was okay. Even today, 20 years later, people live there and no one gets sick. There is good food, good fish and everything grows. It is no longer a witchcraft island.
“These things marked the beginning of the revival. Demonic spirits were being chased out of our land.”
Albert was a young Christian during the crisis. He adds: “I now see, feel and walk on the power of God. I didn’t know these things when I was a young Christian but I saw it in others. There were those who were operating on the high voltage power of God. These were people who would walk through a hail of bullets and not get hit. I would say that the host of heaven caught some of the bullets for me.
“There was one instance in 1993 when I was leading a group of chiefs from up in the mountains to sign a peace agreement. I was not doing this job of my own accord but because it was my job to do. I prayed to my God, “The fighting is all around us and I am a Christian. If You are going to go with me, talk with me tonight, Papa God. I don’t want to lead them through the bullets.
“At 2 a.m., my elder son who was three spoke in English. He did not know English. He said, ‘Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, you can go.’ He was fast asleep. Fifteen years later, the memory still brings tears to my eyes and a reverent awe of God. This was not the time of meetings, conferences, mobile phones or encouragement. This was a hard time and we only had God.
“I woke up in the morning with peace. That day, 15 of the chiefs started to run back to the mountains. I told them that God was with us and that not one single man must run away even if there is gunfire. I told them that, if one runs, then the guns will get us but that if no one runs, we will all be safe.
“There was a place called Ambush Corner always maintained by BRA. They knew where I was taking these chiefs and why. They didn’t want anyone to sign peace papers. I was in the front of the line. The Holy Spirit stopped me and I heard a voice tell me to take the chiefs to one side. I stopped them and said, ‘We are about to enter Ambush Corner and I am afraid that there are people ready to kill us. However, last night, I felt the peace of God. Don’t run but stand strong beside me.’ We walked ahead and the BRA descended upon us. I said to them, ‘In Jesus’ name, I am a servant of God.’
“They pointed their weapons to the sky and fired them off, then they pointed their guns at us but the guns wouldn’t fire. The chiefs kept following me saying that the peace must come from God. The peace we enjoy today in Bougainville is because of that document.
“One time, I was holding my son on my shoulders going for a tramp. We came to a flooded river which was odd because there had been no rain so we took another route. Later I found out that there was an ambush waiting to kill us. The unnatural flood changed our direction.”
During the late 1980s when war erupted, life was going on in its exotic daily routines in the jungle. Yet there was one clan leader who decided to stay in his village, 2 kms from the coastline and about 80 kms from Panguna Mine. Such villages were caught between flying bullets. Pastor Ezekiel made a home there he made called Aero Centre. Here are just a few stories that have been told directly to me some ten years since the guns were laid down.
A boy’s story: “During the crisis, PNGDF men entered the little house I lived in with my mother. I was 12 years old. They demanded kerosene and food at gunpoint. My mother was a Christian and so she began to pray. They held a gun to her head but she said, ‘No’. Kerosene was more valuable than gold for us. Without it, we couldn’t run our home. The soldier pulled the trigger. The gun didn’t go off. All this time, I watched my mother. They pulled the trigger a second time. The gun didn’t go off. The soldier went outside our hut, pulled the trigger and it went off. The gun was loaded and it exploded. These soldiers realised that God was with my mother. They quickly ran away. We kept our kerosene.”
By the time that 12 year old boy told me this story, he was a young man, yet the awe of God was still on him. He had witnessed his mother’s faith in God and he is still walking in the fear of God.
Ruth, a vivacious school teacher recalls her experiences of being a woman during the crisis and the revival: “In the time of the crisis, God helped my family in a big way. We had no money to buy clothes, food and soap. God showed us how to use coconut and lemon to wash our clothes to make them white as snow. He showed us how to use coconut oil from our own coconut trees for our lamps. Before the crisis, we used to buy kerosene for our lamps. Now there was no money and no kerosene. Salt was also not available so He showed us how to cook our food in salt water from the ocean, adding grated coconut for our flavours. Sometimes we would boil the ocean water until all we had left was the powdery salt. In these ways, God showed me that He loved women in their domestic situation; that even in a crisis He could provide all we needed by looking after our clothes and our bodies.
“God also blessed the ground during the crisis. Food that we hadn’t planted appeared – sweet potato, yam, taro, casava, chinese taro, banana and other fruit. This didn’t just happen in one place. It happened all over the island. In fact, there is now a category of sweet potato called crisis kaukau!”
Jane: “When the crisis came, people ran away to the mountains leaving their chickens behind. It seemed that those chickens found their way to our village so we had plenty of meat for a long time during the crisis.”
10 years after the surrender of guns, young men and women – some married with children – are going to great lengths to complete primary and secondary education. Schools are being built or re-built but teachers are few and often minimally qualified. Because of the crisis, those who should now be teaching are themselves still in formal education. Those educated before the crisis are helping those who are now studying. Those who are uneducated are making their living from working the cocoa plantations.
With no help from the neighbouring giant, Australia, and with the confusion and betrayal of brother fighting brother, they turned to God, sometimes praying from 6 in the morning to 6 at night. As the saying goes, “When God is all you have you find that He is enough.”
Another leader, Pastor Ezekiel, had been a United Church pastor since his training for the ministry. He had received the spiritual experience known as the Baptism in the Holy Spirit at the time of his salvation. This experience turns knowledge into spiritual energy and liturgy into dynamic power. Knowing about God is exchanged for knowing Him personally. Icy religion is melted by joy and hope. It was not surprising, therefore, that he became a key player in the revival in Bougainville.
Pastor Ezekiel was told to close down his Bible School. Because of the crisis, all of the schools on the island had been closed down and he was to comply. He refused. He said that it was not his place to close it down. God had opened it and God would have to shut it. He was viciously beaten as a result of this decision, and on a number of other occasions. Over 500 people, including many women, have graduated from his Bible School. Many are now missionaries in other countries.
Another extraordinary side effect of the crisis was the subsistence diet. Many times I have heard it said that they came out of the crisis 10 years younger than they used to be because all the refined food was taken out of their diet. They ate from the soil. “Our bodies got healthy and strong.”
A Prayer Mountain emerged deep into the crisis years. Its origins were mysterious and its role in the crisis and in the revival was equally other-world.
A contributing factor to the glory of God over Bougainville and to the revival has to have been this Prayer Mountain. In Bougainville and in other parts of the world, it is not uncommon for a geographical site to be set aside as a prayer mountain. However, when I began to hear stories of this one particular Prayer Mountain, I knew that God had met with this people in a rare manner, not unique, but certainly rare.
Pastor Ezekiel’s strength and focus on God encouraged others to become giants in faith also. David Gagaso is one such giant. This strong and good looking young man with a soft, melodic voice was the one who received the word from God about this mountain.
David made a choice as a young man to live an uncompromising life of faith in Jesus Christ. He was diligent in his pursuit of spiritual things leading him to a series of miraculous experiences. Phenomena in the night sky, visions, and voices helped him locate a certain mountain on which he, his brother and friends built a bush house for prayer. This became known as Prayer Mountain. In the context of the chronology of the crisis, the Prayer Mountain phenomenon was most intense just prior to the final attempts by the Bougainville Revolutionary Army and Papua New Guinea to bring peace to the island.
He said, “In that bush house, the presence of God came down. The place was totally covered and filled with thick fog and smoke. We could hardly see other people in this little house. Pastor began using Prayer Mountain, hosting prayer seminars and prayer programs.
“We began to see manifestations of God. People began to receive songs and others saw angels. We were lost in prayer and fasting.
“If Pastor was going out to speak at a crusade, we would first go up the mountain to pray. Then, while he was speaking, people would stay on the mountain praying. My older brother saw an angel dressed in white.
“When people were disobedient, lightning would appear and wrap itself around the people. For instance, God had showed us how to build the house on Prayer Mountain. It was hard work. We cut the trees down the mountain and then carried the wood up the mountain to the place where we were building. One day, three men decided to go hunting instead of doing this hard work. The lightning appeared and wrapped itself around them. They nearly died. They smelt bad and could hardly speak. They were out of their senses. After an hour, they began to talk to each other, asking how they felt about the lightning. My brother told them the reason for the lightning – that they didn’t follow instructions.
“In 1999, we replaced the bush house with one that had a tin roof. At the opening service for that house, I felt the presence of Jesus Christ as we were worshipping. Everyone was flat on the ground, face down. Even the musicians were on the ground with their instruments. It was an awesome incredible experience for me that I will never forget. We had to stop the whole service because we enjoyed God’s presence so much. It took us a very long time to come back to the rest of the service. We could not pray or dance or sing but could only be flat on the ground before the presence of God.
“Normally before people set foot on Prayer Mountain, the sky would be clear. When people entered the prayer house, cloud would cover up the whole place even though there were no other clouds in the sky.
“We never slept at Prayer Mountain, but would always come back to the foot of the mountain to sleep. …
David paused and then continued. “Our experience in the crisis produced people who can be involved in missions. We are not scared about any situation. We learn language easily; we eat anything or nothing; we sleep anywhere; we need nothing; we carry fire.
“I personally believe that God is going to raise up very aggressive missionaries from our island. One of the things I believe is that the Church should be involved in mission. Our Church in Bougainville is now reaping what we were planting up there in Prayer Mountain. We prayed for Africa and now we have missionaries there. Same with Indonesia. We are becoming the answer to our own prayers. I myself am about to go to a place that is not safe for Christians.”
Jane took up the story. “Prayer Mountain was where the Spirit of God fell. Things happened that are foreign to the western mind.
“It started when we took Bible School students up to Prayer Mountain for a retreat. We planned to be there for two weeks, praying and fasting, before sending them out on a ministry trip.
“At the time of this two week stay on Prayer Mountain with the students, we were not thinking in terms of a revival. We were just being obedient to why we believed God had established Prayer Mountain.
“Soon, people were lifted up off the ground during worship and prayer. One girl was lifted up, flew past me and landed outside the building. Other students went through the wall, breaking it on their flight, landing outside.
“We tried to stop them; to quiet them down; to bring them back inside the building. But there was a fear of God and a fear of the unknown. We were afraid that if we stopped it, we would be touching something that was God.
“One time Ezekiel was up Prayer Mountain. On his way back to Aero Centre, he met two ‘white men’ who were glowing. They asked him where he was going. He said, ‘Home’ and then passed them. He turned around. They were gone.
“Another time a group was cleaning the building at the top of Prayer Mountain. They arrived to find footprints all around the house. You must understand that this is not a place where anyone lived and those on cleaning duty would have seen anyone leave the house on their way up the mountain. They knew straight away that these were the footprints of angels.
“I have to say that, even though we do not now go up the Prayer Mountain, the impact still remains. When we meet for worship, we don’t need to be gee-ed up. Rather, we begin to worship God from the start. We are aware of the danger of following a routine or a program.”
There is no doubt that this mountain played a crucial part in both the revival and in the beginning of the end of the crisis. Ezekiel’s adds:
“Before Prayer Mountain, and into the second year of the crisis, people were singing worship songs to God. The sound of the singing was heard around the mountains.
“When it was time to be in church, people would run to the front of the church, casting themselves down on the smooth rocks that were alongside the front of the church. There were times when the dirt floor of the church was indented by the banging of heads in repentance and worship.
“Then came Prayer Mountain. We stopped at the bottom of the mountain to confess our sins and if we didn’t do this well enough on the first stop, such conviction would come on us that we would stop again. Finally we would reach the prayer house at the top of the mountain and the presence of God would come down. We wouldn’t talk but could only whisper because of the awareness of the Holy Spirit. The day came, after the building was completed, for its dedication. I put a big ceremony on the doors and then we went inside. When we were about to sing the first song we found that we couldn’t stand. We were prostrate on the floor before God. Prophecy after prophecy came.
“We had not expected this. The prophecies spoke against the war. In fact, when the Peace-Keeping Forces arrived in Bougainville, God reminded us of the prophecies from that meeting. What is more, we were praying on Prayer Mountain when they arrived in Bougainville.
“Another time, the Holy Spirit showed Himself by thunder and lightning. I became aware that we needed to keep ourselves holy while on Prayer Mountain. Twice, lightning came and hit the ground. People tried to run away but a lightning bolt picked them up and rolled them all over Prayer Mountain. Seeing these things increased the fear of God. …
Pastor Ezekiel told me of its final days. “By 1999, a prophetic message came that we had to leave the mountain. God began to speak from John 4:21-24. The message of those verses came to me as,“I am no longer just in that mountain. Meet Me here as you met Me on the mountain.”
“This process of obedience gave us further understanding of the holiness and presence of God. “We began to question God. “Why are we not experiencing what we experienced before?”
“Then God began to give us the understanding that Prayer Mountain was not just for ourselves but was for taking the Gospel to other people. He spoke to us about mission. Now we were to plant churches and experience things that used to only happen on Prayer Mountain. We have done this. For instance, we now even have missionaries in Africa.
“We had to learn about the omnipresence of God. Some young people went back to Prayer Mountain to try to get back what we had experienced but nothing happened. It was a time and a season and a place for a specific purpose.
“In 2000, we launched Christian Missionary Fellowship in Bougainville. We are now sending missionaries into PNG and to the rest of world.”
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