We had just finished our lunch break, reluctant to leave the shade of the plumeria and palm trees sheltering the plank huts that made up the neighborhood know as Sector 21 in Kimbe, Papua New Guinea.
Our team of medical professionals, DTS students and media team were halfway through our second day in this impoverished neighborhood. Margaret, our photographer, another team member and myself comprised the media team.
I was looking for stories; someone with a debilitating ailment that only we could help or someone who’d traveled for days to get to our ministry location.
Amongst the people of every age, size and shape lined up under the trees waiting to register for treatment, there was only the usual assortment of knee or back pains, colds, sores, or eyes needing reading glasses after too much hard work in the sun.
Wanting to do something, I moved from person to person in the waiting line, discerning from often limited or non-existent English, what the problem was and then praying for the individual.
It was so very hot. The previous day, we’d been drenched by a downpour but now we wished for some rain as the merciless sun blazed out of the sky.
“Lord, what now?” I asked. “Who am I supposed to help?”
Tired from being on my feet, I sat down on the bare ground under a tree. I’d been resting there for less than a minute when a young girl hurried over and positioned herself in the crook of the tree.
She introduced herself as Manuelyne. She was eighteen and appeared eager to become acquainted with a Westerner. Perhaps I was the only one on our team who wasn’t busy doing something else.
Her english was excellent and so I asked her a number of questions: “Did she go to school? Where was her home? Was she going to university?”
When asked what she did for fun, Manuelyne said she loved to hear people sing Scripture songs.
I was delighted.
I loved to sing and had been a member of several choral groups and gospel choirs in the past. Here was a connection point and a way I could share from my own treasure chest of knowledge that would hopefully be a blessing to her.
Manuelyne directed one of her young friends to drag over a large palm branch for us to sit on as I began to search my memory for any Scripture songs I could remember. It didn’t take long for a small crowd to gather around us.
The first song I picked was a familiar one because Manuelyne sang along as well as a mother behind me with a young child on her hip. When the second song I chose produced only blank looks from the listeners, I grabbed my notebook and wrote down the words. I sang the song for my audience so Manuelyne could learn the melodies.
By the time I was done, Manuelyne had been introduced to four new songs. Most of our little audience, however, had dispersed but Manuelyne remained attentive.
I decided turnabout was fair play and told her she needed to write down and teach me a worship song in her native pidgin. Teasingly I said, “Don’t disappoint me.” She hunkered down with her friend telling me, “I’ll write it down and get back to you.”
For the next twenty minutes, Manuelyne wrote and wrote. She first scribbled down the song lyrics in her own notebook and then tried to teach them to me. She’d chosen a popular worship song I’d already heard several times sung by one of the two DTS teams serving with us.
Since the pidgin words were still unfamiliar to me, Manuelyne rewrote them neatly and then had me sing it repeatedly. The girl proved quite persistent and wanted to make sure I learned this song.
We were interrupted about the 6th time through when my leader called for everyone to gather up the supplies and start making our way to our transportation.
As so often happens in this land of warm, enthusiastic hospitality, the children of the village followed us out to the spot where we waited to meet our truck. They hung on to us, begging to have their pictures taken with us on their own cell phones.
Manuelyne was no exception and she parted me with a hug. The entire group of them cheered us on and waved a noisy goodbye as our truck arrived and we drove away.
Meeting Manuelyne proves that when we feel as if we have little to offer or when we feel we should be doing one thing, God sometimes sends us in an entirely different direction and changes what we thought was our goal.
I thought my job was to gather stories. When nothing dramatic came along, it seemed that those administering bandages, immunizations and meds, or those teaching Bible stories to the children were doing the “real” work.
Then along came Manuelyne.
A young woman whose life I could enrich by my affirmation, attention, and sharing of what had been invested in me. I had gathered songs for her. Maybe it wasn’t much, but then, who am I to decide? How am I to know what wounds, what needs for love, what pain is hidden behind that extroverted nature, that open, intelligent, beautiful young face.
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