Christian Missionaries in West Papua:
Life Histories of the Papuans

cartoon, sheep by river

1. They do not allow us to enter their houses

My father was one of the first nine people to be baptised in my tribe. He can be referred to as a friend of the missionaries. Most of the time he will defend them and stand with them in meetings and speak for them. He had regular meetings with them, and I can say that he has been treated as a son by them.

But one thing I was sure of, when my father was visiting them and accompanied by me, was that we would never see how their houses are, I mean inside their houses. I was sure that we would not have any chance to even glance into their rooms, even into the sitting room. The front and back doors are always covered with curtains. They come out to us after we wait for more than 15 minutes, just to say, "Hello!" to us. Then most of the time they go into their houses again, perhaps to sort out their house works. Another 15 minutes later, they come out and talk to you, not in their sitting rooms. The missionaries make a special room, outside their main houses to sit down with any tribal people who come to meet and talk.

But this veranda-like room is not for public. For ordinary people, they only can meet outside the house, in the yard. They even cannot approach the house at all. Of course, missionaries have their houses well protected with fences around them. The fences are not like fences for cows as you see in the West, but it is like walls in the Roman Times, through which it is even difficult to see inside the fence. Or it is like prison or detention centre where there is no way for you to look into the buildings.

But when I was first invited by a British family into their house, I was looking in and out of the house and wondering whether or not other white people will come and get angry at me. And yes, it happened to this family, they threw him out of the country, he never returned to West Papua to this day.

The second time that made me surprised was an Australian family. Once he come to our town and asked me to drive around the town with him. Then in the evening we went to his guest house. Then he asked me to enter his main room and sit and offered me some biscuits, cakes and orange juice. Then he offered me meal, eating at the same table with them. This was a second great surprise after the British family. I never thought missionaries can ever treat us in this kind of manner.

Then, I had the first chance to visit England. I attended a Pre-Session English Course before my post-graduate courses started. The tutor in this course was the wife of my post-graduate teacher and later on my supervisor for my dissertation. Once this family invited me to their home, more than 40 minutes to travel by train from the English Training Centre. For the first time ever in my life, I entered this train and sitting and looking around, in the middle of white people, wondering what will going to happen when I really arrive at the train station, I was thinking, "Maybe they will drive their car and will tell me to which direction I should go and they will be waiting for me at their house." But I thought, "No, they should not do that. They will most probably walk to the station and we will walk together from the station." But I decided not to think about it.

It was late afternoon, I was hungry. Then another question came into my mind, "Where are you going to eat then?" I answered myself, "Well, I hope they will feed me with at least one banana and water." That was the way they treat us in my country, the way they treat my father. But another thought came out, "But they are not missionaries, so they will be not that good!" So I thought, "Well, I have some money with me, I can go and get some if there is a place to buy sandwich or orange juice." But then what happened? A great surprise. They came with a car, and asked me to sit in the car with them, and then drove to their house and went INTO their house. I was sitting and wondering whether it was wrong for me to be inside their house. I was watching their faces. When their children came and greeted me, I was looking at their faces, to see if they were angry at me. But in fact not at all. They were all happy and welcomed me very well. Then we had a meal together, the same meal for every one of us. I was thinking, "This can never happen in West Papua, even with the Indonesians. How can a tutor and my future lecturer welcome me in this way and even feed me? Am I dreaming?" No it was real, the reality of the life in the West, the reality of ordinary white people, not the missionaries, of course. So, where were those missionaries from? Were they from this same people, or from a different Western country? Was it because they were Americans and Australians?

Then I remembered how the British missionary family treated me. Then I thought, "Maybe British people are more sociable and more welcoming to black people?"

Two weeks later, I was told that I will stay with a family that had been hosting foreigners attending the courses in that region on a regular basis. The same worries and questions came into my mind but I refused all those and told myself, "Come on, British people are not missionaries. You will be alright!" Yes, in fact, they were both glad to see me, and prepared my English breakfast and my dinner (because I had lunch at the college). All turned out to be different from the treatment of the missionaries back home.

Four months later, I was invited by another British person, who now became the best friend of mine in the West, to move to his house. I was first thinking, "Wow, how will other white people react to me? How will this guy treat me? Well, my lecturer was experienced with foreigners, as were my host family. But this new British guy is not. So what will happen?" I was very worried about how I will be eating and drinking and sleeping? I thought I will be offered a place outside the house and will be drinking and eating in the yard, not in the house. And I thought I will be given a small shed, or a warehouse-like outside and I will be left there. This is the most possible thought that can come out in the minds of any Papuans in this kind of situation anyway.

Things went in a very different way. I was invited into the house. I was given a big room, complete with bathroom and toilet, at the upper floor. How can a Papuan enter into the upper floor of missionaries in West Papua? Totally impossible, ever, but this happened to me, in reality in England. More amazingly, the during whole year I stayed with him, he was preparing meals, teas and coffees for me and with all his hospitality, he treated me very well. Months later, I felt I was well accepted in British society. Even most of the time I was unaware that I was not British, or that I was a Papuan. They way he treated me made me to this kind of situation.

One time I was invited to another area, one of the elite cities of England. And I was thinking, "This is an elite place, many missionaries are there. So I might be treated in the way we are treated back home. But all turned out very similar way as in the other city I stayed. They offered me place and room to stay, they offered me meal and drink and drive. They were all "good" people.

Then he and other friends in the area arranged a tour throughout Europe, to meet friends all over Europe, and I did. Then I was wondering if the white people from other countries will treat me differently. But in fact not. They treated me in the same way I was treated in Britain.

"So, what's wrong with these missionaries back home then?" was my last question. Are they fascists? Racists? Or What kind of people are they? Not normal human beings? Or maybe because they were partly re-born into a different type of humans, Christians? Of course, Christianity is a club of human beings all over the world who show up themselves as different from the rest of human beings. Of course, they told as Papuans as sinners and going to hell. Maybe we were not really Christians that was why we were not treated as humans? I questioned and questioned myself. I managed to ask one friends of mine. I got a straight forward reply, "They are bastards. They go around the world teaching good news but actually they have wrong perceptions on human beings, especially black people and you know Papuans are cannibals in their minds."

This answer forced me to ask as many people as possible. Their answers were, surprisingly on the same direction as the first person answered my question.

Finally, I leave you to judge yourselves, readers, to make up your mind on these missionaries with these same questions: Who are they, really? Why are they going around the world and destroying the cultures of all human beings, turning them into alien cultures and beliefs? Have they sorted all wrongs in their countries and that is why they are going out to sort out problems in other countries? Why can't they just go back home and sort out problems of Christianity in their home countries? Haven't they got enough work to do in their home countries?

Part two: They do not allow women to speak in public -->

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