I had the privilege of taking family pictures of some long time friends of ours last week. The Webb Family are missionaries to Vanuatu (Von-oo-oh-too with both of the "a"s having the sound of a short "o"). Bryan does a lot of writing and is in fact in the proces of writing a book of their adventures as a missionary family. I decided to share his latest blog post for you to enjoy.
The chief’s wife bashfully held her hand behind her back. She was a robust woman in her early thirties wearing only a grass skirt and a timid smile. Her grass skirt swished noisily as she nervously shifted her weight from leg to leg. Two bright eyed preschool girls wearing miniature copies of her skirt clung to her shyly while staring at the strange white women. Elaine, the triage nurse greeted the girls and their mother with a welcoming smile before focusing on the patient card for the mother. “Cut on right hand.” She read. “Can you show me your hand?”
Reluctantly she brought her hand forward and presented it to Elaine. The blood stained skin of the palm was split and fatty tissues from below were protruding through the rupture. Clearly she would need stitches. But something about the wound caused questions to form. “What happened to your hand?” Elaine asked.
Her eyes dropped to the floor. She turned her head away from Elaine and her translator and choked out her answer in a low whisper that was almost inaudible. “My husband did it. He hit me with a piece of wood.”
Unfortunately her experience is all too common here in Vanuatu. Wives are purchased here. The bride price is eighty thousand vatu or just at nine hundred dollars. Some would argue that this is merely a cultural formality of little consequence; maybe, all I know is that a wedding I was supposed to perform last week was cancelled at the last minute against the wishes of both the bride and groom because the family of the groom couldn’t provide the entire bride price.
The natural consequence of men purchasing their wives is a sense of possession. Women are removed from the ownership of their fathers to the ownership of their husbands. They call their husbands “Papa” just as they have called their fathers. Most Ni-Vanuatu men that I have discussed this issue with insist that it is right and even necessary for men to “discipline” their wives on occasion. I know very few men here who claim that they have never struck their wives in anger.
So in a culture where women are chattel, where they are often known not by their name but merely as “woman blong chief”; literally translated the woman that belongs to the chief, where they have little or no protection under the law and it is considered the norm for a husband to punish his wife: how do the women feel about this abuse? Is it just expected, a normal part of the marriage relationship? If everyone does it; does a young bride have any honest expectation that it will not happen to her?
The pained explanation from the chief’s wife tells me that women here do hope. That in the heart of every woman, regardless of cultural conditioning is a longing to be cherished and protected. That while their culture and the experiences of their mothers may tell them a story of pain and betrayal. Love whispers to their hearts that another narrative is possible. In fact, is their right; a story of tenderness, kindness and security.
Tears begin to roll down Elaine’s cheeks and drip from her chin. “I was a battered wife, too” She began. There in our day clinic with doctors and nurses working by flashlights in the dusky interior of a thatch hut Elaine tenderly washed the chief’s wife’s hand and shared her own story. She told of feelings of sorrow, betrayal, even becoming convinced that somehow she deserved to be abused. As she gently swabbed the broken palm she related her feelings of hopelessness and her desperate search for true love.
Smiling through her tears she disclosed the healing she had found for a broken heart in the loving arms of Christ. She urged the chief’s wife to come to know and accept the love of Christ. “You need to realize just how much God loves you. He sent this team all the way from America just to serve your village. Out of all the nurses here today God arranged it so that you were my patient. He did that because he loves you so much. To let you know that he sees your pain.”
I watch the tears drop from the chins of both women and marvel at God’s placement once again. A few stitches begin the healing for the broken skin, but it was an incredible display of God’s love that began to mend a broken heart.
Just a peek into their world! I hope you enjoyed reading this story. If you would like to read more about their ministry you can do so here. They are a precious family!