“And thank you, God, that I was not born a Korowai…“
So goes our 8-year old son Noah’s oft-repeated bedtime prayer. We’ve never rebuked Noah for this prayer. His little heart is sincere. He knows he is privileged. He prays open and honestly, “Thank you that I was born with a mommy and a daddy…Thank you that they believe and are nice to me,” “Thank you that we have a house and enough food.”
Meet Yaim Warita.
We took this picture two years ago after treating her for an infected machete wound. She sliced her leg while working her garden. Her daily search for food had to continue despite pain. Her leg grew red and angry as infection set in. We treated her with antibiotics and wrapped her leg. She continued her daily routine, returning each day hunched over with a net bag full of either firewood or bananas suspended from her head. Sometimes she carried her young son as well.
In the picture you can see that her right eye is useless and clouded over, probably from some past scratch that resulted in infection. We could not treat that. Her arms are scaly with skin disease. Her posture was a permanent stoop.
Her first name, Yaim, is actually the local word for theft and is associated with evil. That was the name her parents gave her. We don’t know why.
Yaim’s husband is Pieter. Pieter is known as a very bad man. My stomach used to knot on sight of him. I would instantly bristle and get defensive when he climbed my porch. He seemed to bring constant conflict.
We are not sure how Yaim came to be married to Pieter. Many parents arrange marriages for their young daughters, using the arrangement to procure foodstuffs and promises for more trade items. Often, girls as young as five go and live in the home of the man they are supposed to marry. The phrase we have heard describing this is, “I have raised her up to be my wife,” the same phrase “raised up” being used to describe raising one’s pigs or cassowaries.
Yaim was also most likely married off in this same manner when she was but a young girl, little better than property or trade-goods.
Yaim’s husband Pieter was often hostile towards Simson. Simson is a young believer here who is especially close to my family. He helps us with language and other tasks. Baby Perpetua [my daughter] often runs over to hug him upon sight. Simson’s younger sister Demina is an adolsescent girl with a big smile. She is a newly developing adolescent and becoming a woman. Pieter wanted her as wife number two. And was willing to use force.
What about Pieter’s current wife Yaim? Pieter’s gruff reply was, “I’m only using her until I can get a better wife.” Yaim stood next to Pieter as he explained all this, looking at her feet with a net-bag full of firewood weighing down her head.
Pieter’s demands grew more vocal for Demina. We sheltered her from Pieter. He threatened to shoot us with arrows and actually drew his bow on me and Jimmy [HeartCry missionary] several times. He threatened to cut our radio cables, hack up our home, and destroy our property. During one of these feuds, arrows were actually released. This escalated the violence. Yaim found herself in the middle of all of this by virtue of being married to Pieter. She was struck on the head and shoulders several times with a log. She was bleeding and groggy as we treated her with a bandage and pain medications. She lie mostly still in her hut for several days. She was finally strengthened enough to go out and return to work in her garden.
Yaim Warita died last month.
Nobody is sure of the date. Her death was mentioned as an afterthought, “No…nothing has happened in the village in the few weeks you have left..” and then, a minute later, “Oh….Yaim died…but it was just her.”
It was just her.
Malaria is a horrible sickness! Last week both Paul Snider and myself suffered from it. We were miserable even with light cases. We had medications and someone to bring us food and water.
I’ve hallucinated before. I’ve rolled on the floor due to extreme pain. I’ve wondered before whether I had dislocated my back due to the violent chills and shaking and projectile vomiting from some cases of malaria. This week I ground my teeth in pain until my fillings came loose in my mouth, and my jaws still have a dull ache ache this week due to my most recent “light” case of malaria.
Yaim died in her tree-house away from the village. We don’t know if her family was present. She probably had stopped eating and drinking, as is the custom of the tribal peoples here who fall sick with malaria. She had no medicines to lower her fever, made worse by tropical heat. She had no pain pills to ease the painful shakes. The flies can be terrible to the ailing sick as their smell worsens and they linger, too tired to bath. It sounds like she may have suffered and died alone. There was no report of burial. Her body may still lie in her tree-house. Often bodies remain in place and the house is abandoned for the jungle to reclaim.
On several occasions, Yaim heard the Gospel. She probably heard the story of the Creation of the World, the Fall into sin by Adam and Eve and the entrance of the curse of sin into all the world, and God’s sending of a Savior into the world for all who believe. Yet, she spoke such little Indonesian and I speak such little Korowai, did she really understand? Simson often attempted to explain the Gospel in his own language. Yet, he is often awkward and hesitant and his knowledge is limited. Pieter’s threats have limited Simsons’ ability to speak much at all to Yaim. We have audio recordings of some Bible stories in the tribal dialect to our south. The Northern Korowai can understand enough of this for their benefit, but Yaim had minimal contact with me and these recordings due to her husbands’ demeanor. I have prayed with Yaim several times this past year. Did she merely nod her head in obedience or submission? Did she understand?
We try not to despair over the bleakness of the lives and deaths of many in our area. We pray that God’s love will impact this region and many will know the love of their Creator and also know better the love of fellow man who will see them as dignified souls, created in the image of God and worthy of respect and love.