Where Trees Still Grow
By: Fr. Bobby Sagra, MSP
Two Months Old
Last November 14, 1990 I arrived here in Kerema, Gulf province, Papua New Guinea. I was only two months and seven days old as a missionary priest on the day of my arrival.
My first experienced of “missionary initiation” was walking four days four days from Putei the main parish where I am assistant parish priest, to Wanto, the outmission station located in a hidden valley in the remote mountains. On December 12, I started walking together with one guide and two local seminarians.
Thick Forests and Mountains
We first followed a little stream, then it became bigger and bigger. We paused for lunch at about 1:00 PM. We had brought along biscuits and canned fish and meat for food. After that break, we keep on moving. The track that that we were following became difficult for we were starting to climb the first mountain. When we reach the top, we looked down and saw many other mountains all filled with green and thick forest at a distance. The air became cooler and we passed the reverence and silence beneath the shadows of tall trees which protects from scorching heat of the sun. Then we slithered down very slowly because the trail was slippery and then when climb up another big mountain, kissing our knees at every step. Finally we found a small cave to rest for the night, just minute before the darkness engulf the bush area.
Cave of Prayer
For an ordinary mountain sojourner, a cave means a place to rest, but for me the cave meant more than that. While resting in the small cave I lost no time concentrating myself in prayer in prayer.
When we woke up the next morning, I celebrated Holy Mass in that small cave of “prayer”.
We continued our second day’s journey following again streams and rivers. At one point, one of my companions collapsed due to exhaustion. I also met an accident. I stepped on a slippery stone in a riverbed and gashed by big toe. I thought it was nothing but as we kept walking the pain increased. That little wound forced me to walk more carefully the rest of the journey.
We paused for lunch near a beautiful waterfall. I took a bath to refresh my sinews. I loved the flowing waters; it reminds me of God’s love- free, joyful, constant. I looked back with my gratitude to the day of my ordination last September 1990. Since that day God’s grace has kept flowing like the waterfall. A journey can be just a journey with a prayerful pause.
At one point we lost our way. We had to return to a crossroads and decide to follow another track. When the rains came, but we trudge on afraid to spend the night on the wet trail. It was almost dark and it seemed hopeless to find a proper resting place. But my companions urged me further on. Finally we came to a bush area. To our amazement we saw a big cave with a lovely spring beside it and a lush garden of sugarcane, bananas and sweet potatoes below. The cave overlooked the magnificent mountains. Only a poet can describe its grandeur. I was Dec 13, the eve off the Feast of St. John of the Cross, a lover of the peace and the quit of the night in a cave.
That night we felt strongly how God walked with us in our journey and when it was time to rest, He provide us a place to lay down our heads and to ease our aching bones.
The third day we reached a small village. Here in Papua New Guinea a small village could mean one or two houses a distance apart from each other. An old man welcomed us. He made us sit down and gave us bananas to cook. We ate our first cooked meal in days. WE spent lighthearted moments sharing with him our adventure. Then we moved on, relieved that we were no longer in “no man’s bush land.”
In the afternoon we met a group of men along the river. One of them invited us to stay the night at his house since it was about to rain. He was very happy to receive us his guests and new friends. Everybody observed me during the meal. They serve their local food of sago, hamanga or pandano and their staple, kaukau or sweet potatoes. They were surprise and overjoyed to see me eat everything. That moment I won their hearts and their generosity and their innocence won mine.
The following day, led by our new friend, we reached our destination. We arrived at Wanto by noon. It was the fourth day. For me it was not only an arrival. I was a day to celebrate my passing the test of “missionary initiation.”