Jesus was in Lae, a major city on the north coast of Papua New Guinea, the other day. I read about it in the paper. Here's how the story goes.
Judith, a young lady from the north-western coastal province of Sepik and a Lae resident, was walking to work one morning. Her route took her past Eddie's Salon, one of the city's nightclubs. That's where she first saw Mary, a woman from the highlands province of Chimbu. Relationships between highlanders and coastal people in PNG are often stormy and, normally, Judith would have just walked on.
This day was different: Mary was slumped on the ground, crying and moaning, obviously in great pain. So, Judith stopped to help her. It was clear Mary needed more help than Judith could give, so she called another family member to transport Mary to hospital.
While waiting for the car to arrive, Mary told Judith her story. The previous day she and her husband had travelled down the Highlands Highway to Lae from Chimbu. He had bought her to the closed nightclub that evening and abandoned her there. Her husband had left her because she had AIDS, and overcome by the fear and stigma of the disease, he no longer wanted her around him. He certainly wasn't prepared to care for her.
But not only he.
When Judith and her family took Mary to the hospital, the health workers were reluctant to admit her once they discovered she had AIDS. Eventually, in the face of Judith's insistence and her threats of complaining to the administration, they admitted her. Judith and the family then left, believing Mary was going to be taken care of.
The next day Judith returned to visit Mary in the hospital. She searched the wards, but couldn't find her anywhere. Well, not exactly. She did find her dumped outside the emergency department entrance. Filled with indignation Judith confronted the medical personnel and made them readmit the sick women.
Mary's illness was well advanced and within a short period of time she died. Judith and her family bought a coffin for her and paid all the funeral expenses for a burial in Lae's public cemetery. A photo of the family with the coffin accompanied the newspaper account.
I read the story with mixed emotions—horror, outrage, sadness, gratitude. There was horror at what Mary's husband had done; outrage at how the medical personnel had treated her; sadness for her pain and experience; and, gratitude that there are people in the world like Judith.
Jesus came to Lae in the person of Judith. Of course, it was Jesus, who told the story of the good Samaritan who came to the aid of a despised foreigner at some personal risk and financial expense. Judith lived the story, as Jesus worked out His character in her.
This same Jesus touched lepers, ate with tax-collectors and rejected and despised sex workers. He worked miracles for foreigners, including a Roman centurion, one of the hated occupying forces. His love was not bound by social limits of any sort. The more rejected, outcast and alone an individual was, the more Jesus seemed prepared to reach out, healing bodies, minds and souls.
He commanded His disciples “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Luke 10:27).
And who is our neighbour? Anyone who needs our help, whether friend, stranger or enemy. Such love is the mark of true followers of Jesus. We are His hands and feet today.
As I reflected on the story of Judith and Mary, I realised that Jesus also came to Lae in the person of Mary. Jesus declared in one parable: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me... . Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:35, 36, 40).
Surely a discarded wife dying of AIDS is just about as “least” as it is possible to be! “I was sick with AIDS, and you took care of me.” What compassion that Jesus still identifies with sinners and sufferers!
The broken body of Jesus, marred by the burden of the sins of world, is reflected in every hungry child, in every dying AIDS victim, in every social outcast, in the wretched refuse of the world. In each person's suffering, Jesus calls us to minister to them and for them—for Him.
The story of Judith and Mary reminds me that Jesus came to Lae. But He comes just as truly to Sydney, Auckland or Los Angeles. Will He be in you? Or just someone you read about in the paper?