Dr. Sawyer Serving with Samaritan's Purse

Dr. Sawyer Serving with Samaritan's Purse
Papua New Guinea

Monday, June 11, 2012

Washing feet...

Jonathan Kopf teaching
on Sunday morning.

Sunday, June 10, 2012 is a day we will never forget.  First I need to introduce you again to Jonathan & Susan Kopf.  They are the missionary couple with New Tribes Mission (NTM) that have lived with the Hewa for the last eleven years.  When they first came to the Hewa people there were no missionaries, no was no written language for the Hewa; the Hewa could not read nor write.  Jonathan and Susan have learned the language, created a written language for the Hewa; taught the Hewa how to read and write their language, and have translated much of the New Testament into the Hewa language.  They have raised two of their own children and now have adopted a daughter, Mikenna.  Susie McGough is the niece of Jonathan and Susan, and Susie we flew Susie in with us so that she could spend the summer in the jungle with aunt and uncle and to help to care for Mikenna. 
Susan Kopf teaching the Hewa.

Next I need to paint the scene.  This Sunday morning we were gathered under the open air wood shelter with a large blue Samaritan’s Purse tarp over the end of the roof line to provide some much needed shade.  In accordance with the customs of Papua New Guinea, the men sat on one side of the enclosure and women sat on the other.  (In general, men and women are always separate from each other in public…and often even in their own homes.)  Men and boys gathered on the ground and tree stumps, most of them wearing only leafy branches on their back sides and loin clothes draped over a tightly tied rope around their waists.  Women holding their babies and children gathered on the other side. 

Dr. Stephanie Doenges
and young cassowary.
Whenever a baby would start to cry in the lap its mother, she would simple pull her breast out of her shirt and her baby would usually grab on with both hands and pull her nipple into its mouth.  One woman sitting directly across from me completely forgot about her breasts and just left them both hanging outside of her shirt as she wiped her baby’s bottom with a soiled cloth; then tucked the cloth back into her bilum (bag or purse). 

A young cassowary bird came and sat down in the middle of the gathering seeming unusually interested in the Sunday morning gathering.  Another little boy held a tiny bird in his hands…a prize catch from earlier that morning.  Two dogs broke out in a brief fight in the middle of the service. 

Feimpat was sitting next to me, teaching on his Hewa translation of John 3:16.  He also was leading everyone in singing using a very dirty five string guitar.  Although his left hand was changing chords, it seemed that the guitar was so out of tune that the guitar was mostly being used to set the beat of the song rather than to be of any other acoustic benefit.  Several other Hewa men joined in with the teaching, and Jonathan Kopf chimed in with the teaching, teaching in the Hewa language. 

Feimpat playing his guitar.
This Sunday evening, however, was perhaps the high point of my experience in Papua New Guinea.  Two of the men that had come with us as part of our Community Based Health Care (CBHC) Village Childbirth Attendant (VBA) team were PNG nationals Matthew Galman and Joel Funfun.  Matthew had been involved in a head on collision last August and barely escaped with his life.  He is still on crutches while he waits for hip surgery to fix his crushed pelvis. 

After dinner our team joined together in the tiny living room of the Kopf’s bush house.  Around the room was Jonathan Kopf, his wife Susan Kopf and their adopted daughter Mikenna, PNG nationals Matthew Galman and Joel Funfun, CBHC director Dr. Becky Morsch, the Kopf’s niece Susie McGough, Kudjip missionary physician Dr. Stephanie Doenges,  my wife Teresa, videographer Jonathan Snider, New Tribes Mission photographer David Pierce, free lance photographer David Uttley, Samaritan’s Purse producer Arthur Rasco, and me.

Matthew Galman teaching
Village Childbirth Attendant class.
I poured some grape juice into what appears to have been a small flower vase, opened a box of unleavened Passover crackers, poured a basin of soapy water, and took out a dozen new white towels that I had purchased at Costco prior to our departure for Papua New Guinea.  Although I have read John 13 dozens of times, I have never been part of a foot washing service.  However, several months before our trip I had been reading about communion and foot washing in John 13.  

I read John 13 to our little gathering  here in the middle of the jungle, at an elevation of 3.400 feet, in a place that arguably could be one of the most remote regions of the world.  I discussed with each of them Jesus taught us to serve one another in love.  In the middle of the Passover dinner, just prior to his own crucifixion, he stood up and wrapped a towel around him, took a basin of water, and washed each of his disciples’ feet.  

Hewa people's feet as we taught the
Village Childbirth Attendant class.
I asked everyone to remove their shoes, and then proceeded to wash Jonathan Kopf’s feet.  As I did I said to him how much I appreciated all that he was doing for the Hewa people, and that it was my privilege to wash his feet.  Jonathan then washed his wife Susan’s feet, speaking to her as he did.  I then took the basin of soapy water and a new white towel and lifted PNG national Matthew Galman’s foot into the basin.  I told Matthew how glad that I was that God had spared his life last August and that he had not been killed in the head on collision.  As I cleaned and dried each of his feet I told him that I was so glad to have him as my brother in Christ and that he is doing great and marvelous things here in Papua New Guinea.  As I spoke I noticed he had tears streaming down his cheeks. 

Joel Funfun teaching
Village Childbirth Attendant class.
Next Jonathan Kopf stood up and stepped over to wash PNG national Joel Funfun’s feet.  As he spoke to Joel and washed and dried Joel’s feel, Joel was weeping and tears streamed freely down his cheeks.  After everyone had their feet washed by another in the room, we shared communion together and then spent some time sharing with each other and then praying together.  Joel Funfun, speaking mostly in Melanesian Pidgin and in broken English said that he (nor Matthew) had ever had their feet washed by anyone and that he never dreamed that he, a black man, would ever have his feet washed by a white missionary.  The experience was overwhelming for both he and for Matthew. 

I shared that what had happened this night, tucked away in this furthest corner of the globe, was the very essence of what Jesus had been trying to teach in John 13.  It was an amazing moment that I shall cherish for the rest of my life. 

"How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? 
And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?  
And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  
And how can they preach unless they are sent?  
As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"  
Romans 10:13-15


  1. I have tears streaming down my face...and I wasn't even there. The simple action of washing another's feet evokes everything that he calls us to be. Loving, humble, gentle and selfless. Thank you for hearing his call, and going to the remote jungle to show the Hewa people a little bit of Jesus. So proud to call you my doc!

  2. Thank you for sharing that intimate, deeply powerful evening with us. It brought tears to my eyes to picture the scene and all that happened that day, and each of the days you shared about. Thank you - and your entire family - for being willing to go, serve and reach those who are so lost, but whom Jesus loves so deeply. What a blessing you all are, and what a privilege it is to read your stories.

  3. I am sitting at my computer right now, wiping away tears and am reminded of how powerful God's love is for us. And am moved at beyond words at how amazing people like you and your team are planting seed in others to show how amazing His love is for us and how just by the simple act of washing ones feet for them, like Jesus did for his disciples, can show someone how much you respect them, care for them, and appreciate them!!