I would like to thank you for the immense privilege that has been given to me to speak to this special gathering. I am grateful to those who have made this possible for me. It is an honour for me to represent Papua New Guinea and The Salvation Army.
The text for me is an ugly text. Exodus 1:15-22 tells the terrible story of an Egyptian pharaoh feeling threatened by the growing numbers of Hebrews living in his land, who issues an order to the midwives that they intervene so that all baby boys should be killed. This order was not obeyed so he issues another order to his own people that Hebrew baby boys should be drowned.
This is not the only such story to be found in the Bible. In the text we choose not to read so often in the Christmas story Herod, also afraid of losing his power, sends out an order that all boys aged two and under should be killed.
And this kind of story has been repeated in most cultures and communities throughout history, either because parents cannot afford to feed any more children, or governments choose to limit the population, or because girl children demand a dowry and are too expensive to keep, or because of ethnic cleansing — and I could go on with reasons.
It is interesting to me that these two Bible stories occur around the birth of someone very special — in this story, Moses, who was not drowned but put into a special basket, which saved him. Or in the Herod story, the Son of God is born. God arranged for Jesus to be taken to Egypt, of all places, to be safe.
The stories tell of people who feel they have a right to do a terrible thing: to stop a whole generation, to kill the innocent, to assume that certain actions are permitted, if you are powerful enough. Something quite terrible goes on in the heart of anyone who could issue such a decree and allow the killing of babies in whatever form it takes.
I come from Papua New Guinea where 43 babies die out of every thousand born. Our babies are not killed by political leaders but the deaths occur because of ignorance, poor health, poor communications and lack of trained helpers.
I am glad that the Exodus story mentions midwives all over the world who are committed to seeing women through this child-bearing experience, who are making it possible for new life to come into our world, who herald in the next generation with its hope and opportunity, and countless possibilities.
In Papua New Guinea we have too many young girls who are pregnant. The reasons for the pregnancies are for another discussion and another forum. Most of our country is made up of rural villages distanced from one another by mountainous terrain. The young mothers-to-be are nowhere near anyone who knows how to help them. We have too few rural health centres, and any roads we have are so bad that girls cannot travel to health workers who could be with them at a time when they are most needed. Lessons on what will happen at the time of labour are not taught. Too many of these young girls go to the outskirts of the village and squat down to try to give birth on their own with no-one to help them - giving birth on a dirt floor, tired, frightened and experiencing pain they have never known before.
The Salvation Army in Papua New Guinea has now undertaken the mammoth task of training rural women in village settings to understand basic midwifery, so that a young mother has someone with her who will help her and tell her what to do.
Midwives are pivotal to child-birth. They were at the time of Exodus and they always have been. Other things, important at such a time where possible, are clean water, a clean room and electricity, or at least some kind of lighting.
The Millennium Development Goals number four to reduce child mortality is important to us but the task seems so big. We feel like Moses did when God gave him his life’s work, 'Who am I that I should bring the Israelites out of Egypt?'
And we say, 'How can we help all these mothers, we are a small group in Papua New Guinea and we do not have the resources we need?' God told Moses that he would be with him and provide for him, and, as on so many other occasions in the Bible, that made a difference. We are not the only ones taking on this task. There are many other groups in Papua New Guinea challenged to deal with the problems.
For me, the verse in the next chapter brings me hope. Exodus 2:23-4 says this, 'The Israelites cried out and their cry went up to God. . . God heard their groaning and remembered his covenant to Abraham'
The text said they cried out about their slavery but I suggest their cries were concerning every part of their lives, which were oppressed and unfair, and their cries were also for the fact that their babies had been slaughtered. And God heard them crying.
I believe God still hears the cry of the destitute, the enslaved, and the grieving mother, and chooses to call people to move with compassion on his behalf.
Sometimes they are midwives, doctors, teachers or lawyers. Sometimes they are people who work in this building - aware of the needs of the world and with a voice to speak on behalf of those with no voice and little chance of ever having a voice that will be heard.
I pray that God will bless you in the work you do here, that you may continue to learn more about the needs of our world, and that you may have the courage to ask the questions that need to be asked, and challenge ignorance and tyranny, repression and cruelty.
Here is my prayer for you all:
May the Lord disturb you and trouble you;
May the Lord set an impossible task before you and dare you to meet it;
May the Lord give you the strength to do your best;
And then, and only then, may the Lord grant you his peace.
In the recent past Susan and her husband have jointly run a number of churches in Papua New Guinea, and she has held positions such as Assistant Manager at a Vocational Training Centre, Counsellor and Bookkeeper, Hostel Manager, and Development Training Officer for Northern Papua New Guinea. In these and other roles Major Naua has worked extensively in remote and rural areas of Papua New Guinea, and she currently has oversight for all of The Salvation Army’s Women’s work in primitive and underprivileged regions. She travels to remote area villages, supporting the women, training leaders and providing encouragement to them.