In 2004 some of the Hewa people of Papua New Guinea heard the gospel for the first time and came to know Christ as Saviour. New Tribes missionaries were already learning Hewa culture and language, but God used a young man named Dogofili to first bring the good news of Christ to these people.
Dogofili, first discipled by a Bisorio evangelist called Suduwame, went to live with the Hewas and began evangelistic Bible teaching. The Bisorio tribe have been involved in an outreach to the Hewas for some years.
Odeya, a Bisorio leader, went with missionaries on their initial visit to this tribe. He later told the missionaries that he had not been sure how they would be received. He even thought they might be killed, but he wanted the Hewas to hear of Christ.
When missionaries first moved in to this rugged and isolated work in the Sepik region, Bisorio believers hiked in to help build their houses.
Missionaries Graham and Carol Townley (now at New Tribes Mission in North Cotes, UK), who used to minister among the Bisorios, wrote, ‘What a joy to hear how God is using the Bisorio people to extend his kingdom in PNG’.
Since June 2005 missionaries have been teaching foundational Bible truths each morning to about 50 Hewas as they sit scattered on the ground. Children run from one group to another; dogs, cats and cassowary birds meander freely.
When they were told about Satan’s fall and how he has lied to everyone ever since, Loyuwa, an old and powerful man in the community, said, ‘That is right; he lied to our forefathers, and then the lies were passed on from generation to generation’.
But not everything has gone smoothly.
A Hewa witch doctor, Tawetamofi, began calling young men to come to his village for at least three months — he also wanted to do some teaching! This needed investigating and missionary Jonathan Kopf hiked five hours over mountain trails to meet Tawetamofi. He was initially pleased with the witch doctor’s warm greeting.
The two men talked late into the night. Tawetamofi explained that a spirit from a banana tree told him in a dream that it was his job to be the saviour of the Hewa people. The banana spirit told him that he had the power to keep people from dying, even when attacked by the evil spirits of the jungle. Any sick person who was not cured by the missionaries’ medicine was to come immediately so that Tawetamofi could figure out which evil spirit was causing the sickness and throw it out.
Tawetamofi was calling Hewa young men to come and learn this craft so that they together could protect everyone from harm — and have the power to kill lots of game.
The witch doctor listened intently as Jonathan told him of the God who created everything and of the judgement day that is coming. Periodically, he turned to the crowd that had gathered around the two men and made sure they understood everything the missionary was saying.
But Jonathan’s message conflicted with Tawetamofi’s conviction that God had given the banana spirit the power to teach him what to do.
When Jonathan extended an invitation to Tawetamofi to come and hear Bible teaching, he emphatically declined. ‘Now till the time I die, I will not come to your teaching. And then later when I die, I will happily go to God’s judgement fire’.
Those were heart-wrenching words for the missionary to hear — a direct affront from Satan to keep many of the Hewa people in the dark. Tawetamofi’s village will not now hear the Bible’s message. Instead, another teaching will prevail and young men will seek the help of the banana spirit.
The missionaries ask others to join the spiritual war with them. ‘We can only make a big impact in these mountains as we push forward together on our knees’, wrote Jonathan.
‘Seriously pray daily that God will grab the hearts of these people. Pray that this will be the beginning of the spread of the gospel all over these mountains, even into the other language groups that are all around us’.