BY JACK CRABTREE
Half of Tresame’s black and blue face had swollen incredibly; she was unrecognizable. She sat alone on the grass, trying to cover her face in shame. Two parties argued on either side of her.
The previous night, her husband had hiked 18 miles through the rain with me to make sure I made it back to the village. He had made a fire for me on the trail to help me get warm. He encouraged me when my legs refused to take another step (after the Benadryl kicked in…oops). We'd become friends, but today I saw him in a different light: the abusive husband.
The story went that his wife, Tresame, had damaged their sweet potato garden, and in a rage the previous night he had beaten her mercilessly. He then kicked her out of the house and gave her nursing baby to his other wife. Many men have multiple wives here. Now, Tresame’s two brothers, Bean and Thusten, were arguing that they needed to be paid for the damage that had been done to their sister.
Sadly, wife beatings are commonplace here in Pinji. We’ve lived here for less than a year and have witnessed husbands beating their wives in the open several times, but this was the first time the village court had been involved. The court session ended without a resolution and resumed the next day.
Shortly after the session began, a huge brawl erupted between the two clans involved, and Bean wailed on the husband before members of the husband’s clan were able to wrestle him to the ground. To my unschooled eye, it seemed admirable that Tresame’s brothers were standing up for her. Finally the fight died down, order was restored, and some sort of agreement was reached. They weren’t speaking the trade language, so I couldn’t follow much of what was said.
A few days later, I sat down with the two brothers to try and understand all that had happened. “Tresame’s first husband died,” Bean told me, “and her new husband hadn’t paid us for her yet. He’s living with her as her husband, but he can’t damage her before he’s bought her.”
Thusten jumped in and said, “We lowered the price for him, but told him he had to pay us for her completely by next Christmas. Then we told him that women aren’t strong, so when he hits her he needs to not hit her as hard.”
“Once he’s paid us for her, he can hit her all he wants, and it’ll be something between the two of them,” Bean said. “But right now he owes us money for her, so he can’t damage her like that.”
My mind was reeling. Nothing that had happened had been out of any real concern for their sister’s well-being. They were viewing her as a means to get some cash. “Do husbands ever beat their wives and kill them?” I asked.
“Head money,” Thusten said.
“What’s head money?”
“The uncles put a price on the wife’s head, and if the husband kills his wife, he has to pay the uncles that amount,” Bean said. “It’s usually more than the price he bought her for in the first place. When He’s beating her, he’ll remember the price of the head money and not beat her as hard.”
“Yeah, before we had head money, the uncles would just come kill the husband,” Thusten said. “Then the husband’s clan would fight the uncles and many people would die. Now we have religion and a court system and the head money keeps those deaths from happening.”
I tried to digest all of this. Coming from a culture where women are respected, it’s hard for me stomach these kinds of conversations that make it seem as though women are little more than property. To pave the way for the truth of the Gospel, we’re all trying to model marriages and family lives that look dramatically different from the status quo here.
Telling these guys to stop beating their wives isn’t enough. They have a thin layer of religion here already, but that hasn’t stopped the abuse. They need a deep worldview change that comes from knowing their Creator and hearing His story in their heart language. They need to know that in the beginning God created man and woman in His image.
In my flesh, it’s hard for me to love the people behind these abuses. It’s hard for me to not be angry at them. Before I believed in Christ, did God view me any differently than them? Was Christ too angry at my sinfulness to die for me? Had I made myself unlovable to Him? No. Nothing I could ever do could accomplish that feat.
And that’s where the penny drops. If Christ is truly living in and through me, then His perfect love can enable me to love these people here. And it does. I can see the potential and the positives in these men and women and their children. Our team can barely contain our excitement sometimes as we dream about the future here, after the gospel has begun its transformative work. But for now, we build friendships, learn language, and model Christ. Pray for our team to continue relying on Christ’s life in us as we work toward the day a mature Wantakian church will be functioning on its own!