The mission owned a house on the north shore of Papua New Guinea in the resort town of Madang. Only 4 degrees south of the equator, and 250 miles north of the Great Barrier Reef, this tropical paradise was home of some of the most amazing snorkeling and scuba diving in the world. The Coral Sea was virtually pristine, the waters warm and crystal clear.
The mission house was all of 50 yards from the harbor–a country club and golf course stood between our house and the open water. To the North, about 1/2 a mile from our veranda stood The CoastWatchers Memorial Lighthouse. This was a very modern looking monument erected post-World War II in honor of the Navajo US soldiers whose intervention in the pacific saved countless American and Allied lives from the Japanese. Why the Navajo? Apparently their language and syntax is wholly unique from any other documented, known language. They could sneak into the mountains and watch the bays below for Japanese war ships. They would radio in coordinates of the enemy ships to American bases speaking in Navajo–the unbreakable code which was their native tongue–and tip off the US Navy to the enemy’s whereabouts. US planes would swoop in and take out the Japanese, leaving the US soldiers largely unscathed.
The lighthouse was a comforting presence in Madang. I could lay in bed in my room and watch the light periodically glide it’s way through the window and around the walls of my room as it slowly turned in endless nocturnal circles. I thought a lot about those Navajo men- how very displaced they must have felt, fighting a battle for the honor of a nation who has treated them as second class citizens; how odd it must be to be celebrated for being incomprehensible.
I must confess: I identified with the Navajo. I was a third culture kid-not really “American” any more, not really Papua New Guinean, but some thing in between. Some tertium quid. That we lived in such luxury half the year as ‘missionaries’ also created dissonance. How could we ex-patriates wander the beach, the resort, the golf course and then minister to those without adequate medical care, nutrition, clothing or shelter? We lived in the light of the CoastWatchers, as well as in its shadow. We were incomprehensible.