The Long Night[1]

By Verna P. Stutzman

“Hey, this picture is perfect for the story I’m doing tomorrow.” I held up the picture for Robert to see. I was preparing my lesson for the next day’s reading class in the community school. Fifty eager children were learning to read in their own language for the very first time.

Robert and I were volunteer workers with the Summer Institute of Linguistics[2]. Stationed in the remote mountain village of Sopu[3] in Papua New Guinea, our main work was Bible translation. Included in that assignment were countless tasks, such as the cultural study of the village people, the linguistic analysis of their language, and literacy – teaching them to read in their mother tongue language.

“Honey! Don’t you like this picture?” I turned to see why Robert wasn’t responding to my question, but he wasn’t there. Just then I heard a noise at the front door. I watched, as Robert opened the door. Two gunmen shoved guns in his face and said, “Hands up.”

Robert grabbed one of the gun barrels and began pushing on the door. I rushed to his side, yelling, “In the Name of Jesus, you have to leave.” I grabbed the other gun barrel and began pushing with all my might. Neither Robert nor I knew that a third man lurked in the shadows with a machete.

This tug-of-war lasted for only a few minutes but seemed to go on forever. Robert and I were alternately in the house and out on the veranda. I felt a blow to the side of my head that almost threw me to the ground. Then I heard Robert scream, “Help! Will someone please come help us.” The quality of his voice was so eerie that I lost my nerve.

Back inside, again we pushed on the door to get it closed. A shotgun blast ripped through the air. I heard the shot raining down on the plywood kitchen floor. Robert screamed, “Oh! My God! I’ve been shot!”

Suddenly, Robert noticed the throw rug crumpled up in the doorway, keeping the door from closing. He motioned to me to remove the rug. I thought, “If I expose myself in the open doorway, they’ll shoot me for sure.” Screwing up my courage, I made a dash for the doorway, snatching up the rug. Robert and I breathed a sigh of relief as we finally got the door closed and locked.

The 12-volt solar powered kitchen light cast dim shadows as I looked around in relief. Then I saw it. Blood. There was blood everywhere! Where was it coming from? At the same time, Robert began to moan in pain. I took one look at his shoulder and almost fainted. There was a gash about six inches long and two inches deep. The bone was sticking out, blood spewing everywhere.

“Quick, lie down,” I ordered as I dragged out a foam mattress. I helped Robert lie down and then I dashed to our two-way radio. The two-way radio was our only means of communication, connecting us to the outside world. Sopu had neither roads, telephones, nor electricity.

“Break, break! Break, break! This is 24 Bravo Zulu. Do you copy?” I paused to listen. What if there was no one attending the radio at this hour?

“Breaker go ahead. This is 72 Charlie Uniform standing by.”

“We’ve been attacked by gunmen and Robert is badly wounded.” I sobbed as I began to realize the enormity of our predicament. It was 7:30 at night and no one would be able to come to our rescue until morning. There were no medical facilities in Sopu and no police protection. At the back of my mind was a nagging thought, “What if the gunmen decide to come back and finish the job they started? We have no weapons for self-defense.”

[1] This incident happened June 5, 1991.

[2] Wycliffe Bible Translators is the home country organization which seconds its members to field organizations incorporated under the Summer Institute of Linguistics.

[3] Sopu is a village in Central Province, inhabited by people of the Tauade language group.