Eric and Sarah

Eric Karua, an associate pastor and musician from Papua New Guinea, is a friend of mine. Before Eric became a Christian, he was a very angry, hard-hearted, and violent man. When the Solomon Islands fought for independence from Papua New Guinea, he enlisted as a soldier with the Bougainville Resistance Army. But at some point, the Resistance Army divided, and the two factions began to fight each other. The war for independence had become a civil war. Eric joined the newly formed Bougainville Resistance Force. Sadly, that civil war, as do many such conflicts, pitted village against village, family against family and brother against brother. In fact, Eric told me he once put a gun to his wife’s head when he thought she was betraying him to her family. As I said, he was an angry man.

One night he decided that he would go to his wife’s village to visit her. He asked a couple of his friends to go with him, but they were too afraid; so he went alone. Eric was on a dark, jungle road, carrying an M-16, three extra clips in his cargo pockets. Two grenades hung from his belt.

Suddenly a man grabbed him from behind, wrapping his arms around him.

“I’ve got him!” he shouted.

Eric quickly brought up his M-16 and began spraying the areas in front of and beside him. When he exhausted the clip, he tried to reach into his pocket to retrieve a full one. By this time, however, another man had begun to stab him repeatedly, in his chest, neck, and head. Finally, Eric was stabbed in the back, near his kidneys, and he fell unconscious. When he came to, he heard the commander of the group say, “Finish him off.”

The attacker aimed his weapon at Eric, who was certain his death was just moments away. For the first time in his life, he prayed, “God, save me. Don’t let me die.” The assailant fired, but the round misfired. He ejected it and tried another. It was a dud, too, as was the third one.

Finally, the commander said, “Leave him to die.”

Eric regained and lost consciousness three times. Each time, he felt himself falling into a dark and bottomless pit.

Eventually, he gathered his strength and crawled to the house of friend. When he arrived at the front door, he called out twice, “Steven.” The third time, when he opened his mouth, nothing came out. He dragged himself to another house. On the way, however, he saw a Coleman lantern hanging inside a church. As he drew nearer, the light became smaller and smaller, until it was the size of a firefly.

Eric was dying.

The people in the church were praying and had their eyes closed. Eric crawled to the pulpit and grabbed it. When the pastor felt the pulpit move, he looked down, but Eric was so bloody he didn’t recognize him. The pastor took off his own shirt and wiped the blood from Eric’s face. The people quickly realized the extent of Eric’s wounds, and it wasn’t long before he was on his way to a hospital. He had almost bled to death. He had to undergo surgery to stop the internal bleeding and spent a month in bed, but he eventually recovered.

It was during this time and afterward that Eric fully gave his heart to Jesus Christ. Eventually, he recovered enough to preach the Gospel. Everyone, including his wife, Sarah, was amazed at how this hardened man had changed. However, although Eric was doing a lot of ministering, his heart was still full of bitterness and hatred toward the man who had attacked him so brutally. When he decided to go to this man and tell him that he had forgiven him, none of his village friends or family would go with him. They gave him a new M-16 and urged him to take it with him, but he refused.

By the time Eric arrived, word had spread that he was coming. He went into the man’s house, which by then was surrounded by soldiers who were ready to kill him at the first misstep. Eric found his enemy sleeping. When he nudged him awake, the man went for his weapon, the M-16 he had taken from Eric the night of the attack.

Eric put his hand out and said, “No, I haven’t come to fight. Enough people have died. I have come to forgive you for what you’ve done.”

Eric immediately felt released from his bitterness. Then his enemy broke down and cried. This man told Eric that he had free access to come and preach to the people in his village and that he wouldn’t be harmed.

However, this isn’t the end of the story. Eric’s family had sent his fourteen-year-old brother to school in an area in the north where it was safe. Eric had made so many enemies that they, in retribution, sought out his younger brother and murdered him. Eric found himself at another crossroad. His friends and family wanted revenge. However, even though he was tempted, Eric wouldn’t do it. By God’s grace, he was able to forgive, again, in the realization that bloodshed and payback hadn’t brought anything but more pain and death. When the time came for the first steps toward peace, the laying down of arms, Eric’s village was the first to do so.1

1Thomson, Deeper: A Call to Discipleship, 85–88.