My First Fifty Years – By Gerald Bustin

Chapter 17

New Guinea and My Greatest Grief

In the early part of 1948 I had a clear conviction that I should return to Australia. My wife shared heartily with me in this conviction even though the load would be heavier for her if I should go. Upon being convinced that this was of God she was always ready to take on the extra burdens involved. As may be expected, opposition to my going came from others, but the Lord made the way, so I landed in Sydney, Australia early in June. Missionary meetings were conducted with a heartening response for the work in Haiti, yet God had other plans which as yet were not clear to me. Even before leaving the western part of the U.S. for Australia my heart was beginning to be moved concerning the great island of New Guinea, yet knew practically nothing about the place other than being a land of head-hunters, many cannibals, tree-dwellers, and primitive people. I had heard of James Chalmers, the missionary, and another traveling companion having been killed and eaten by the New Guineans in the early part of this century.

Soon after my arrival in Australia inquiry began to be made concerning the unevangelized sections of New Guinea. Great was my surprise to find that the majority of the Missions seemed to know little or nothing concerning this island just above Australia which comprises land area equal to the States of Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina all combined. After some weeks I learned through the channel of one Mission that nothing whatsoever was being done in the vast Central and Western Highlands of New Guinea. The Lutherans, Adventists, and Catholics had gone as far as Mount Hagen in the Central Highlands, but west of there tens of thousands of square miles were then without any kind of religious activities other than pagan heathenism. Sad to say that much of the religion in the Central Highlands brought a curse rather than a blessing. When I learned of these vast areas where no preacher of the Gospel had ever placed his feet my heart was deeply moved. I sought to stir up Australians to do something about getting in there with the Gospel. Some were interested, but were not prepared to do anything within the immediate future. My soul was grieved to think of coming all the way back to the West Indies without seeing something done for the bush men of New Guinea.

I was booked to fly from Sydney to Los Angeles leaving on the 6th of August. It was then the latter part of July. With a real heart concern my soul was silently lifted to the Lord in prayer one night. In substance the prayer was, “Dear Lord, Thou knowest the need of our neighbors in New Guinea better than we know, and I am sure Thou lovest them more than we do. Thou seest the indifference of those who are called by Thy name in that they have allowed these multitudes to dwell in their darkness through all the long years. Father, Thou knowest that I would like to have a part in carrying the Gospel to these other sheep, but Thou knowest also that my hands are full in the West Indies, and Thou seest that I have no means to use in opening a work in New Guinea. Father, Thy servant is willing to go, and if necessary even be eaten by these wild people in order that they might have the Gospel. Lead me clearly if Thou wouldest have me go, but let me not get out of Thy will.”

I was out of bed and dressed early the next morning when suddenly a knock was heard at my door. Upon opening the door a lady spoke saying, “Brother Bustin, may I speak to you for just a minute?” I answered, “You may.” She continued, “Last night I was praying and the Lord spoke to me and told me to give you one hundred pounds ($320 in American currency) for New Guinea. This came as a blow to me, so I had no ready answer, but about the time I started to ask if she were sure that the Lord was leading her to do this she seemed to anticipate what I would say, so replied, “I know the voice of the Lord, so when do you want the money?” My answer was, “I shall be going to another town now, so I will pick up the check when I pass this way on my way to Sydney.” I was then in Melbourne. She assured me the money would be waiting for me. In the small city of Ballarat, Australia, I was stopping in a humble home where they had no modern conveniences, but they had true love for the Lord. One morning an aged lady placed an envelope in my hands which contained another one hundred pounds. After picking up the other check in Melbourne I was back in Sydney the next afternoon. Upon entering the home of Mrs. A. Owen whom I have often referred to as my Australian mother she passed a letter on to me from another friend. This letter contained a check for one hundred pounds earmarked New Guinea.

There was not a shadow of doubt concerning the Lord’s will. I knew that I must soon leave for New Guinea, so wrote to my family in the West Indies informing them of my plans. Many other praying friends were contacted by letter and asked to pray especially for this venture for God. From the beginning the Lord signally led, provided the means, the equipment, a young man as companion to go with me, and the permits to enter the country. Some folks informed me that we would not be allowed to enter the Western Highland regions since it was closed territory, but we sincerely believed the Lord would make the way. Upon our arrival in New Guinea we went directly to the authorities and divulged our plans. It was obvious that we were considered foolish to think of going in among untouched savage people with no natural protection for ourselves. We were told that the people were very wild in the section we desired to enter, and that the Government would rather not see us go there, but then came the word we wanted to hear: “We cannot stop you, for that territory has just been opened.” We could not refrain from saying, “Praise the Lord!” We pointed out another area on farther west. Mr. Champion, the head of District Offices at that time, spoke up and said, “Yes, I know about those people. They are all cannibals, but very friendly.” At this point I could not keep back the laughter, for I could not see any advantages in being eaten by friendly cannibals over that of being devoured by unfriendly cannibals.

The limitations of this book will not allow me to restate the many ways in which the Lord worked in our behalf at this time. (My book on ADVENTURING WITH GOD IN THE WILDS OF NEW GUINEA, price 50c, gives the complete story.) It was wonderful how the Lord worked and went before us. It was a marvel in our own eyes. Many lives have been blessed while reading the day by day accounts of God’s faithfulness to His servants out there among New Guinea bush men. One man who is now in training for New Guinea tells how his life was completely transformed after reading the book through five times. One man and his wife that the writer knows of drove hundreds of miles to hear the New Guinea Story related no less than fifteen times. What God does is wonderfully done, and this was God’s doings. We who went in were only instruments in His hands. It was the Lord who went before us and touched the hearts of vicious men causing them to meet us as friends and to assist us in finding a Mission site and to help build. It was the Lord who helped us through the difficult trekkings. The Lord loved these dear savage people and found a way to express that love through His little servants.

Wonders were wrought within one month’s time and the writer was on his way back to Australia, America, and Haiti. I came out of New Guinea the last of September and was back in Haiti the latter part of November. What a joy to be with the family and missionary staff again after having been away for more than seven months. I had been to the other side of the world, and at one time in a part of the world where no white man had ever been seen, according to the report of the natives. (Of course a few Government men, or explorers, had been in the general area. There are yet vast numbers of villages where white men have not been). The Lord had graciously seen me through all the dangers known and unknown. The mother of my children seemed more thrilled than any other person as she, together with others, heard the continued story of God’s wonders in the wilds. This is understandable, for she had naturally put more into this than any other person. In some respects even more than the writer, for she had carried a heavy load in Haiti while I was away. The account of what the Lord had done in New Guinea seemed to afford her one of the greatest joys of her life. How little did we realize that her joys on earth were almost ended.

When Mrs. Bustin met me in Port au Prince she appeared as a picture of health. During our twenty-three years and six months of married life I cannot remember of any time when she seemed to be in better health. After about two weeks she slightly complained of not feeling so well and lay around and rested most of each day until the last which was only about one week. During her last day with us she ate a hearty breakfast and later walked out to her cot in front of our house and in the shade of the trees. Here she had rested each day and insisted on staying out there for a time each night to drink in the beauty of the moon-kissed branches of the royal palms gently swayed by the evening breeze. In the early afternoon of December the 15th there were signs of restlessness, but she was not interested in having a doctor come, nor did we insist, for no one considered her case serious. Later, however, we did insist that she have a doctor, so she was willing. Our son, Charles, went in the Jeep for the doctor, but shortly after he left our nurse came and quietly said to the writer, “I cannot find her pulse.” She was placed on her bed in our room, but within a matter of minutes she was leaving us. When the doctor arrived she had gone. Something like a heart attack, or acute indigestion, must have hurried her away.

Only those who have suffered the loss of a companion and a devoted parent can know what it was like in the Bustin home as the sun sank behind the rugged mountain ridge on that December evening. If she had only been able to tell us goodnight it might have helped a lot, but when her time came to leave us there was not even a parting word. It was all too soon for us. We longed to call her back and once more tell her what a good companion and devoted mother she had been, but she had already passed beyond the limits of our weak voices. Her greatest joy, that of being with her Lord whom she had so faithfully served, occasioned our greatest grief. If we could have had our natural choice at that instant there would have doubtless been eight bodies placed side by side before the sun went down the next day, for the sentiments of each were, “Why can’t we go too?”

The startling news swiftly sped from one native hut to another and on out beyond the plains and over the mountains. A great company of the natives had quickly surrounded the house begging to see the face of their “Mambo” (short for Madam Bustin) for they could not believe that she had left us so quickly. Even before the body was laid out we permitted a long line of these dear folk to pass through the room and view the face of the one who had meant so much to many of them. After the body was prepared for its last resting place the people continued to come all through that long and lonely night. Many of them walked fifteen or twenty miles arriving late in the night or early dawn. Others arrived at different hours the next day. One of the natives exclaimed, “She gave her life for my people.”

From midnight until near four o’clock the next afternoon some of our students were occupied in the workshop constructing a beautiful mahogany casket. (Lest some of our readers think this was extravagant I might explain. The students were guided in this work by skilled workmen. We furnished the material, then paid something to the skilled laborers, but the total cost was little more than $50).

It is a law in Haiti that bodies must be buried within twenty-four hours. The funeral had been set for four o’clock in the afternoon, but long before this time a large company had assembled to pay their respects to their departed friend. Government men, business men, missionaries of other missions, as well as our own, a large group of native Christians, and many unawakened sinners were present during this solemn hour. One of our aged workers gave the funeral address interpreted by a missionary from another group. One of the most touching phases of this occasion was a duet sung by my two oldest daughters. They sang a song which had been written by their own mother many years before. I have never heard them sing so well as on that occasion. How they were able to do it I do not know. They believed the Lord wanted them to sing this song. He graciously helped them.

As the sun was setting beyond the high hills of Haiti God’s faithful servant was tenderly lowered into the cold earth to rest until the trumpet shall sound and the dead in Christ shall awaken to meet their loving Master and the living saints who shall likewise be changed in the twinkling of an eye. What a day! No more sickness, no more separation, no more sorrow, and no more sighs!

“What is home without a mother?” is something more than a proverbial expression, and finds its counterpart in, “What is home without a companion?” Some months before this heart-bleeding blow came into my life a beloved brother in Christ was with us in Haiti just after he had lost his bosom companion. My heart went out for him then, but my sympathy was so weak. I had never witnessed what he was passing through. My six children seemed dearer to me than ever after the passing of their mother, and yet there was a vacancy in the home which appeared as some mysterious and fathomless void. I had been away from my wife and children as long as seventeen months at the time, and many months on various occasions, but never had I missed her so much as during those long sorrow-shrouded nights which followed that unforgettable night of her departure. My beloved children seemed so understanding and bore their grief better than their father. Our precious missionary family and my many friends were so kind and thoughtful during those days of deep silent grief. Beyond and above all were the comforts of our Saviour’s love. Bless His dear name! I have often wondered how sorrow-stricken sinners can live without him. Why will they try to carry their griefs alone while He waits to come to them with His comforts and His grace! “He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” How could we live without Him! And yet, the precious word does not say, “He hath borne all our griefs.” He comforts us in our griefs, and gives us grace to bear our griefs elegantly and without the least tinge of bitterness. For our own eternal well-being our Lord does not take away all our griefs and heavy crosses, for by these He makes us to become vessels unto His praise and glory. Much of our grief remains, but His infinite love more than matches our grief with His abundant grace. George D. Watson said, “It does not matter from what quarter spiritual suffering may have its origin, if the soul is truly yielded to God the Holy Spirit will gather up every thread of pain and weave it through His loom into a gorgeous pattern of the life of Christ.”