Kokoda. Isurava. Eora. Efogi. Brigade Hill. Ioribaiwa. Imita Ridge. These were places I read about in the months leading up to the trek. Villages, mountain ranges, battle sites – still hav-ing the claim as some of the most remote areas in the world – where in 1942/43 the Austra-lian forces retreated against a Japanese advance until near Port Moresby they were able to finally advance and bring about the first defeat of the Japanese land army in WW2. Our trek was basically from Kokoda to Imita Ridge which they say was 96 km of mud and more mud, steep climbs and descents, river crossings, and thick jungle among some stunning mountain scenery – noticeable to someone who has spent the last 12 years in the rather flat (good for growing airforce bases) Suffolk. The terrain certainly favoured the defender.
It’s one thing to read history – a battle – a campaign – and it is another thing to walk in the location and let your mind imagine as best you can what happened. It is poignant and sad and uplifting all at once. For me per-sonally Isurava was the place I didn’t really want to leave. The guide found a bullet and showed it to my daughter. One of my brothers in law – a Vietnam veteran – mentioned that you can’t walk in these footsteps and not be changed. I hope I don’t become one of those folk who always mentions their holidays, adventures, and photos (!) but there is something about wanting to share the experience, the sense of place. As physical beings, we are very much tied to the physical world – homes, special places, secret spots, somewhere in nature, a particular architecture or artwork. (The closest for me is to suggest that if you want to learn a bit more about Kokoda click on
http://kokoda.commemoration.gov.au/.) I felt this sense of place returning to Australia – the scenery, the landscape, the colours, the light (it is different!). Spaces hug us and help us be-long. There is also familiarity being here in Suffolk.
Yet my life – more so professionally – revolves around the truth that place isn’t the most criti-cal thing in relation to God. The stories in the Bible might be enriched if I walked in those lo-cations but my God is not especially found there. I don’t have to go to a special place to be close to God. There is an empty tomb on this planet that couldn’t hold the dead and that man who once was dead is now alive and he comes to people where they are! St Timothy, Sun-derland, celebrated their 60th anniversary yesterday and they have an impressive building but what they were celebrating was that God faithfully has come to us people there through words, water, bread and wine. Jesus can come into all our situations – war and peace – there were padres on Kokoda – because he is alive and that makes the place, a space in which love and service can happen. — GS