GCI SE Asia mission developer Rod Matthews along with Mark Latham, GCI’s pastoral coordinator for PNG (Papua, New Guinea) recently visited PNG. Here is Rod’s report.
Getting to Papua, New Guinea (PNG) is not easy. Yet for years, GCI pastors from Australia have made the trip to PNG at least once a year to visit, encourage and help our congregation there develop. Now, it is mature, well led and a shining light in the high valley below Mt. Wilhelm (pictured at right).
Mark and I traveled to PNG in October. On arrival in the capital of Port Moresby, we met with two member families—15 people total, including a widow whose husband and daughter had drowned in a boating accident there last year. In comforting the family we were reminded of just how widely God has scattered his Holy Spirit-led people as the “salt of the earth” in distant places.
The next day we flew to Goroka in the Eastern Highlands, where a group from our Mt. Wilhelm congregation had traveled six hours to welcome us. That afternoon we had a warm meeting with Peter Onga, an independent pastor from the city of Lae on the northern coast, who has started a church and is interested in pursuing a working relationship with us.
The next day we bumped along the Highlands Highway to Kundiawa. The road (pictured at right) soon deteriorated into stretches of mud, gravel and rocks enshrouded by misty rain. Two and half hours later, we pulled into Kundiawa. Many people lingered in groups along the main street. Flat-bed utility and 4-wheel drive vehicles cruised up and down, small buses came and went and we noted the presence of many armed police.
Here we purchased equipment to continue construction on the church’s community activity building at our Mt. Wilhelm facility (pictured at left). Now, with much more to take in addition to our luggage, we piled into a 4-wheel drive pickup for the final 2½ hour drive up into the mountains. Mark and I were squashed into the cab with the driver. Mark and I declared that even as friends we had never been closer. As we climbed upwards, we hugged the sides of steep valleys and crossed cascading rivers on bridges with deck timbers missing. Late that afternoon we arrived at Keglsugl. At over 8,000 feet altitude, it was cold, but the warm welcome from our members there made up for it in every way.
The next day we were officially welcomed by a group of dancers (pictured at left) who led us onto the church property through a corridor of children, then women, then men. Everyone then assembled in front of the buildings for formal speeches of welcome. Our pastor, John Banda hosted the ceremony and co-pastors Ben Galwa and Richard Kindi also spoke. The children sang and the women’s choir presented a song composed for this occasion. I felt like I had always known these wonderful people.
The special church service two days later was a celebration of unity in Christ. It lasted over 3½ hours with special music and dancing, a blessing of 23 (!) children and my sermon. This was followed by a wonderful banquet.
The day before our departure, the church again assembled for a special service where the Lord’s Supper was celebrated prior to a traditional meal called a mumu. There was plenty of food for everyone including anyone from the local community who wished to come. Special cakes made by members were presented to Mark and me and shared with everyone. Presentations were made of bilums (locally woven and beautifully adorned bags) for us to take home as mementos of our trip. How could we forget? The farewells were long and emotional.
On the way back I marveled at how the Holy Spirit connects us all and works in the lives of people in remote areas in special ways. I also thought of how privileged we are to have become so attached so quickly to one another in the Body of Christ within our fellowship; of the priceless experience of the difficult trip to get there; and the simplicity of their lifestyle with its clean air and fresh vegetables. They’ve only been connected by cell phone to the rest of the world in the last couple of years.
The work of the Holy Spirit is not seen by just looking nearby. Nor is the significance and nature of our international fellowship measured by what we see locally. We are indeed a communion brought together by the remarkable grace of God that girdles the globe. We can’t all visit these remote areas, but perhaps you now feel a little closer to your brothers and sisters in Christ in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea by having “traveled” with Mark and me.
By the way, and to reinforce the point concerning how the Holy Spirit often works out of sight, on our return to Goroka we were surprised by the visit of a member with a van-load of relatives who live in the Ramu Valley, three hours drive out of the town of Madang on the north coast. It had taken them six hours to get to us. Therese (second from left in the picture at left) told us that she has a group of 30 people meeting in her home each weekend for a worship service of hymn singing, prayer and Bible reading. “Amazing,” we said. “Wonderful!” “Oh,” she replied, “that’s only the adults. There are lots of children as well—some of the families attending have five or six.”
Thus, we “discovered” that we have a congregation that we didn’t know about that probably numbers about 100 people. Only a few of them speak English, so the challenge is to provide their leaders with simple sermon and Bible study material that can be translated into their language. While they were with us, we had another impromptu service asking God to bless three more children. It was an exceptional trip!