Saturday, July 10, 2010

124th Anniversary

July 12 is not a national holiday, but it is a "Lutheran holiday". It is the day in 1886 when missionaries first came to Papua New Guinea and began ministry and outreach. It is celebrated throughout the country among Lutherans. The church offices are closed and there are celebrations. The anniversary has been the topic of sermons for the past two weeks in our worship services. Last week, Pr. Hans Gergeire, Director of Ministerial Education, preached at St. Andrew's here on Ampo. He talked about the first missionaries who came to the Finschhafen area and encountered stark living conditions and disease. Many of those first missionaries died and, ultimately, they faced the decision--do they return or do they continue? He related that there really was no discussion. They would remain, but they moved up from the coast and began their ministry anew. The first missionaries were charged with evangelist training. In other words, they would identify people whom they would train and who would then take the Good News to the many villages. Pr. Hans related that his grandfather was one of these evangelists who was trained. Their training consisted of memorizing a sermon among other things. This was the method of achieving consistency in the message.

Pr. Hans told the story of how his grandfather, accompanied by his grandmother, came to the training. When they finished and began the long walk back to their village, his grandfather stops ands says "I've forgotten the sermon. I have to go back." So he left Pr. Hans' grandmother beside the path in the jungle and returned to re-learn the sermon. When he finally came back and found his wife waiting along the path, it was nightfall. She asked if they would sleep there along the path and he said "no, tomorrow is Sunday and we have to preach the Good News." They continued on all night and reached the village mid-morning on Sunday, called together the people, and worshipped. He preached the sermon he had learned.

As Pr. Hans told this story, you could tell that it was formative to his faith. He went on to study at Seminary, serve as a parish pastor, and serve as Faculty at Logaweng for several years, before assuming his current position where he oversees the three Seminaries and church colleges. The question he left us with that Sunday morning was "are you ready to make the commitment?"

On July 11 Pr. Timothy Luke, Coordinator of Chaplaincy in the national church, preached on the text Luke 10--the Mission of the Seventy. "He said to them, 'The harvest is plentiful and the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.'" (vs. 2). Pr. Luke offered many examples of the work that is to be done within ELC-PNG, the "harvest that is plentiful", and challenged everyone to see themselves as "missionaries". The day coincided with the last Sunday of one of our colleagues, Miriam Lies, who will complete her four-year term this week. She lived her as a child when her parents came as missionaries; she heeded the call of the Church and came back, and she leaves now, not knowing what her next call will be but affirmed in the work that she has done here. We are all called. People come and people go----the work is plentiful and the laborers are few.

International Women's Retreat

We are part of Lutheran Overseas Partner Churches (LOPC) which consists of missionaries from three areas of Germany, Australia, the United States, and most recently, the Philippines and Malaysia. While we come from these varied locations, we are all one "team" and work together as colleagues and mutual support. Our Mission Boards meet once a year in September and they oversee all of the policies and procedures that govern the missionary community. They also meet in a Forum with our colleagues in ELC-PNG and engage in mutual education, worship, Bible Study and planning. Our Mission Boards also see the necessity for retreat time for missionaries and they provide funds annually for an International Women's Retreat, a Men's Retreat, and a Family Retreat.

In early June, seventeen women and three babies from five countries gathered in Goroka at the Kefamo Retreat Center for the 2010 retreat. It is a peaceful setting on the edge of town. Some flew in via small airplane and four of us drove up the Highlands Highway from Lae. Each year a theme is chosen for reflection, discussion and sharing. This year the theme was "persistence as a strength in our lives" and we used the Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge (Luke 18). This was my first retreat experience and it was very interesting to learn the stories of the other women, how each of us has a unique story that has led us to Papua New Guinea. "Persistence" has been part of all of our lives even before coming to PNG, but it is also safe to say that persistence is needed as we lead our daily lives in our respective locations.

"Persistence" is also a theme to the lives of women in Papua New Guinea. PNG is still very much a patriarchal society, where men enjoy much more privilege than women. But things are changing. While women are not yet able to be ordained and serve as pastors, they attend Seminary classes and are doing all of the work to "be ready" when the tides change. There are also dynamic women leaders, het meris, in the national church, every one of the 17 districts and in all of the circuits. They engage in leadership training and are particularly focused on the reduction of domestic violence to women and children. The role of women is being discussed in many circles, and it's not just among women. Men, too, are being brought into the conversation, facing the effects that male-dominated behavior has on women and family life. The presence of the missionary women working side-by-side with the women of PNG gives hope to the women and we also learn much from them. Persistence certainly is a strength in all of our lives.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

This Is The Church Jesus Created

We attended a baptism this morning. Our German colleagues, Lothar Stock and Sabine Schmidt, brought their five-month old baby girl to St. Andrew's Lutheran Church on this first Sunday of Pentecost--"child of God, sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever, welcomed into the body of Christ and into the mission we share." How many times have we heard it? How many times have we witnessed a baptism and made promises to support the parents and young child? How many times do we remember the baptism of our own children, or perhaps even our own baptism? Yet every time, it is a new experience, a new creation. For Rod and I, it was joyous, humbling, uplifting, emotional, and mysterious.

The baby was held by a young Papua New Guinean woman. The sponsors were both German and Papua New Guinean. Most of the missionary community was in attendance. Work colleagues and friends who don't normally come to St. Andrew's were there. The pastor invited all the the leaders of St. Andrew's to stand in honor at the font. The congregation, some 400 people, was mostly Papua New Guinean but three Seminary students from the Philipines were in attendance. A pastor and wife who had just arrived four days ago from the Philipines attended, their first worship experience in PNG, one they will not forget quickly!

This is the church Jesus created. What an honor and joy it was today to be part of the body of Christ, children of God from all over the world. And it was a child that brought us all together today to remember that this is indeed the church Jesus created.


"When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability." (Acts 2:1-4)

I have always been fascinated with the scene in Jerusalem, as many people gathered from many places, heard the rush of the wind, and felt something mysterious surrounding them. And I have always struggled a bit with the part of it in which there are many languges spoken and heard simultaneously. Now I have a new understanding and a new experience, maybe not totally like the scene in Jerusalem, but it will forever frame my Pentecost experience.

We live in Lae, a city to which many village people have come to look for work and live. We live on Ampo, the location of the national church headquarters, and many of our colleagues come from far and wide across Papua New Guinea. We attended worship at St. Andrew's Lutheran Church on Ampo on Pentecost Sunday and read the familiar text that was being read around the world in Lutheran churches everywhere. When the pastor began his sermon, he said "good morning" and we all responded "good morning". Then he said, "turn to someone next to you and say 'good morning' in the language of 'your place'". I turned to a young man and said "good morning" in English; he responded in Kote. I didn't understand him but I asked him where he was from and what was his language. Kote is the language spoken in the area north/northeast of Lae, in the Finschhafen area. It is likely that 15-20 native languages were spoken in just this little exercise on a Sunday morning of sharing "good morning". It created a buzz that could indeed be "bewildering" to the outsider.

There are said to be 800 languages in Papua New Guinea. I have heard Yabin sung; I have heard chants from Simbu; I have heard "good morning" in Kote. I have heard others but have not known from which village. This is a place where the natural tongue is the languge of the village. Pidgin (Tok Pisin) is a created language that has helped missionaries and people from villages to communicate with one another. And English is the official language. So, on any given morning, you might hear many languages spoken and sung, and yet, as one respected pastor has shared with us, "it is the gospel that has brought us all together".........and it is the gift of the Holy Spirit that enters us, moves us, and calls us to go forth into the world and into ministry.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Highlands Beauty

There are cultural differences between the "Highlanders" and the "coastal peoples". We are still learning the differences and appreciative that different parts of our country have cultural differences. The most important question you can ask someone is "Yu bilong wea?" --where are you from? You immediately begin to learn their stories and can see the pride with which they talk about their village and people.

There are small markets along the roadside and people vending fruits, vegetables, grilled fish or pork, cooked potatoes, peanuts, crackers, all items for a roadside lunch. It is indeed cooler and you begin to see people dressed with long sleeves, hats, and sweatshirts. Once you cross the Kassam Pass, there is no steep descent; rather you drive along the Highlands and again see vast fields of grass and gardens on the higher mountain slopes. I continue to be amazed at the gardens that are tilled on steep slopes.

Papua New Guinea is a country of diverse geography---coastal cities and villages, mountains, volcanoes, and vast river beds. Lae is on the coast, a large port on the Huon Gulf. It receives about 200 inches of rain/year, we are told. It is perpetually hot and humid. A common refrain we hear is "you need to go up to the Highlands; it is cool and it is so much different." There is only one highway in all of Papua New Guinea and it is known as the Highlands Highway. As you leave Lae, you pass the Airport road and proceed through grassland with many cattle grazing contentedly. You begin to ascend after crossing the Leron River and into the Markham River Valley, eventually coming to the Yonki Dam, source of electricity of all of Papua New Guinea. The ascent becomes steeper as you reach the Kassam Pass and are now at 6,000-7,000 feet above sea level.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Visit to Finschhafen

Senior Flierl Seminary celebrated its 50th anniversary in September, 2009. It is one of three seminaries within ELC-PNG and one of the two which teach in Pidgin (along with Ogelbeng Seminary near Mt. Hagen). Students begin classes at 7:00am, break for Chapel at 8:00am, and then spend the rest of the morning in classes. In the afternoon, students and their spouses work in their gardens and participate in community clean-up. There are 88 students at Seminary at this time and several on "vicarage", or internship. The vast majority of students come from villages and will serve in rural congregations throughout PNG. Their communal life at Senior Flierl prepares them for the life they and their families will lead in ministry following graduation.

When we were almost to the top, we were met by young children waiting to greet us and lead us onto the Seminary grounds with sounds of drumbeats and songs. They placed lovely leis around our necks and shyly smiled at us the whole time.

On the Monday after the Installation service, Rod, Nancy and Phil Baker made a quick two-day trip to Finschhafen, site of the first missionaries in Papua New Guinea. Senior Flierl Seminary is located at Logaweng high above the port and Braun Hospital is located nearby in Butaweng. The only way to travel to Finschhafen is by boat and, once we arrive, in the back of a truck up to the Seminary.

Installation of New Officials

The time between the 27th National Synod Assembly in mid-January and the Installation on March 7th passed quickly. There was much attention to transitions of personnel and preparation for the changes to the Constitution that would govern the business of ELC-PNG into the future. Early March found many representatives from partner churches gathering once again in Lae. Rev. Dr. Philip Baker, Asia Pacific Regional Representative for Theological Education and Church Relations came to Lae as the official ELCA representative. He lives in Kuala Lampur and travels across eight countries representing ELCA in the Asia Pacific region. Don and Laura Just were still in Lae, volunteer teaching at Martin Luther Seminary, so there were five of us present at the Installation.
On Saturday, March 6, there was a commemoration of the partnership of ELC-PNG and the Overseas partners from Germany, Australia, and the United States. Finland has only recently joined the partnership but no one was able to attend the Installation. The planting of trees at a clearning in Ampo, newly named Partnership Park, was the visible and tangible symbol of the Partnership. A durian tree was planted in the center to represent PNG ( LtoR: General Secretary Albert Tokave, Assisting Bishop Zau Rapa, and Bishop Gergiere Wenge)and six fruit trees were planted on the perimeter. We gave Phil Baker the honor of planting the guava tree that represents ELCA. We gathered to celebrate the hopefulness represented in the new growth and future fruits of our relationships. Then we went on to a community meal and anticipation of the next day's activities.