One of the most delightful aspects of the Opening Worship was the dance and tambourine routines of the Sunday School children and Youth. Dressed in vibrant colors, all wearing their meri blouse or mission dresses, the young girls, starting at age 6 or 7 and as old as early 20s, set the tone for a vibrant, joyous, and praise-filled worship experience. The Youth program is very strong in PNG and it was exciting to see them at this national ceremony.
As we entered the stadium and eventually took our seats, we began to see the masses of people who had come to attend this Opening Worship. The procession into the stadium was more like the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics than a church processional. People carried their placard with pride. Many were dressed in colors of their district. There was a sea of umbrellas and glowing faces as people arrived. After all of the delegates were seated, Prime Minister Michael Somare was ushered into the stadium, having come from Port Moresby to attend the opening. Reasonable estimates of the gathering would be 20,000, the vast majority of whom remained the six hours of the ceremony in tropical heat. It is rather mysterious to imagine this many people coming to the beginning of the Synod Assembly, knowing that important business was about to be conducted and bringing their prayers and presence.
Sunday, January 10, 2010 began with a bright blue sky and warmed up quickly. Don and Laura Just, official representatives of the ElCA arrived from North Carolina, companion synod to the Yabem District, on Saturday night and rose to take their place in the procession to the Sir Ignatius Kilage Stadium where the Opening Worship took place. We gathered a throng of people, each of the 17 districts organized under placards identifying their delegation, and many dignataries. We were led down a mile-long hill by indigenous groups, four different groups with song and dress unique to their circuits and traditions.
The Yabem District, located in Lae, has been making preparations to host the 27th Synod Assembly of the national church for months. The logistics have been phenomenal as a huge assembly hall was built of bush material on the campus of Martin Luther Seminary, host to the church delegates and many observers. Food has been gathered throughout the Yabem District and we saw people bringing yams, sweet potatoes, green bananas and live pigs to the shore when we were in Baukop. There were 350 official voting delegates from the 17 districts but thousands of observers came to Lae. Housing was arranged in five different locations and kitchens were set up to feed the people. It was no small sacrifice for people to come to Lae---by boat, by truck, by bus. Many times the truckloads of people would come to Ampo to announce their presence with drums and singing. Palm fronds and flowers would decorate the trucks and people would frequently stop, get out of the trucks, and perform a sing-sing, the dance and song of their province or village.