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.