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.