Going back to Goroka

By the time you read this, I hope to have moved from my Adelaide home and church at St Stephen’s in the CBD to be a volunteer researcher at the Melanesian Institute (MI) in Goroka, in Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) Eastern Highlands. The MI is an ecumenical institute which researches, publishes and teaches topics relating to PNG culture.

The current focus of MI research is on PNG church workers’ knowledge, attitudes and responses in relation to the country’s HIV and AIDS epidemic.

This research will help MI to develop and deliver HIV and AIDS-related educational workshops for people working for the churches, other Non-Government Organisations (NGO) and the PNG government.

Goroka was my father’s first posting after his ordination as a Lutheran pastor. I arrived there in March 1969 as a 6-week-old baby, with my parents Brian and Janet. My brother Ben (currently a teacher at Faith Lutheran College, Tanunda) and sister Jackie (community career/counsellor at St John’s Lutheran School, Highgate) were born in the Goroka Base Hospital.

My father was an MI staff member from 1982 to 1986, when the research focus was on marriage and family life.

So why, 23 years later, am I returning to work in Goroka?

In September, 2008, I accompanied former LCA Mission Director Pastor Wayne Zweck, and Gordon Samuel to Goroka for a meeting between PNG Lutheran Church leaders and their overseas partners from Australia, Germany and USA.

Pastor Wayne asked me to speak at a seminar, on the topic of “Climate Change and Development”. I had recently finished a Masters in Health and International Development, but finding a job jusing my new degree and suiting my interests and experience, proved tough. The seminar topic was right up my alley, and the chance to revive old friendships and make new ones was appealing.

Two of the seminar participants were Lutheran staff members of the MI who learned of my post-graduate qualifications and childhood experience in Goroka. After a separate “HIV and Culture” symposium, they asked me to consider serving as an MI volunteer. It didn’t take much arm twisting!

Organising the work permit and visa has been a slow process. However, the waiting time has been a blessing. Among other things, I have read religious responses to HIV and AIDS, and written a discussion paper on food and hunger for the Lutheran Church’s Commission on Social and Bioethical Questions.

There is a lot of fear, blame, disinformation, exploitation and misunderstanding in PNG about HIV and AIDS; church workers included. Please pray that our work will promote better knowledge, understanding and wisdom, as well as greater care and compassion toward those infected with and affected by HIV and AIDS.

This story was also published in the October 2009 edition of Border Crossings, the magazine of LCA International Mission.

Many of our partner churches are working in new territory for the kingdom of God; therefore, spiritual attack is their everyday reality. As a member of a congregation, school, or family, or a couple or individual, you are invited to commit to praying for our partners in mission. For regular prayer point updates, go to www.lca.org.au/international-mission/act-now/pray

Read more stories about our partner church in Papua New Guinea at http://www.lcamission.org.au/category/stories/international-partners/papua-new-guinea/