PNG missionaries reunion

In mid October around 80 former missionaries to Papua New Guinea (PNG) and other supporters gathered for a weekend reunion and mission celebration at Trinity Lutheran Church, Pasadena, Adelaide.

Visitors came from as far afield as Western Australia, Tasmania and Queensland. They were joined by six guests from the Siassi Islands, members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church – Papua New Guinea (ELC-PNG).

The reunion marked four anniversaries: the 125th anniversary of the establishment of the Lutheran Mission in PNG; the centenary of Lutheran mission activity on Siassi; the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the Australian Lutheran Mission; and the 60th anniversary of mission work in Menyamya.

Organiser of the weekend’s activities Colin Hayter, who served as a teacher on Siassi for eight years, summarised how the relationship between the two churches has changed over the decades.

‘We are celebrating today a church-to-church relationship’, he said. ‘We celebrate with the ELC-PNG in its own right. The mission died with [PNG] independence. We are celebrating with the church that emerged out of that.’

Rev Neville Otto reiterated this point: ‘Gospel partnering with fellow churches means looking for new ways of living out these relationships’, he said. ‘We are no longer to parent. Rather, as partners, we are to encourage each other in making disciples.’

During his sermon on the Sunday, ELC-PNG pastor Hans Giegere spoke about some of the challenges for his church, including the growing trend for confirmands to drop out of the worshipping life of their congregations. ‘The challenge for our church is to help them to continue the journey of faith by working from within and focusing on the development of faith in families.’

But the enthusiasm of the older people who have stayed involved in the church community is a great inspiration, said Elisha Waga, Siassi District Education Secretary. ‘They don’t just sit on the side; they get involved and they provide a powerful role model for the younger generation.’ He feels that his role is to ensure that the children learn the word of God and about the healing power of God’s love.

Australian pastor Greg Schiller, serving the ELC-PNG in the evangelism department, said that while the going is hard at times – citing sorcery, corruption, alcohol, drugs and cults – the Good Shepherd goes on ahead into the tough places. ‘Jesus didn’t stay in the safe places’, he said. ‘He touched lepers and associated with social outcasts – improper behaviour as far as the religious leaders of the day were concerned.’

The devoted work of the Australian missionaries, who followed the call of the Good Shepherd in the tough places, has left a lasting legacy, the visiting PNG Nationals said. ‘The missionaries played a unique part in shaping and moulding me’, said Rachel Mautahia, a retired teacher. ‘The memory of them brings tears to my heart because they left behind the footprints of Jesus. They left behind the precious word of God.’

Now the challenge for the ELC-PNG is to continue the work the missionaries began, Siassi primary school teacher Doris Tali stressed. ‘What are we doing with the seed that the missionaries planted?’ One of her dreams is to offer Scripture Union activities in all Siassi primary schools and to have sufficient funds to be able to celebrate holy communion with all confirmands at the end of each term.

For the older Australian missionaries, the reunion was a great encouragement. ‘To see how the faith has survived and is being passed on through the generations has been inspiring and has given many of us a wonderful sense of closure to our work all those years ago’, said Kaye Pfeiffer, who served as a teacher in PNG for eight years alongside her husband Ian, a builder in the mission for twelve years.

‘However, there is so much more to be done in terms of supporting and encouraging a church working under the extremely difficult circumstances of isolation and communication services.’

Following the reunion weekend the Siassi teachers undertook a week of professional development activities hosted by St John’s Lutheran Primary School, Highgate, and Encounter Lutheran School, Victor Harbor.

‘The trip was very fulfilling and emotional’, said Rita Saulei. She summed it up by saying, ‘It reminded us that our brothers and sisters in the Lutheran Church of Australia had always had us in their thoughts and prayers. I pray that God will continue to guide us in wisdom and knowledge and understanding to be able to continue building our church up.’

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