PNG’s big day out

It wasn’t only the Lutherans; the entire nation mourned when dearly loved Bishop Rt Rev Dr Wesley Kigasung died unexpectedly on 14 May 2008. Now the people of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea (ELC-PNG) have a new head bishop, Rt Rev Giegere Wenge, who was installed on Sunday, 7 March before a congregation of around 3000. And they celebrated!

Here in the LCA the installation of a general president occurs with a minimum of fuss. But in PNG, where Lutherans number upwards of 1.2 million, the installation of a head bishop is reason for a big celebration.

It started at 8.00 am when dancers from Pastor Wenge’s home village started the sing-sing. Those of us assembling for the procession were greeted with a flamboyant show involving costumes of feathers, flowers and shell beads, trembling grass skirts, extreme headgear and Christmas tinsel.

Meanwhile, around 3000 people who’d travelled from across the country by car, bus, truck or food were quietly filling the church. The prominent feature on the tropical paradise grounds of Martin Luther Seminary in Law, the enormous open-sided church had been constructed from natural bush materials for the General Synod in January and for today’s celebration. It was a fantastic feat. But, while serving two noble purposes, the church’s life would be short. Deconstruction would commence as early as this afternoon.

Behind the dancers came the bishop elect, assistant bishop elect and general secretary elect, followed by bishops and pastors of partner churches participating in the service, when a host of district presidents, then representatives of partner churches, church and government officials, and finally, ELC-PNG pastors. Representing the LCA were mission project officer Glenice Hartwich, editor of The Lutheran Linda Macqueen, and retired mission finance officer Gordon Samuel. The colourful procession snaked slowly, ever so slowly, in the sweltering Law heat, towards the church.

A rush of goosebumps rippled over me as we made our entrance. I saw for the first time how huge this building was, and that it was packed to overflowing. Glenice whispered, ‘All these people are Lutheran’. I tried to take it all in. In Australia and New Zealand we don’t get assemblies of Lutherans anywhere close to this number. Finally, we arrived at our seats in the front row. I glanced at my watch. It was 9.55.

Three and a half hours later the congregation was dismissed. Lunch, we were told, would be provided for all 3000 of us. That’s an awful lot of sweet potato! These PNG people sure know how to feed a crowd.

On the Friday before his installation Pastor Wenge had told Glenice and me about the impact of Australians on his life and ministry: ‘While I was studying at the seminary, most of my teachers were Australian.’ Speaking about Australians who had nurtured his faith and strengthened his calling, he easily recalled names such as Drs Joe Strelan and Dean Zweck, his vicar father Pastor Gordon Gerhardy, and Deaconess Merna Thamm. Christian education is the strong theme that weaves through Bishop Wenge’s service in the ELC-PNG. His most recent position was principal of Martin Luther Seminary.

At Saturday’s pre-installation celebrations, he had acknowledged the presence and participation of partner church representatives. ‘What we have here is the outcome of your work. Your missionaries worked with a purpose. You brought the gospel of Jesus Christ to this land and through your work we confessed faith in him. Now, as pastors, we proclaim that good news tougher.

‘Today we can see with our eyes what those first missionaries could see only by faith: an international Lutheran community working and worshipping together.’

Bishop Wenge is married to Lucy, and they have five young-adult children.

On behalf of the LCA, Glenice presented Bishop Wenge with a plaque bearing the pidgin text of 2 Timothy 4:2. ‘We pray that these words will be an encouragement to you as you share the good news of Jesus with the people of PNG’, she said to the bishop.

‘But’, she said, turning to the congregation, ‘the work of sharing the good news of what God has done for us and is still doing is not just the call for your bishop; it is the call for all of us who are followers of Jesus. Each one of us is called to share what God is doing. It is these stories that God can use to inspire people to follow him.’

The day before Rev Wenge’s installation as head bishop, we representatives of the ELC-PNG’s partner churches got our hands dirty. Each church group planted a fruit tree in the newly established Partnership Park, situated in the sprawling ELC-PNG headquarters at Ampo, just outside Lae.

‘We remember with gratitude the great sacrifices missionaries from Australia, America and Germany made in order to bring the gospel to our country’, said Acting Head Bishop Rev Zau Rapa. ‘The planted the word of God among us and they cared for it and tended it until it grew strong.

‘The fruit garden we will plant together today will be a symbol of God’s word among us and of the contribution each of our partner churches made in bringing God’s word to us.’

The fruit-tree grove will remind both PNG and international Lutherans of how the gospel came to this nation and how it is sustained today by partner churches joining hands with the now-independent ELC-PNG in mission and service.

The ELC-PNG is supported by six partner churches or mission agencies, known as the Lutheran Overseas Partner Churches (LOPC): three in Germany (Bavaria, Leipzig, Northelbian), Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission, and the Lutheran Church of Australia.

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

Read more stories about our partner church in Papua New Guinea at