Taim bilong hamamas bilong Papua Niu Gini – PNG Memories

Have you ever returned to a location after 40 some years of absence? After receiving an invitation in the middle of last year, I was able to do that in September 2014. I went with Glenice Hartwich, to the week-long 14th National Women’s Conference of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea (ELCPNG). It was held at Boana Station, which was a village, mission station and Patrol Post where I lived with my Patrol Office husband, for the last six months of 1972. It is now a much bigger settlement, with a large health centre, serving the 44,500 people who live in villages in an area of over 3,200 square kilometres.

Arriving in Papua New Guinea (PNG), Glenice and I spent the night at the Lutheran Guest House in Lae, before taking off for Boana by PMV (public motor vehicle), along with 15 others (it was a bit crowded). We drove 40 kilometres up the Markham Valley to Nadzab, a World War 2 airstrip which is now the airport for Lae. There we turned off the valley and started our 900 metre climb (in about 18 kms- most of it up and down, not as the crow flies), to Boana. No longer can you fly in as we previously did, as a road has been built to transport market garden produce to Lae. There are seven PMVs in Boana which may make this trip twice a day. What an experience going through the valleys and climbing the ever beautiful mountains, an area you had looked down on before as you flew in a small plane – how exhilarating.

Because of motion sickness, I was able to sit in the front and was told by the driver, his young daughter and his brother, ‘we go up this mountain and down, and then we’ll be able to see Boana on the third mountain’. Missionary Gustav Bergmann started the Boana mission station in 1932. His home is still there, including the bullet holes from strafing by Japanese planes during the war. I slept there once and it was an eerie feeling to look up and see the holes in the ceiling. How did Gustav get led by God to Boana? It was all on foot then with no Google maps to guide him.

Villagers on the way welcomed us with singing, and showers of flower petals, as we drove through decorations across the road. Crossing the rivers on engineer designed bridges was easier than the rope bridge I used (just!) once. I do still have a beautiful grey rock from that river, which is a treasured possession as it has streams of colour – quartz and something pinkish – woven through it.

The conference was held in a specially built hall seating the 1000 plus women who came. They slept in shelters and used kitchens built for the conference. Not only did they do their own cooking, but also brought their own pots, pans and food along, to supplement the food brought from outlying villages, mostly brought on foot. One day, two sheep appeared!

The locals from the Boana area had dances (singsings), and bands prepared for entertainment to fill in time on the Saturday. On Sunday the opening was held on the former airstrip with a grandstand built for the official party. Prime Minister Peter O’Neill arrived by helicopter, as did other government officials. The women from each of the 17 Districts marched to the grandstand, singing all the way. Glenice so beautifully described this as a ‘cloud of witnesses, cheering us on in our walk of faith.’

A very important part of this conference was the launching of the Meri Wok (women’s work).  Five Year Strategic Plan and Programs Guide, by ELCPNG Bishop Gigore Wenge and Prime Minister O’Neill. Funding for the development of this program came from AUS AID, the LCA, LWA and Churches Partnership Program (Australia, USA and Germany). It is written in simple English, and has 30 subjects in the curriculum, ranging from theological courses and general studies, to courses on how to develop projects and learning new skills. After the in-service training on using this Strategic Plan, it will be used in the five Women’s Work training schools of ELCPNG.

The evening before we left, Glenice and I spoke to the women at their evening session. (The five days of sessions started at 8am and went through until 9.30pm – with some flexibility for New Guinea time). Speaking in Tok Pisin (Pidgen English) was somewhat daunting – did I mention there were 850 plus delegates, as well as lots of visitors there? A free-lance documentary maker, a young local man, interviewed us for the PNG television station EM TV – fortunately this was in English!

Glenice and I had a remarkable time there – returning to our ‘arse ples’- our second home. Experiencing the love of Jesus these people have, and the gifts they use to spread this love, is a very humbling experience. The beauty of the mountains surrounding Boana station, the volumes of tropical flowers used to beautify the specially constructed Conference building, with two stage areas – for officials and musicians, the colourful ‘uniforms’ worn by the women of each district, delegates listening to a two hour Bible Study – totally involved in it, sessions of prayer, the food lovingly prepared for us in our dining area with amazing table decorations designed for fruit and vegetables; did I mention the mountains – I have a favourite one, all these things were a sensory overload of wonder at the love of God shown through them.

My life is filled to overflowing with Jesus based on John 10:10b, was the theme for the 14th conference – how true this is. Experiencing the culture and faith of the women in PNG also demonstrated that theme. Jesus is the person who ties our totally different cultures together with his love. This was the wonderful experience gifted to me by a simple invitation and shared with newly found friends. How great the Father’s love for us…and my love for PNG keeps on growing!

While writing this, I was listening to the soundtrack from the youtube clip put together at the ELCPNG Communications Centre by a former student of mine. Click on ‘Highlights of 14 ELCPNG Nesenel Meri Konferens Boana’ for a wonderful synopsis of the Conference. Consider experiencing it – a women’s convention with a difference!

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/