People in Papua New Guinea (PNG) commonly refer to their country as “the land of the unexpected.” Our first impression there was exactly that. We arrived in the main city of Kerama on time to find the transportation for the next leg of our journey, a dingy boat, had not. However, the local directing officer for the Gulf Region graciously invited us to his house, where he and his family gave up their own beds for us to get a good night’s rest. We were humbled by their generosity.
The next day the dingy arrived, and we traveled to the small village of Meii, where the villagers helped us haul our supplies up to The Salvation Army compound. Walking into the compound, we could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit instantly. The local corps officers came and warmly greeted our team. As we settled in we received word we’d be leading the Sunday service at the Meii Corps that day. We were starting to learn how to roll with the PNG punches!
The following day we traveled to the even smaller village of Ilivapari, a short boat ride from Meii. The villagers greeted us in English, and there was a great deal of excitement as we reached our gathering place. Before long, as an ice breaker, we started a friendly game of soccer: Centralites versus the Ilivaparians.
This connection helped us gain insight into the culture. Throughout the day we learned how to relate to the children. Part of this involved games, which led to introducing the gospel. Soon the village children were learning about God’s love and the way he influences our lives.
Next we traversed the jungle to the regions’ most remote village, Lapari. The journey alone was incredible. As we approached we had to cross a swampy marsh encircling the village. The mud reached up to our knees at points; we slipped, fell and got stuck in the mud, but we continued on. It didn’t help knowing we were entering an area where the first missionaries were killed and eaten by cannibals! But we reveled in the adventure and were captivated by the beauty surrounding the secluded village.
Once we had finally slipped and slid into the village from the jungle, the Lapari corps officer, his wife and the villagers welcomed our team with a tribal dance and delicate, handmade flower necklaces. Various groups from the village, in turn, would dance and sing as they were introduced to us. We felt like their honored guests, and God’s love and His presence was evident to us. God is moving powerfully through these people who continue to hunger and thirst for more of His Word.
North Costal Division/West New Britain Island
This week we flew to West New Britain Island, where Lts. Gini and Duffy picked us up and drove us to the Kimbe Salvation Army compound. While there we visited the Kimbe Corps and Tamba and Vibussi fellowships.
In Tamba we literally danced into the corps where soldiers had prepared refreshments for us: delicious fresh coconuts that we came to love. We spent the day playing games with the children; dancing, enjoying the company of new friends and exploring the Salvation Army owned and operated school.
Kimbe, the main city on the island and our next destination, has endured multiple earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, which fills the hearts of residents with compassion and care for one another. The Salvation Army focus in Kimbe is starting a new ministry in the settlements near the corps, where people have homes made of any scrap of refust available, and there are little to no educational opportunities for children. The ministry here focuses on educating children and sharing the gospel with them and their families.
The Vibussi fellowship is run by a single man who has three sons. When the truck shared by the three corps in the area is out of commission, he will take a 45-minute ride on public transportation, followed by one hour and a half hour minute walk to get to his ministry. Because the officer didn’t want us to walk, he worked diligently for an entire day to get the truck working before we arrived.
He picked us up in the truck, and despite two flat tires, we made it to Vibussi and back in one piece.
After a beautiful welcome and children’s service in Vibussi, we trekked to the only water source in the area: a creek flowing out of the mountain. Each of us followed a 9-year-old, self-appointed guide to navigate the cliffs. The children of the village make this trek daily to get water for their families.
On our last night in Kimbe, all three corps came together for a farewell and birthday party for Major Kevin, one of the territorial headquarters officers who had traveled with us. They made a mu-mu, where heated rocks steam through banana leaves to cook the food. Roughly 200 people came to celebrate and nearly all slept in the compound so they could say goodbye to us when we left at 6:00 a.m. the following morning. What a blessing for us!
This week we went to a part of PNG called Lae. After we got off the plane, we drove to the divisional headquarters, where we had a traditional welcome. On Saturday night Salvationist youth from all over Lae came and performed traditional dances and songs.
At the Salvation Army’s Back Roads Ministry, we were immediately blown away by the couple regarded as the caretakers of the church. Everyone called them “Mom and Dad”, so we did too. They have big hearts and work hard to help troubled young men. They are consistent and regularly gave most of their own income sacrificially to support the men. The hearts of mom and dad were so big; when it came time to leave, we weren’t ready to go.
There are two schools on The Salvation Army compound in Lae, one a primary school and the other the Street School. We enjoyed learning about and exploring both, but the Street School, which was started by three men who saw a need to help the street children, was very interesting to us. It has been developing for the last five years. The men who run it have a desire to help the young people in the community and will do anything they can to continue the work the Lord has given them despite having very little financial support.
In addition to visiting these two schools we spent time at the Jim Jacobson Center, which provides shelter, schooling and other basic needs to poor people. One of their primary focuses is helping people with HIV/AIDs. They are hoping to open a clinic by the end of the year.
Following a stop at the Tent City area corps, we spent our final night in Lae fellowshipping at a farewell our new friends held for us. We had the opportunity to share what was on our hearts and give our thanks while the people we met along the way could do the same.
It was an amazing celebration, and we left Lae with our hearts full of joy.