Mission, PNG-style

Anglican mission in Papua New Guinea has always been founded on preaching, teaching and healing, writes Bishop Peter Ramsden

 

It was on St Lawrence’s Day 1891 when the pioneer Anglican missionaries landed on the huge island north of Australia, part of which would later become Papua New Guinea. As they prepared to land these two priests, the Anglo-Catholic Albert McLaren and the Evangelical Copland King, would no doubt have reflected much on great missionary journeys – from St Paul’s to the many of their own century. Now it was their turn. What would they bring to the people they encountered and what would they learn? They were not bringing an awareness of the divine to Melanesians, but they were bringing the name by which the divine could be truly known. They were bringing the fullest revelation of God and his ways and purpose. They were bringing Jesus Christ in word and sacrament.

St Lawrence, deacon and martyr, was also an inspiration to McLaren and King – both served unto death: McLaren died of malaria after only three months and King lived on to see his colleague’s Anglo-Catholic theology and liturgical life take root, with a warm personal devotion to Jesus Christ. The proclamation of what God does for us in Jesus inspired the New Guinea Mission, which since 1977 has been the Anglican Church of Papua New Guinea. But it is perhaps the Galilean ministry of Jesus which gave a shape to the mission of this Anglican Province. It is described in Matthew 4.23: ‘Jesus went all over Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, preaching the Good News about the Kingdom, and healing people who had all kinds of disease and sickness.’

Parishes and outstations

Preaching, teaching and healing – that is what mission has meant in PNG and is a good way to assess mission anywhere. In PNG’s 123 years of Anglican life, 123 parishes have been established, many with numerous outstations. There is a theological college, a fully localized priesthood, 200 Anglican agency schools including three high schools, and 26 health facilities including one hospital. Koinambe, the isolated mission station where I began my PNG experience in 1983 was typical – there was a church, a school and a health centre – preaching, teaching and healing was the shape for Anglican mission. It was served by Missionary Aviation Fellowship. MAF, which has publicized its ministry over the years in NEw DIrECTIONS, is a lifeline for many and is well worth supporting.

The Diocese of Port Moresby is inspired by Matthew 4.23. I meet the city clergy every Monday morning for Mass and a Bible study based on the following Sunday’s Gospel reading. In this way we begin our preparation for preaching. To get to Pivo, our most isolated parish, requires a six-hour road journey to Kerema, then an 11-hour dinghy journey along the coast and up the Vailala and Lohiki rivers. Three Melanesian brothers are based in the village: they preach

the Gospel, take literacy classes for both children and adults and have a supply of basic medicines.

Education and social outreach

Port Moresby’s population is now over half a million and numerous squatter settlements surround the city. One of them is known as ATS and a large number of Anglicans live there. At our Christ the King parish we are building a little primary school and employ five teachers. Over 200 children are now enrolled. The school is still somewhat unofficial as the ownership of the land is in question and it is not yet registered with the government. While these problems rumble on, the diocese felt that it was no excuse for not doing something about education, so we pressed on with our teaching.

Anglicare is the Anglican Church’s social outreach ministry whose base is at our diocesan compound. I guess it is not every bishop who has a sexual health clinic next to his office. Here our chapel, offices, HIV testing and clinic are all together in one place. There are now over a thousand people on anti-retroviral treatment looked after by our clinic. The UN considers sex workers to be one of the most at-risk populations, many of whom come to our clinic, but I would say the most at risk are faithful wives who are let down by unfaithful husbands. This and the mixture of poor accommodation, lack of work, too much alcohol and other drugs has resulted in a big problem of domestic violence in PNG. Our witness to healing and reconciliation has to be renewed within our parishes and congregations.

Continuing Jesus’ ministry

Preaching, teaching and healing thus take on a variety of shapes in PNG 123 years after the Anglican missionaries arrived. Churches, schools and health centres are still being built and there are also many other ways that Jesus’ mission continues, but continue it does – in the isolation of Pivo, the urban settlement of ATS and the sexual health clinic next to the bishop’s chapel. I guess the question for every diocese or parish is ‘How are we continuing Jesus’ ministry of preaching, teaching and healing?’ The answers will not be the same as in Port Moresby, but the question is worth asking and worth answering together by the Catholic voice in the Church of England. ND

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