Papua-New Guinea — Sharing is their strength

Papua-New Guinea is always good for a new experience, be it a shoe-sharing scheme during a children’s weekend, farming for a Chief Apostle service, or just recently, an anniversary celebration in the pouring rain—stories of community and cohesion.

When the subject turns to Papua-New Guinea, the eyes of District Apostle Andrew Andersen and his designated successor Peter Schulte light right up. The New Apostolic Church in the island state north of Australia numbers some 100,000 members. And the members there always manage to provide visitors with special experiences.

How to share footwear

One of the favourite stories of both Church leaders revolves around a children’s summit in which students from both the rural and urban regions came together for a weekend. At the divine service on Sunday, the ministers noticed that some of the girls were walking around with only socks on their feet, while others were wearing shoes.

A few inquiries soon cleared up the mystery: the little girls from the urban areas noticed to their astonishment that their sisters from the rural areas did not possess any shoes or even socks. They walked around barefoot. The idea of sharing with one another spread through the large assembly like wildfire. Some wore shoes, while others wore socks—that seemed like the most reasonable solution to the young ladies!

Preparations for a communal meal

The backstory to the most recent visit of the Chief Apostle to Papua-New Guinea also testifies of sharing. As his aircraft readied for landing in the remote village of Kombikum, which is otherwise difficult to access, the experienced bush pilot could hardly believe his eyes: suddenly he found himself looking at a shifting rectangle of white and other colours stretching out in the middle of the endless green of the jungle.

“What is that?” asked the pilot, “people?” — “Those are our brothers and sisters,” replied District Apostle Andersen. More than 24,000 participants had assembled under the open sky for a divine service. Many of them already had a journey of up to seven days behind them—on foot. In order to take care of them, the congregations in the surroundings of Kombikum had not only built shelters for them, but had—already a year before—begun planting their fields so that there would be sufficient food for their guests.

A city of tents for the guests

The New Apostolic Church has existed for 40 years already in the provinces of East Sepik and West Sepik (also known as Sandaun). This anniversary was to be celebrated with a divine service on 15 July 2018 in Wewak, the largest city in this region, where our creed is particularly well known. But the weather caused some problems.

When District Apostle Andersen and His District Apostle Helper left the airport shortly after their arrival on Friday, they saw a gigantic city of tents directly across from the soccer stadium where the divine service was to take place. It was here that the members from the more distant regions were being accommodated.

Good preparation thwarts flooding

The rugged mountains and vast river systems represent a tremendous challenge for the people. Travelling does not come easily to them. And so it was that many of them set off on their journey well in advance in order to be there in good time. With their temporary lodgings, the divine service participants swelled the population of Wewak by about 25 percent for the space of a few days.

On Friday evening, an unseasonable storm suddenly broke out, bringing heavy tropical rains with it. The tent city was flooded until Saturday morning, but the brothers and sisters continued with their preparations undeterred.

Standing in the rain for a divine service

Although the rain finally subsided somewhat on Sunday morning, the majority of the 9,000 participants followed the divine service while standing in the rain without any shelter at all. The stadium grandstand only provided enough shelter for the choir. But this did nothing to detract from the mood.

The divine service marking the anniversary set a special sign of community. It was not only the New Apostolic pioneers in the region who were commemorated, but rather also the Christian missionaries who had long before already laid the foundations.

District Apostle Andersen ordained two District Elders, seven District Evangelists, three Shepherds, and two Evangelists on this day, “in order to care for the growing number of members,” as he reports. His conclusion: “Every brother and sister took something home in their soul from the wonderful experiences that were made in fellowship together.”

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Andreas Rother
Papua New Guinea, Congregational life