Serving as a missionary overseas is something Pastor Murray Smith never thought he would do. But then God’s call on our lives can often surprise.
Because that’s exactly what Pastor Murray and his wife Tracy are preparing for, after his call to serve as a lecturer at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea’s Senior Flierl Seminary at Logaweng, near Finschhafen, for three years. They plan to move to PNG later this year, to allow time for quarantining and orientation before Pastor Murray starts teaching next year.
‘I came into ministry late, and I guess my view of ministry was being ordained to serve in parish ministry and I thought that was what it would always entail’, says Pastor Murray, who worked in agriculture, floriculture and horticulture at Bowhill in South Australia’s Murraylands before God led him to ordained ministry. He has served parishes at Chinchilla in Queensland and at Bordertown in SA, where he also treasured a role as chaplain to an Australian Men’s Shed group.
Among their preparations for PNG, the Smiths have been completing online LCA training in Biblical Reconciliation, one of the subjects Pastor Murray will teach.
Neither has been to PNG but the prospect of engaging with and serving alongside people of a different culture excites them.
‘For me, it will be exciting to engage with the culture and all that means – the spirituality most of all and the lifestyle’, he says. ‘The only real engagement I’ve had with a cross-cultural setting was in Central Australia on a bush course [run by Australian Lutheran College with Aboriginal Lutheran leaders]. I enjoyed that enormously. Also, during my time in training for ministry at ALC, I was privileged to spend time with three pastors from PNG, including Pastor Hans Giegere, whom I had hoped to visit someday. In 2019 the Bordertown Parish also hosted two Indonesian pastors.’
Tracy, who visited Debora Orphanage in Indonesia through LCA International Mission five years ago and travelled to Korea as a representative for SA Flower Growers, is also looking forward to a new cultural experience. ‘What was mind-blowing in Indonesia was how they expressed their love for Christ’, she says. ‘To be able to go to another culture and to worship with them is life-changing. And this time it’s not just spending time with people, it’s living with them and learning what’s important to them.’
While pastoral ministry involves teaching in many forms, Pastor Murray has not served as a lecturer before – something he views as probably his ‘biggest personal challenge’ in the move.
For Tracy, who has worked in various roles, as well as supporting Pastor Murray in his ministry and serving in community groups and on Lutheran Women’s district executives, being separated from family will be a challenge. ‘In faith, we’re going from our comforts, from the known into the unknown, leaving family, kids and grandkids behind’, she says. ‘But what I keep coming back to is that God will never put upon us more than we can bear. And part of the excitement is not knowing where you’re going to fit but, at the end of the day, seeing what God’s plan is.’
Even though COVID-related travel restrictions make deploying a missionary overseas a far more drawn out and challenging prospect than it was just two years ago, the Smiths are now a step closer to their move to PNG.
Pastor Murray and Tracy were joined by family and friends at St Martin’s Lutheran Church at Mannum on the River Murray in South Australia on October 17 for Pastor Murray’s commissioning as an LCA missionary.
Having grown up in the nearby Bowhill congregation, the choice of Mannum for the service was significant for Pastor Murray, as those who nurtured him in the faith were able to come together to praise God and encourage the couple as they set out on this new adventure of faith and service.
LCA Assistant to the Bishop – International Mission Pastor Matt Anker officiated at the service and acknowledged that the Smiths are following a long line of LCA missionaries who have served in PNG, and at the seminary in Logaweng in particular.
Pastor Matt said that, while the Smiths go to serve, they can look forward to being richly blessed by the community there.
Rev Dr Jack Urame, head bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Papua New Guinea, greeted Pastor Murray saying, ‘We wish you and Tracy all the best in your preparations for this great task ahead of you and look forward with excitement to seeing you soon. The peace of the Lord be with you! Lukim yu long PNG’.
Pastor Murray’s call to PNG is being financially supported in partnership with the Mission Eine Welt of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria.