Several key Australian missionaries and their families went back to Papua New Guinea to celebrate the 50th anniversary of St John’s Lutheran Church, West Goroka.
The anniversary celebrations took place over three days from 27–29 September, which included a service, a one-day seminar and a cultural show featuring traditional dancing.
Pastor Brian Schwarz and his two sons Nick and Ben were some of the former congregation members who gathered at St John’s to commemorate the anniversary. Pastor Brian’s first posting as a newly-ordained pastor was at Goroka in 1969, and he served there with his family for eight years, and then returned in 1982 as members.
‘This congregation loves to celebrate, and particularly to celebrate and honour former missionaries’, says Pastor Brian. ‘Returning was a mixture of nervousness about my ability to communicate well in my dated and rusty Pidgin, excitement about meeting colleagues and members of St John’s, curiosity at how the congregations I had founded were going, and joy at unexpected reunions.’
‘[The people at St John’s] were always very grateful when former missionaries came back and were pleased to show how the seeds they had sown were bearing fruit’, says Nick.
Pastor Murray Thomas and his wife Edith also attended the anniversary celebrations. Serving St John’s from 1993–2003, they established a Sunday school and taught Scripture classes at various schools.
‘It was like going home to a family reunion. We were greeted by people we knew and loved; by people who remembered our names and said they had continued to pray for us. We were greeted by people whose names (and some faces) we had forgotten, yet the love of God in them showed through in their eyes’, says Pastor Murray.
Pastor Brian, Pastor Murray and Nick each gave presentations at the seminar. Pastor Brian was invited to preach the sermon at the celebration service, giving a detailed history of the congregation and church building. Eight hundred worshippers attended the five-hour service, with the crowd being so big that several hundred sat outside the church.
The church building at Goroka was opened on 28 September 1969.
‘This building is special. It is full of memories of marriages, baptisms (including two of my children), confirmations, funerals, and wonderful Christmas celebrations,’ Pastor Brian said during his sermon address.
‘So today we will not boast about this man or that woman has done. We will boast only about what God has done. God has done great work here. God has used many workers to build St John’s. Today we thank God for all who have served here in the past 50 years. And we give all praise and glory to God.’