In the 1970s, seven men from the Morobe province in Papua New Guinea (PNG) left their homes to take up government positions in Vanimo, the capital of the northernmost province of PNG, West Sepik, which is now known as Sanduan Province. In addition to their shared cultural heritage, these men – like most Morobeans – were Lutherans. By contrast, West Sepik was a place where mission had largely been left to the Roman Catholics.
In their early weeks and months in Vanimo, these ‘foreigners’ would come together every weekend and scale the mountain which overlooked the town, to seek solace in one another’s company – and in beer. Reflecting back, one of those men recently said: ‘It wasn’t long before we said to each other, “We are Lutherans!” and we turned that weekly drinking party into a prayer group.’
These first Lutherans in Vanimo approached the government for land on that same mountain and built a church, naming it Calvary congregation. It is from this ‘mama’-congregation that Lutheran mission in West Sepik has grown, as many congregations have been planted throughout the province.
In April I was finally able to shake off the shackles of COVID restrictions and travel to visit our brothers and sisters in PNG. And what a joy it was to hear Bishop Jack Urame of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in PNG (ELC-PNG) share this story during a staff devotion at the church’s headquarters in Lae. Bishop Jack had just returned from West Sepik where he had commissioned a young man to serve as an evangelist in the rugged country that lies west of Vanimo, bordering West Papua.
Bishop Jack is excited about the continuing mission of the church to reach people with the good news of forgiveness and life in Jesus’ name. He says, ‘Many people in the jungle there have never heard about Jesus and even when they have, many have become Lutheran because of our theology’.
At the commissioning service, Bishop Jack asked one elderly person who had joined the Lutheran congregation from another Christian church why they made the switch. He was told, ‘We like the way you Lutherans worship and preach the gospel. We find comfort and peace here’.
Evangelist Bosco Tangi arrived at his commissioning service in the traditional dress of his tribe and, as he was commissioned to carry the good news to the people he serves, his traditional dress was removed, and he was clothed in a white gown with a cross placed around his neck. No longer bound by tribal bonds, he was now ready to serve people of every tribe, language and nation with the good news of our Lord Jesus.
In the ELC-PNG, evangelists like Bosco continue to remain the pillar of the church through their volunteer engagement in the work of God. Since its earliest days in PNG, the church has grown through the work of evangelists. Bosco’s father joyfully offered his son to the church, expressing his gratitude for all the Lord had done for him and his family. Father and son now look forward to seeing how the Lord uses the ELC-PNG’s newest evangelist in reaching people with the comfort and peace that Lutherans have become known for.
From a drinking party to a prayer group, to a sending congregation. Who could’ve imagined what God would do through those seven men who arrived as ‘foreigners’ in Vanimo all those years ago?
Pastor Matt Anker is LCANZ Assistant to the Bishop – International Mission.