by Sheree Schmaal

It takes a special sort of determination to challenge the status quo, especially in institutions that cling to tradition. People who do so are often perceived as difficult, obstinate, stubborn. But without them the Lutheran Church in Australia and in Papua New Guinea might be bearing less fruit today.

In the spring of 1949, the president of Lutheran Mission New Guinea (LMNG) came to the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Australia (UELCA) with an urgent appeal. Australian pastors were needed to serve with pastors from Germany and North America in the rapid Lutheran expansion into the untouched Central Highlands.

Four of the eight UELCA pastoral students due to graduate from Immanuel Seminary in 1950 volunteered for service in New Guinea. Rufus Pech was one of them. His credentials for challenging the status quo had been established even before he had set foot inside the seminary.

In 1941, Rufus and three other young aspirants to the ordained ministry had drafted a memorandum—or was it a manifesto?—setting out two conditions upon which they would enrol at Immanuel Seminary: ‘(1) instruction was to no longer be in German, but in English; and (2) “Doc Hebart” was to be the principal’. At the time, there had been no new enrolments to the seminary for some time. The document was hand-delivered to UELCA General President Rev J J Stolz.

Somehow the painful decision to accede to the youngsters’ request was made by the church and seminary leaders. So it came to pass that, from 1942 onwards, English was the seminary’s medium of instruction. (The second ‘condition’ could only be met after the end of World War II when Dr S P Hebart was called as principal.)

After completing a course with the Summer Institute of Linguistics— Wycliffe Bible Translators, Rufus was ordained and commissioned in his home congregation, Holy Trinity, at Appila, South Australia. He arrived in Lae on his 24th birthday.

Rufus Pech has had a keen interest in gardening since his bachelor days in New Guinea. He’s equally passionate about his other gardening activity—planting and nurturing God’s word in human lives.

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