by Matt Anker
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 first months in Vanimo, these ‘foreigners’ scaled the mountain overlooking the town every weekend, seeking 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 the Lutheran mission in West Sepik has grown, as many congregations have been planted throughout the province.
In April I visited 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. Bishop Jack had just returned to Lae from West Sepik where he had commissioned a young man to serve as an evangelist in the rugged country west of Vanimo, bordering West Papua.
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.