Thursday, 01 March 2018

Jubilant Celebration in PNG

Written by Rev. John Mavor AM
8th Uniting Church President Rev. John Mavor AM with United Church of Papua New Guinea Moderator Rev. Bernard Siai. 8th Uniting Church President Rev. John Mavor AM with United Church of Papua New Guinea Moderator Rev. Bernard Siai.

Only a very fortunate person would attend the inauguration of a Uniting Church. So I was glad to be in the Sydney Town Hall on 22 June 1977 but how much more fortunate to have been at two.

It was marvellous to be at the Ela Beach Oval in Port Moresby on 19 January 1968 when the Papua Ekalesia, Methodist Church in Melanesia and the United Church in Boroko came together to form the United Church in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. Some years later the Church divided by mutual agreement to form two United Churches, one in PNG and one in the Solomon Islands.

Former Staff of the Assembly were advised in 2016 of great Jubilee Celebrations being planned for January 2018. I had been appointed the first Director of Christian Education for the United Church at the first Assembly which followed the Inauguration of the Church in 1968. As I cast my mind over the many servants of the United Church who are no longer with us, for example Jack Sharp the first Moderator, Ron Williams, the Principal of Rarongo Theological College, Frank Butler, first Bishop of the Urban Region, Sir Saimon Gaius, first Bishop of the New Guinea Islands Region, Bill Bache, the first Assembly Secretary and many, many others, I felt that I would like to go to the Celebrations to honour these people and others.

My passport had become out-of-date and my family was concerned about how I would cope. It was a personal journey. As UCA President Stuart McMillan could not go, UnitingWorld was pleased for me to represent the UCA and present their gift on behalf of the whole Church. Former missionaries and friends encouraged me to go and the family warmly agreed. Our son arrived from Coffs Harbour, took me very early to the train and stayed to be with my wife Rae while I was away. So on 19 January 2018 I arrived in Port Moresby.

It was so different from when I arrived in 1963 on my way to Rabaul to discuss the arrangements for the Work Party which would build Malmaluan Training Centre. Back then, we flew all night from Brisbane and when the plane door opened and we alighted, it was like entering an oven. Jackson Airport was little more than a shed. Now, we alight into a covered, air-conditioned facility, straight into the terminal.

An Organising Committee had planned a great weekend of celebrations with a Dawn Service on the Friday morning, a dinner on the Friday night and a big celebration at the Sir John Guise Indoor Complex on the Sunday. I arrived in time for the Dinner which was held at the Gateway Hotel. The menu was appropriate, each with a mound of rice, a small piece of fish and some stewed meat. This was followed by a plate containing some pieces of watermelon, pineapple and apple and a little cake. People from the Churches helped to distribute the food, soft drink and chilled water. The Moderator, Rev. Bernard Siai, spoke and encouraged the Church leaders in their important roles. There was also an address from the Member for Kikori, the Hon.

Soroi Boe who is the Minister for Community Development, Women, Youth and Religions in the PNG Parliament. He is a member of the United Church in Papua New Guinea (UCPNG).

On Saturday there was a tour of Port Moresby planned for overseas visitors. I knew I did not need that. I had my own 'tour' of Moresby as Moderator Rev. Bernard Siai drove me to many shopping centres looking for postcards. At last we found some in a little Post Office where the queue was out the door. I bought the whole stock except one which I generously left for someone else to buy. The afternoon and evening were spent deciding which of the twenty people on my list of forty would receive a card - and of course writing to the twenty! The other twenty will receive this reflection and a photo.

The Sunday Celebration at the Sir John Guise Indoor Complex was packed to capacity with thousands of people there. The program started outside with a procession of floats. An outstanding one had the truck decorated like a Papuan lakotoi with its distinctive crab claw sail. I enjoyed one that had people from the Gazelle Peninsula singing Tolai hymns with great passion.

The 'procession' into the Complex was led by the Police band which did not seem to have much religious music in their repertoire. I followed the President of the Methodist Church of Britain, Rev. Micky Youngson and her husband Sandy and the Secretary for Methodist Partnerships, Steve Pearce. The gathering had been led in praise and worship by bands of the Youth Groups in some of the congregations around Port Moresby. The volume of the music meant that I could not understand the words they were singing but the presentations were appreciated by those who knew them. They were certainly enthusiastic about Jesus which is a good thing.

Shortly after 10am Ms Venisi Moses, a radio announcer in Port Moresby and described as the 'Master/Servant of Program' invited us to sing the Motuan Introit, 'Namo Namo Namo' (in English 'Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God Almighty'. As the cadences of the Introit rose and fell with several thousand voices singing, I could sense the Holy Spirit in that place. So too, when the young people from the Sione Kami Memorial Church (formerly Boroko United) dressed in battle fatigues sang and danced about raising up an army for the Lord.

The Moderator, Rev. Bernard Siai, preached powerfully. 'We have come to the Jordon River' he said. 'What do we have to do to cross to the Promised Land?' He stressed the importance of making the Word of God central and being obedient to the call of Christ. 'You Ministers' he said 'you cannot do puripuri (magic) and serve Christ. You must choose'. It was a powerful statement.

The President of the British Methodist Conference spoke very well and gave a beautiful gift that she and her husband had made - a red ceramic dish with the badge of her Church in it and a black stand made by her husband from what is called bog wood. I then presented a wooden dove similar to the one in the middle of the UCA badge. 'Jesus Christ is the hope of Papua new Guinea', I said, 'only loyalty to him will lift people beyond tribal and family loyalties so that the Nation may be one'. I gave a boomerang and some money as a gift from our family but the joy of being there and the sadness of the reality that this was my last visit to PNG after 55 years, overwhelmed me. The former Moderator the Rev. Samson Lowa came and stood with me to support me and I got through okay.

Two Bishops, one from the Papuan side and the other from New Ireland revisited the Covenant made by the Churches fifty years ago; but the handshake and the hug was a pale replica of the Rev. Rea Tau Mea giving a Papuan wedding gift of shells and armulet and the Rev Saimon Gaius, Bishop of the New Guinea Islands Region giving the tabua, the circle of shell money part of the exchange of gifts in a wedding ceremony. There were some more choirs and the address by the Minister for Community Development, Women Youth and Religions, Mr Soroi Eoe, a U.C. member who had also spoken at the dinner. The Benediction was pronounced by the former Moderator, Rev. Sir Samson Lowa.

After a break for lunch the Celebration continued. The program said, 'choir, peroveta, string band, Gospel in culture and others'.  It was meant to finish at 4pm but 6:30pm was nearer the mark. The people had prepared for this, made matching costumes and travelled to Port Moresby in their thousands. Over 200 people from Pari Village singing a peroveta are not easy to stop! So the afternoon was a marvellous celebration of faith and culture.

Some personal highlights were:

  • When the Moderator said to the people 'John Mavor is our wontok'.
  • When I met Susane Setae (nee Karava) who had been a student at Malmaluan, then staff member then Secretary for Women's Work in the Assembly and Betty who had been in the Office. Susane wrote to Rae that she expected to see an old man with a walking stick but he looked good just like he did at Malmaluan. (This was not quite true but flattering!)
  • When we had a time of silence to remember missionaries at the dinner. So many former friends and colleagues came to mind and prayer.
  • Samson Lowa rang to tell me especially. 'The people were so glad you came for you had been there at the Act of Union and they saw that you really cared about them'.

So it was a great experience. It was good to go and now it is good to be home. The encouragement of Rae and the family, the support of former colleagues in the mission work of the Church and friends made it possible. As they sang at the Celebration, 'To God be the glory'.

Rev. John Mavor AM was the 8th President of the Uniting Church in Australia.