Last month, the Balasuna Bible College in the Solomon Islands again welcomed students from the other South Pacific nations of Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea. This had not happened since 1998 when the Bible College closed down for a period of time during a time of civil unrest. (See previous posts on the College for more information).
Jonathan Bodibo with his wife Theresa and their two children (pictured above) have left their home in the village of Porebada in Papua New Guinea and their places of employment and have ventured forth to the Solomon Islands responding to the call of God to go to the Balasuna Bible College for four months of ministry training.
The Porebada COC/INC church is located in the largest village of the Central Province and is about 20kms from Port Moresby the capital of PNG. Until early 2017, the church was pastored by Jonathan’s late older brother Pastor Oda and Jonathan has been a part of the church since he was a teenager, faithfully serving there as a cell leader and helping the pastors and leaders. The church has grown from its first Sunday meeting under a mango tree back in 2000, becoming an annexe church and now is a healthy active local church belonging to the International Network of churches with up to 500 people who attend.
Pastor’s Oda’s wife Kaia recalls the early days of their experience. “ On Sunday night 7th May 1995 Oda was baptized by the Holy Spirit whilst we prayed in the room and this I believe was when the church started. The village at this time had only one mainline church and when Christian Outreach Centre came to the area they were the first Pentecostal church. We believed that God had asked us to start a church where Jesus was Lord and where His Holy Spirit was honoured. Persecution and opposition was experienced at first but we believed that if God be for us who can be against us and we became a part of COC/INC from 2000 until this day.”
Pastor Kaia now pastors the Porebada church with the help of 5 assistant pastors. Central Province is a large province which stretches along the southern coastline of Papua New Guinea. Their vision for the church is to see the extension of God’s kingdom by planting more COC/INC churches along that coastline. They look forward to the return of Jonathan and Theresa after graduation in September to be a part of that vision in whatever way the Lord wants to use them.
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There is a real buzz among the INC/COC youth in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. In December 2017, the village of Kondopina hosted approximately 1000 young people at the Highlands Regional Youth Camp where the Youth and the Kings Commandos leaders gathered together for training and fellowship.
Youth Camp at Kondopina PNG
Paul Kupu, the leader of the Highlands Kings Commandos is excited about what God has been doing with the young people in the region. He is competent at spreading the news by social media and soon will be heading to other areas of the Highlands to encourage the growth of this ministry. The enthusiasm is carried from the young people back into their homes and families bringing them to salvation and into the Christian fellowship.
So who are the King’s Commandos?
Under the covering of INC (then known as the Christian Outreach Centre) Keith & Cynthia Kenzler from Noosa in Queensland launched their ministry in Australia in the 1990s with the goal to instruct, challenge and inspire youth in areas of Bible truths, Christian service, leadership skills, and moral conduct through a camping program activities that youth enjoy. Yes, it does sound a bit like other groups but it does include a strong component for Christian service and leadership. It wasn’t long before they knew God was wanting them to take the program to the South Pacific nations where it was received with enthusiasm in PNG, Solomon Islands and in Fiji.
Several years ago, Cynthia took hold of the vision again for the South Pacific nations after being widowed and fighting a battle against breast cancer. She continues to train and organize the training element of the vision. As well as being involved at the recent Highlands Camp, she oversees the training in other areas of PNG and also the Solomon Islands.
At the opening of the Auki INC church in the Solomon Islands late last year, she was so encouraged to see the KC group there involved in the celebrations. She would welcome other Christian volunteers with a desire to minister in this way to come alongside .In her quiet faithful way, Cynthia has made a difference to the work of INC in the South Pacific. A number of former young Kings Commandos are now in pastoral ministry in their nations.
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Positioned on the Pacific’s “Ring of Fire” the people of Papua New Guinea are not strangers to earthquakes and tremors. Over the past year there have been 400 earthquakes ranging from 1.5 to 7.5. Over the past week the earth has been shaking in the West New Britain area up to 6.9 magnitude with warnings of tsunamis. But life generally moves on as the people adapt to each situation.
However, on February 25 this year a 7.6 magnitude earthquake near Tari in the Southern Highlands has had a disastrous effect on a large area. Huge landslides have changed the shape of the mountain ranges as they slid down into river valleys covering village homes, burying many people and polluting the water supply. During the following weeks there were a reported 59 aftershocks of over magnitude 5. This has created fear, displacement of an estimated 35,000 people, roads being damaged and unemployment with the closing down of Oil and Liquid Gas companies until they assess any damage to their facilities.
Food, water and medical supplies and water have been the priority with PNG, Australian and International Aid flowing in mostly by air transport. This has been made more difficult with limited communication and long standing deadly tribal fighting in some areas. On March 15, UNICEF estimated that 275,000 people are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance including 125,000 children. Some disturbing reports are now emerging concerning the health and welfare of women and children who have had to flee their villages.
The INC South Pacific Office in Australia has had limited communication with the pastors in the region and is in a position of waiting to assess what is being done and what their most urgent needs might be. Some reports from Pastor Ben Solu in Mendi, which is 100 kilometres away from the epicentre, spoke of a number of people in that town being buried by landslides and damage to housing. The foundations on his own house are all cracked and every time there is another tremor they wonder if the house will fall down. He has been told that two COC/INC churches in the Kutubu area have collapsed.
Pastor Ben Luke Solu
Pastor Alex Koyaiye from Kaupena sent through the following photos of road damage in his area which is a long way from the epicentre so it demonstrates the savage force of the earthquake.
Any further reports will be added to this INC South Pacific blog site. In the meantime pray for them.
The nation of Papua New Guinea is a land of contrasts. Approximately 330 churches belonging to the International Network of Churches are scattered through the rugged mountain ranges, along huge river valleys, in the main cities and town settlements and to the remote idyllic islands surrounding the mainland. Ministering the gospel to these areas faces many challenges. Some walk great distances to minister or go to church. Travelling by road or by sea can be dangerous. Flying is expensive. Now that some pastors have phones that can record what they are doing, we receive stories of their outreach and ministry in some of the remotes areas of this amazing country.
Over the Christmas and New Year period, Pastor Rommy & Ruth Feton (Deputy President of Christian Outreach Centre, PNG) travelled from Alotau by boat to minister to a newly planted church Lighthouse COC on one of the islands near the southern tip of the mainland. It was a time of preaching and teaching and ministering to the village people.
Ruth reported that one of the village women Nancy Douglas also organized an activity for the women which attracted extra numbers. Time was made for the older women to teach the girls some skills such as weaving baskets, making grass skirts, cooking rice balls and how to use a shell to peel the taro from the gardens.
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Nuku’alofa with a population of 24,500 is situated on the island of Tongatapu and is the capital city of the kingdom nation of Tonga. The remainder of the mostly Polynesian 108,000 population are scattered over 52 of the 176 islands of this small South Pacific nation.
Pastors Peni & Ma’ata Mafi are the pastors of the small but growing Nuku’alofa INC church, also known as Christian Outreach Centre. Recently they received a visit from Pastor Maurice and Wendy Ritchie and Pastor Ben Cherry from INC churches in New Zealand. Over the past 8 years a special relationship has developed between the two fellowships. While acknowledging the support of other friends and churches in Australia, Maurice and Wendy and the New Zealand churches have provided finances and expertise in the building of the church and have stood alongside them and encouraged them through some difficult times. And now they are seeing the fruit.
Ps Maurice sharing the Word
Musicians praising God.
Preparation for the couples night.
After a week of meetings in October with church leaders, young people, musicians, a social night with couples and a Sunday morning service which was packed and full of life, Wendy writes, “ To be part of this work is an absolute joy. It has been wonderful to see the health, growth and development of the congregation in spirit and in numbers and to see these generous, gracious people loving God with their whole heart, in the building that they have built with their own hands, with a little help from friends. Congratulations Pastor Peni and Ma’ata.”
During the last week of September 2017 several hundred Pastors and Leaders from the far flung islands, the coasts and the highlands of Papua New Guinea gathered together at a Catholic high school property 30 minutes out of Mt Hagen for the annual COC/INC National Conference and AGM.
Hosted by the churches in the Highlands, the Conference delegates settled into the accommodation for the week. The generosity of the Highlanders was evident wherever you looked. Bags of freshly harvested vegetables were piled around the buildings. Groups of white chickens were huddled here and there ready for the cookpot and the local church women gathered in the kitchen ready to feed all the delegates. For the final meal on the final day, three pigs were also cooked in a mumu and added to the menu. Each morning, a generous couple Sam and Samantha provided and prepared a breakfast of hot coffee, bread and eggs.
Taim bilong kai
Planning time for youth conference
As is the custom in PNG, the colourful stage was loaded with beautiful flowers and bright balloons and drapes. There was an expectancy at each of the Conference meetings and in the evenings the large auditorium filled up with members of the local churches joining in as well. Praise was energetic and loud and worship times were stirring and meaningful. Times of ministry were approached with respect and hunger.
For some of the meetings, the preaching platform was shared with some of the visitors from Australia which included the Oceania INC Chairman Ross Abraham and pastoral team from the Elevation INC Church in Sydney. Director of Global Care Peter Pilt also accompanied them for their short visit. Murray Townsend and Min Tobitt representing INC South Pacific were there for the five days which included meeting with leadership as well.
Pastor Mathew Roni
Pastor Ross Abraham
Elevation pastors from Sydney
Pastor Peter Pilt
Pastors Alex, Murray & Exon
One significant decision at the AGM was the decision to pursue the establishment of the Human Development Foundation which places the movement in a position to obtain government assistance in providing services for the welfare of the local church communities.
There are an estimated 450 INC churches throughout the South Pacific, the majority of them being in Papua New Guinea with its larger population. There are also churches in Solomon Islands, Fiji, Vanuatu and Tonga. Keeping track of the number of INC churches is not easy. They can spring up overnight following outreach meetings in some remote village. Or a church may be planted out from a larger church in one of the cities. And then there is the down side where some may just disappear because of isolation, young people moving to the cities and outside influences. Many still use the name of COC (Christian Outreach Centre)
Some rural churches in Vanuatu and Fiji.
Not all INC and COC churches have buildings but there is a great variety in the ones who do have their own building. Small buildings made of bush materials can be found in many villages where the people often sit on the ground and then they progress to making wooden benches to sit on. Highlands churches are closed in for warmth while coastal churches tend to allow the air flow through. In Fiji, government standards are stricter and most church buildings are of a permanent nature.
Some town and city churches in Fiji, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea.
Their goal is always to build a more permanent building even if they are still quite small. Larger churches are found in the cities or towns and plastic chairs are used to provide seating. In the cities, sometimes property is rented until they are able to build their own building. Their love of colour and decoration is always evident in their buildings with flowers, banners and curtains and even to the choice of tiles for their floors.
In their church services, the love of worship and praise and the welcome given make it easy for visitors to join in, even if the language is foreign to them.