The value of connections

By Pastor John Strelan

33 years ago I watched the verdant mountains of the Markham Valley recede into the distance and, in my heart, I said goodbye to my home. I was fourteen years old. New Guinea had been my life; a life full of adventure and freedom and family and fun. Since then, in the intervening years, I […]

33 years ago I watched the verdant mountains of the Markham Valley recede into the distance and, in my heart, I said goodbye to my home. I was fourteen years old. New Guinea had been my life; a life full of adventure and freedom and family and fun. Since then, in the intervening years, I came to the conclusion that I may never get back to my home of so many wonderful memories, and that may not be a bad thing. Things had changed. There were no longer hundreds of Australian Lutheran missionaries in New Guinea, now there was just one! Now expats lived behind razor wire, huddled together in compounds for fear of violent robbery. It sounded like the antithesis of my childhood! So, when the call came from out of the blue, it took a few emotional moments to process. Would I consider representing the LCA at the ELC-PNG Reformation celebrations and the 50th anniversary celebrations of Martin Luther Seminary in Lae? I knew in my heart the answer was ‘Yes’. It truly would be an honour to represent former missionaries and my own father who was a founding lecturer at Martin Luther Seminary. Also, my wife had always wanted to see where I grew up and now she would get the opportunity.

The week long celebrations began with an outdoor worship service at the Lae stadium where over 5000 people gathered, most sitting all day in the sun to participate. New Guineans are very patient! Two days later they did it all again on Reformation Day! Everywhere you looked there were Reformation banners and brightly coloured Reformation T-shirts. The governor of Morobe province even declared a public holiday in recognition of the importance of the event! Imagine that happening in Australia!

So, I did my official duties: preached and led Bible studies, unveiled a statue of Luther on the seminary grounds, brought greetings from my bishop, shook hands with the dignitaries and generally tried to look important, and all that went well. But, the greatest blessing was being able to spend time with the staff and students at Martin Luther Seminary. Just being with the people, that is what I was there for. Sitting. Chatting. Building relationships. New Guineans make time for that. It’s what they value most. Making connections. They value the connections we have as churches and as Christians.

The city of Lae looks, sadly, like a third world slum, with plastic rubbish piled high on the streets; those same streets require a four wheel drive to traverse and the fear of robbery is a daily reality, but the New Guinean people are still welcoming and open and interested in people. They care deeply about their faith and their church which has its struggles, many of which we share with them: aging membership, lack of finances, a struggle to engage young people and the insistent pressures of modern technology. But, the New Guinean church also has some distinct challenges like the rise of sorcery and the persistence of cargo cult like movements. Together though, we are one body in Christ, so together we meet those challenges.

The relationship between the LCA and the ELC-PNG is long and enduring one. I was blessed to have the opportunity to experience the depth of that relationship for a brief time and in a very small way. If home truly is where the heart is, I hope it’s not another 33 years before I return again.


If you would like to consider the opportunity to serve as a volunteer in mission, serving in practical ways, teaching English, teaching in the seminaries and institutions of our partner churches, or in local churches, you are invited to phone Nevin on (08) 8267 7300 or email nevin.nitschke@lca.org.au. For more information, go to http://www.lcamission.org.au/join-gods-mission/volunteer/

Read more stories about volunteering at www.lcamission.org.au/category/join-gods-mission/volunteers/

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About the Author : Erin Kerber


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