Commemorating 500 years of reformation in Papua New Guinea

Tanya Zeriga_SYnod Sat011616 (8).JPG

Flags at the 3oth Synod at Heldsbach Finschhafen, Morobe Province.: Lutheran Church flag, the PNG flag and the Morobe Provincial flag. Photo Tanya Zeriga-ALone

This year 2017, marks the 500th year since Martin Luther, a German monk and doctor of theology was excommunicated from the Roman Church at that time for suggesting changes  based on the Bible. Through study, Martin Luther was convicted by these four gospel truths: Scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone and Christ alone: salvation is a free gift from God  given to those who seek after it  in faith and cannot be bought or achieved through good works.

Martin Luther’s purpose was clear – to correct the erroneous teachings on sin  and salvation and to  take believers back to a faith as was intended by  the forerunners of the Christian faith.

Martin Luther’s followers are called the Lutherans. Protestantism was born from this action in history. Protestants believe that only Jesus is the head of the church.

The Lutheran Church was in existence for over 3 centuries by the time it arrived on the shores of Papua New Guinea (PNG) in the late 1800.  PNG was a dark and unknown place at the turn of the century – tribal fights, sorcery, payback killing were common. Isolated in their own little worlds, Papua New Guineans were animists, believing that spirits controlled their life.

The gospel arrived with Reverend Johannes Flierl, a Neuendettelsau Missionary from the Kingdom of Bavaria, Germany.  The gospel in PNG began in the Finschhafen and Madang area and spread into the rest of Papua New Guinea. As it was in the days of Luther, the gospel liberated people from the fear of the unknown and freed multitudes from the power of spirits and death.

The pioneer missionaries both local and expatriates paid a price for the freedom we enjoy today. In those early days, missionaries risked their lives for the sake of the gospel. They crossed tribal boundaries, brokered peace between tribal enemies.  These pioneers also uprooted their families and moved them far from the security of kinsman – all for the sake of the gospel.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of PNG (ELCPNG) of the 21st century grew out from the work of the Neuendettelsau and Rhenish Missionaries from Gemany. When the World War II reached the Pacific in 1942, most of the early German missionaries were repatriated. After the war, the Lutheran Churches of Australia and America were tasked to reconstruct the church, which the parties did together as the Lutheran Missions New Guinea.

It was in 1956 that the indigenous church was formed and called the Evangelical Church of New Guinea (ELCONG). The first Bishop was Rev. Kuder from the American Lutheran Church.

It was in the 1970s, that the ELCONG changed to ELCPNG. The first indigenous bishop was elected in 1973 and since then, the church has been run by the nationals. At the 500th year of reformation, the ELCPNG has had 30 synods.  The current ELCPNG Bishop is Reverand Jack Urame.

Earlier this year, the ELCPNG celebrated 131 years off Lutheranism. The ELCPNG is the second most popular church in PNG with 1.2 million members out of the 8 million population.  The ELCPNG is made up of 17 districts. These districts are further grouped into circuits, parishes and congregations is the lowest church unit recognised by the church.

The freedom to worship we enjoy today  is because this reformer broke the chains of oppression that kept people in slavery for lack of access to the truth. The message of hope and freedom in this act of reformation is timeless – it was real then, as it is now.

Papua New Guinea’s position in the reformation history is similar to the parable of the Labourers in Matthew 20: 1-16. We are like the worker who was recruited at 4pm to work in the garden only to get paid same wage as the man who started work at 7am. We are privileged to be born at a time when the gospel is free. We have not sacrificed for the gospel, no blood was shed like in the days of Luther.

The gospel may be free, but we are faced with new challenges. In this age and time, the church is under pressure to conform to the standards of the world.  Fatigue has also set in. As one of the last workers in the field, maybe we are called to re-evangelise the church. Maybe with our youthful exuberance, we are called to keep the 500 year old flame alive into the future.  May we seek Gods will about our place in the reformation story.

As we celebrate this momentous occasion let us remember that reformation is not just an historical event rather it is process of continually walking in faith according to the word of God. Reformation in this day and time is about testing passing trends against the timeless wisdom in the bible. We as individuals as well as the body of ELCPNG must step up and take our place in the reformation story.

Amen.

 

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Celebrating the life of a great man.

We thank you for your life. Hero in life as in death.
Rest in Peace Larry Orsak.

Lifework Larry

To the many friends, family, colleagues and students of Larry Orsak:

It is with the greatest sadness that I have learned of the passing of my dear older brother, Larry Joe Orsak (15 October 1953- 6 July 2017) in Papua New Guinea at the University of Technology campus, Lae.  From Albert Schram, Vice-Chancellor, I have learned that the cause of death was stroke/heart attack. Larry was 64 years of age.

The forestry department will be organizing a traditional “haus krai” for Larry, from Monday 10 July to Friday 21 July. For those who may be unfamiliar with PNG culture, here is a thoughtful article on how that takes place:

http://asopa.typepad.com/asopa_people/2012/06/the-naked-truth-about-death-in-png.html

From Lae, Larry’s body will be brought to his adopted village of Baitabag in Madang for further ceremonies and final burial, the transfer from Lae to Madang to happen on or about 20 July.

There is absolutely no question…

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