Papua New Guinea

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An Interview with Rev. Jack Urame, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Papua New Guinea


The Rev. Jack Urame, newly elected national (Presiding) Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Papua New Guinea (ELCPNG) visited our synod on his way to the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in New Orleans. He spoke to groups at Unity Lutheran Church in Bel-Nor, MO; Children's Memorial Lutheran Church in Kansas City, MO; Atonement Lutheran Church in Overland Park, KS; and Our Savior Lutheran Church in Topeka, KS.  We had the opportunity to ask Bishop Urame a few questions (through Gary Teske) and would like to share the responses below:

1 ) What difference have contributions from Central States Synod (funding, computer/communications training, computer donations) made in the lives of the people you serve in your ELCPNG ministry?

Although Bishop Urame was not well informed about the specifics of our companion synod relationship, he knew about the communication project and expressed appreciation for the computers. However, he thought the most important contribution was interaction between the people of the Kotte District and the Central States Synod, the sharing of faith and ideas that take place when we come together, and the relationships that have been established. He feels that the most important things are not what we send, but that we come and spend time with them sharing in the joys and challenges of their lives. He also had a word of caution about our Companion Synod relationships. He warned that we need to include the national church (ELCPNG) as a full partner and be sure and coordinate with the national church and work through proper channels. One of his main goals is to bring about more unity within the church. Based on regional and tribal identities, the districts and circuits sometimes intentionally and unintentionally leave the national church out and even work at cross purposes with them. As he put it, "We all live on just one big island, not 17 different islands.  I want all the people of the ELCPNG to live and work on the same island." 

2 ) Have you always felt called to ministry and to be a pastor? 

His father had been an evangelist and had been a key leader in planting the Lutheran Church in one area and established a mission station there. As a child, he wanted to be like his father. . . but when he got a little older, he ended up attending college and becoming a teacher.  After he had taught for several years that he felt a renewed call to follow in the footsteps of his father and become a Pastor. He attended Martin Lutheran Seminary in Lae, Papua New Guinea, but after graduation, did not serve in a congregation.  Instead, he worked as the director of the Melanesian Institute, an ecumenical research and education organization that studies religious and social issues in Papua New Guinea and provides educational events for participating churches and new missionaries. 

3 ) You have visited several Central States Synod congregations during your trip. What are some key differences have you noticed between congregations here and your congregations "back home"?  Key similarities?

Bishop Urame commented that he really liked the children's sermon at Atonement. He repeatedly said that the Church in Papua New Guinea is much more lay-led and run than the church here in America. 
His impression was that pastors in the American Churches were generally expected to do more of the work than in congregations in PNG.  Very few congregations in Papua New Guinea have pastors.  Most of them are led by lay leaders who are called "Evangelists" or "Hetman" (leaders) who do receive some training but have not attended seminary.  He also noted that one difference is that most congregations in PNG are built on not just a common faith, but also tribal and clan ties.  He noted that people in US congregations are not generally related to one another and so there is not that family bond among them. He was impressed with the work among the poor at Children's Memorial Lutheran church in North Kansas City. The presence of so many homeless and hungry appeared to surprise him. He commented that no one goes hungry in Papua New Guinea because everyone has their clan or tribal family to turn to for the necessities of life.  I told him that in our country where people move far away from their families, sometimes congregations function as surrogate families. He thought that was a good thing.     

4 ) In the photo of your family, you are surrounded by three women. You are very blessed. What roles do women traditionally serve in, in the church in Papua New Guinea?  What jobs opportunities do women typically have in Papua New Guinea? 

Bishop Urame has twin daughters who have just graduated from secondary school (the equivalent of our high school). They were taking their exams for entrance into a college or university during his visit here and he was very anxious for them. Not all high school graduates who want to attend a university are able to do so. Nearly all professions in Papua New Guinea society are open to women such as being a doctor, lawyer, teacher etc.  I don't recall if he said what his daughters were wanting to study, but they were very anxious about whether they would pass their exams and be able to move on to further education. In the church, women are welcome to attend seminary. The church has a women's training school at a place called Sattelburg where young women learn academic subjects as well as sewing and church-related skills such as leading a Bible Study or Sunday School.  Most of these women go on to work within women's organizations although many are teachers. They are not yet permitted to be ordained or to preach or preside over communion. However, Bishop Urame felt that they were moving in that direction and that eventually, women will be able to be ordained and serve as Pastors.

5 ) Based on the challenges facing your nation in the future, how can the members of the Central States Synod best serve the ministry of the ELCPNG in the future?  

As I noted earlier, Bishop Urame seems to feel that overcoming regional differences and jealousies and building more unity within the church and support for the ELCPNG as a national church is at the top of his list.  In terms of problems within PNG society, at the gathering in Topeka he talked about the wealth of natural resources in Papua New Guinea and the large mining companies and oil companies who are moving in and extracting these resources.  This is leading to corruption among the leadership of the country and he is afraid that once the gold, silver, copper, oil, timber, and fish are gone, the people will not have any lasting benefits from all of those resources. 

First of all, Bishop Urame wants the people of the Central States Synod to stay in touch with them and to listen to them.  He does not want us to rush into sending lots of people or anything else, but to visit them and spend time with them and be prepared to take action based on what we learn and hear from them rather than based on what we think we want to do for them or give to them.  Working with the ELCPNG and the ELCA Global Mission Office, we can work together to find the personnel, the funds and the materials needed for them to meet the challenges of ministry in Papua New Guinea. Of course, they very much seek our prayers and appreciate us providing opportunities for people from Papua New Guinea to visit us.

6 ) What is the single most important thing you'd like to communicate to the members of the Central States Synod? 

After he left, I realized that I had not asked him this specific question. However, I really think that the most important thing he would want us to know is how much they appreciate our partnership with them. They really see it as an extension of the partnership that goes all the way back to 1919 when the American Lutheran Church sent their first missionaries to Papua New Guinea.  He repeatedly pointed to 1956 when the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Papua New Guinea became a church and stopped being a mission of the Germans, Americans and Australians as a key date.  He wanted us to know that they are an indigenous church on their own and a member church of the Lutheran World Federation. They appreciate the work that the churches from Germany, America and Australia have done in the past, and want that partnership to continue.  However, now he and the church in Papua New Guinea must take the lead in determining the shape of ministry in PNG, but they very much want us to be there encouraging them with prayer and visits, and contributing to the work there as they have need and we are able to help. 

Computers, Digital Cameras and Training for the Kotte District, Papua New Guinea

 

The Central States Synod-ELCA is a Companion Synod to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Kotte (pronounced "COT uh") District of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea (ELCPNG). This means that the CSS-ELCA has a formal, mutually recognized covenant relationship with the Kotte District of the ELCPNG.
 
The Kotte District includes eight "circuits": Kalasa, Somba, Quembung, Dedua, Hube, Sattleberg, Garaina, and Zaka. The first six circuits are on the eastern end of the Huon Peninsula and the latter two are located to the south of the Gulf of Huon. Geography makes communication between the circuits difficult and it is further hampered by the mountainous terrain and by the fact that the country has no nationwide road system. On the positive side, Digicel, a cell phone provider, has recently established towers throughout most of the Kotte District and telephone and data service is now available.
 
Kotte District had previously identified communications as one of its main challenges. In October 2014 the Central States Synod responded by providing all circuits in Kotte District with MacBook Air laptops and Canon digital cameras. The devices were given to a "Circuit Communicator" identified by the leadership of the individual circuit. At that time only six of the eight circuits had identified communicators. The Communicators' long-term plans include producing a quarterly newsletter with information and photos from each of the circuits. The newsletter will be used for sharing information among the circuits, as well as with the Central States Synod and other partners in Germany and Australia.

As part of that visit Alex Lang and Dan Lilienkamp, with assistance from Gary Teske and Gary Kallansrud, began instructing the six Communicators. Most of them had not used either device before the training; but by the end of the workshop they were all able to send and receive email, use Google to search the internet, and download photos from the camera to the computer.

 

Recently, the Circuit Communicators for the two remaining districts were named, and on March 17-18, 2016, Rev. Walter Teunzac, Communications Coordinator of Kotte District, conducted a Introduction to Computers and Digital Cameras workshop at the ELC-PNG's church headquarters in Ampo, Papau New Guinea. Attendance in the training demonstrated the Communicators' commitment to learning how to make the devices work in their applications and context, and that we are working as partners with them, instead of creating a dependency relationship.

Why MacBook Air Computers?

Why did the Central States Synod team provide such relatively expensive computers? Certainly cheaper models are available and even used computers. The reasons are three-fold: 1 ) The MacBook Air is a solid state machine with no moving parts to become dislodged or broken during travel over rough roads and mountain trails, 2 ) The MacBook Air is a well-made machine that will last for a long time, and 3 ) The MacBook Air is easy for a new computer user to learn.The team could have also brought used computers. Our Papua New Guinea partners would have been grateful to receive them, as they are used to receiving cast-offs from their partners. By providing new computers the team sent a strong message that we value them as fellow Christians and as equals, and that we want to build a relationship with them as partners and friends. 

2014 Visit to PNG

By Rev. Gary Teske, Companion Synod Team Chair [0714]

Alex Lang, then a senior in high school and the first youth to participate in a companion synod visit.

Daniel Lilienkamp of Unity Lutheran Church, Bel-Nor, MO.

Gary Kallandsrud, a member of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Manchester, MO.

Gary Teske on a previous Companion Synod visit to Papua New Guinea

In October and early November of 2014, an enthusiastic group of four individuals from the Central States Synod spent almost 2 weeks in Papua New Guinea (PNG) visiting the one of the Companion Synods of the CSS-ELCA. The Companion Synod or, as we like to call them, our "CoSyn" Christians are the people of the Kotte District of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Papua New Guinea (ELCPNG). The four travelers were, Pastor Gary Teske, Companion Synod Team chair of Topeka, Kan.; Gary Kallansrud, a member of Good Shepherd in Manchester, Mo.; Daniel Lilienkamp, a member of Unity, Bel-Nor, Mo., and 18-year-old Alex Lang of Atonement, Overland Park, Kan. Alex was the youngest person to participate in a Companion Synod Visit and the first youth to do so. 

 

The four left for PNG in mid-October and traveled by air (almost 25 hours of flying time) by boat and by four-wheel drive jeep over some very bad roads before arriving at the District Headquarters at a mission station called "Heldsbach" in the region of Finschhafen. Upon their arrival, they were blessed by the hospitality of their PNG Lutheran CoSyns and shared worship, food, faith and the love of Christ with one another. In addition to learning about the challenges and opportunities faced by the partners on both sides of the Pacific, the group joined in celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the first Evangelist Training School by the Lutheran Mission in Papua New Guinea (1914-2014). The group from the Central States Synod also carry 8 lightweight laptop computers as gifts to the 8 circuits of the Kotte District. They presented the gifts to designated communicators from each of the districts and then spent nearly a week helping them learn how to use the computers. Communication between the circuits, the district office, and the outside world is a crippling challenge, and now that the computer age is beginning to dawn in Papua New Guinea, these computers will be of great help to the district, circuits, congregations, and communities in coordinating meetings, continuing education courses, and other important events.

 

The next companion synod visitation to our CoSyn Christians in Papua New Guinea will take place in June of 2016. This trip will include a contingent of youth from the Central States Synod who will travel to PNG and participate in the annual district youth gathering of the youth of the Kotte District, ELCPNG. Several adults will also be making the trip and will be doing additional computer training with the circuit communicators on the laptop computers delivered in 2014. The computers have already greatly enhanced the communications between the Kotte District and the CSS, and our CoSyns in PNG are anxious to gain greater proficiency with the computers now that the age of the internet is dawning in Papua New Guinea.