Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Flight to Paradise
The Air Niuguine ticket wallets bear the inscription “Your flight to paradise”. Seeing this sign in the airport in Port Moresby made me wonder if the airline was intending to take its motto a bit too literally.
We met up with some students and graduates in the departure area and flew to mount Hagen in the Highlands. This area has been described as the Wild West of PNG. Paul Windsor and Andrew Becroft would not have enjoyed the approach into Hagen which involved two sharp turns over tree covered hills.
What immediately strikes you is the lush vegetation of the land and the poverty of the people. Subsistence agriculture, women and children selling small amounts of produce on mats by the road, traditional and tin houses side by side, people walking by the road some carrying heavy loads in traditional woven slings. As our four-wheel drive pick up truck pitched in and out of deep pot holes my overwhelming sensation was that it was like being back in Africa.
We were hosted in a compound and ferried back and forth to the technical college where the conference was being held mostly in large marquees. There were a few changes to what I had been told before. For example I discovered that my talk on relationships the next morning had become a session on “Christian Apologetics”. Had I known this I would have prepared a little differently but you have to go with the flow in these contexts.
The students were very positive about our being there and there are obvious possibilities for our partnership in PNG to develop further. I had some particularly useful discussions about how we could support and develop graduate ministry in PNG. There are a growing number of younger graduates who have a vision for change in PNG particularly around issues of integrity and corruption.
I was also asked to speak to the AGM and it was a privilege to be part of what was being termed a new beginning for TSCF. The new board has been working on a new structure which will increase the student voice, develop stronger partnership between staff, students and graduates, build capacity for growth through regionalisation and more intentional resourcing of student groups, develop a graduate support ministry and grow funding. This was approved by the students, as was a plan to take politics out of student elections. This is genuinely counter cultural in a context where personality, power and the use of position for personal gain tend to dominate many facets of leadership in society and sadly in the churches.
They are also moving the National Conference to November and rotating round the four major university centres. This will be more cost effective, enable it to last longer and have more in depth input into the students and graduates who attend. They should also be able to increase numbers to 6-8,000 students. I have already agreed in principle to help with the first one in November 2009 in New Britain.
Many articulated the significance of us being there from New Zealand at this moment in history. One of the board felt that there had been a prophetic element to us being there and that our input had helped clarify and confirm their vision. On the last night the speaker commented on us being there and said “I believe that something significant is happening in the South Pacific in this generation, not through human agenda, plans or strategies but pre-ordained by God.”
I was invited, again rather unexpectedly, to speak to the students to end the conference. I had been thinking during the meeting about the Southern Cross, which is on the flags of NZ, Australia and PNG. I spoke about the 4 student movements in the South Pacific being like the 4 stars in the Southern Cross and pledged to work to develop new partnerships between PNG and NZ.
PNG has huge potential but corruption is bleeding the economic benefits away from the nation. AIDS is also a massive and growing issue. Some areas may be 60 percent HIV positive, polygamy and traditional attitudes to sexuality amplify the problem. TSCF has begun to train some youth counsellors but a lot more needs to be done. We will be looking at some possible initiatives on resourcing graduates in the workplace and in the fight against Aids over the next few months.
Jeff’s dad had fought with the American Army on PNG during WW2. He found it quite moving to visit where his dad had been sixty years before. We visited Bomana War Cemetery on the way back through Port Moresby. I always find it moving thinking of that generation who served and gave their lives. The battles that this new generation of Christian leader face in PNG will certainly not be without cost.
The flight back to Cairns from Port Moresby was another potential ticket to paradise. There was a fair amount of turbulence and then one of the jet engines had to be closed down as it was beyond safety tolerances. Given that our aged Fokker 100 only had two engines we did wonder if we were going to be getting a closer view of the Great Barrier Reef but the other engine got us back safely. Thanks for your prayers and support making such trips possible. We believe it was the start of something significant for the students of this generation..
And of the next generation of students in PNG.
I write this from Cairns waiting to fly back to New Zealand and to belatedly celebrate Craig's birthday.