Tuesday, March 18, 2008
An interesting Easter looms
Once more the bag is packed and I am heading to Papua New Guinea to speak to 3500 students and graduates at the TSCF National Conference at Mount Hagen in the Central Highlands. I am doing two plenary sessions on Easter Sunday and Monday and also two seminars. Jeff Pelz from Auckland is coming with me, for both of us it will be our first time in PNG and by all accounts it sounds a fascinating place.
The eastern half of the big island above Australia became an independent nation in 1975. It's motto is "unity in diversity" and there is a huge amount of diversity about. There are hundreds of distinct ethnic groups, the earliest arrivals beings Papuans, followed some 6000 years later by Austronesians and later Polynesians, Micronesians, Chinese, Australians and Filipinos.I am not sure which the group below are but they look a bit like Australians.
The terrain, valleys, mountains, dense jungle meant many of the tribes developed quite separately from each other. They still enjoy opportunities to celebrate their culture. There are 850 different languages with 3 official languages, English which is the language of education but not widely spoken, Tok Pisin the language of the parliament and the people and the more region specific Hiri Motu.
Port Moresby is the Capital and is not accessible by road to any other city. PNG has 578 airstrips of which 557 are unsurfaced. The country has high church attendance and is committed to religious freedom, is a democracy with free elections but has huge disparities between rich and poor and because of economic stagnation, the UN policy committee downgraded it to the status of "Least Developed Country" or so called 4th World Country.
A recent World Vision report rated PNG against 22 other countries in the region, it had the highest proportion of the population with the HIV/AIDS virus, around 2 per cent, and the lowest proportion, 39 per cent, with access to clean water. The report stated that: 'Unlike virtually every other country in the region, the rate of primary school completion has declined, and at under 60 per cent is the lowest.'
Many analysts say Papua New Guinea is in danger of political and economic collapse. The country's political system is unstable, the crime rate has soared, corruption is rampant, and essential services including health care and education continue to decline. According to the World Bank, 70% of the country lives in poverty. In 2006, Australia announced that it was gravely concerned about the country and had peacekeeping forces at the ready.
So what is causing this crisis for the Bird of Paradise? Allan Patience, Professor of political science at the University of Papua New Guinea: 'Since independence, most politicians have regarded the national Parliament as a means to amass personal fortunes. Most play the system for what they can get out of it personally. A few have been prosecuted, even fewer have been imprisoned.' On top of that there are complex issues of infrastructure, concerns about exploitation of natural resources and the genuine difficulties of some of the remote almost stone-age tribes interaction with a modern economy.
As always where there is great inequality and poverty violence becomes an issue so it is not the safest place to be.
This kind of travel warning is common at the moment. "Papua New Guinea is troubled by a high level of serious crime, particularly in the urban centres of Port Moresby, Lae and Mt Hagen. Travellers should use common sense to avoid any trouble - don't travel at night and respect any local advice regarding safety. All travel to the Highlands region, except on essential business, should be reconsidered because of high levels of crime and inter-tribal violence."
We go because there is huge potential in the lives of 3500 students and graduates to positively impact the nation spiritually and practically. I will be speaking about relationships and integrity, exploring the difference that the people of God can make if our relationships are right with God and with each other. TSCF works on 65 campuses with few staff or resources, travel is difficult and expensive. We hope to be able to encourage the work in PNG and lay foundations for more partnership in the future. Interestingly hearing of our need in NZ, they have already offered to send us an evangelist!
I am not unanxious about the trip -it requires several overnights just to get there and back with the way the connections work (or don't). We will of course be careful and are sure we will be looked after by our hosts but would appreciate prayer for protection and for making the most of the opportunity. If it gets really tough we will at least remember that there are worse jobs in the world.
Talking of good jobs I probably relate more to this guy than the computer guys above. There is something about his job that I can identify with.
Ailsa and the boys will be in Wellington for Easter with Luke away for a couple of nights at a lower North Island church youth camp at Palm Grove but there are still three more weeks after Easter before the end of term. We appreciate all your interest and support and wish you all a very happy Easter wherever you are in the World. May you know the reality of risk and remember the loss and the cost that always prefigures resurrection. And in light of the last picture perhaps you could pray that those around us will aim high!