Papua New Guinea diary
Falling buildings and friendly feasts, bruised buttocks and global family – a visit to Papua New Guinea has it all. Last year, David Grosch-Miller and his wife Carla went there as guests of the United Church. Here, as part of Reform’s look at Christian travel, he shares an edited version of his travel diary
Saturday 29 August
I wondered why we were warned to take spare clothes with us to see the community on Fisherman’s Island. A few minutes into the journey in the open dinghy, the question was answered as the spray broke over the bows and we were lifted from the seat and crashed down onto it again. But this was a small price to pay for the opportunity to meet members of the United Church of Papua New Guinea.
The island is under threat from climate change, having no hills, fresh water or any natural resources other than fishing grounds. A church elder cheerily said that when the threat of a tsunami approaches, as they have nowhere to run, they go fishing. The fishing grounds are producing fewer fish which necessitates hazardous journeys to more distant places. Though global warming makes life uncomfortable for us, it threatens the very existence of the community on Fisherman’s Island.
They welcomed us with a meal, but a cricket match with a team from the mainland was cancelled because of the wind whipping up the waves. The journey back, dictated by the tide, was far more heart-stopping than any theme park log flume. Clinging to the sides, we made it back with thoughts and stories cascading within us.
Sunday 30 August
Bruised buttocks were not the best preparation for the one-hour ride to Lea Lea. Roadworks and potholes contributed to a bone-shaking experience. At the end of the road, across a wooden footbridge, lies the village, with the United Church of Bethel dominating the square. We are led to the church, and my wife Carla is told that she is leading the service while I preach. The sermon feels too suited to an English audience to touch the hearts of the congregation of 500, but they are delighted at our visit. The highlight for us is the traditional singing: unaccompanied, the women and men sing responsively from opposite sides of the church.
After the service, the whole congregation queue up to shake hands. Then it is back to the pastor’s house for lunch. Carla, as an honoured guest, eats with the men, while the women, who cooked, sing as they wait for the men to finish eating before they can start. Gifts are exchanged and as the local language contains no word for “thank you” we pledge to remember each other in prayer and promise that hospitality will be the mark of our belonging to the Church wherever we are. This is truly a global family into which God has called us.
Monday 31 August
At the Assembly Office, we exchanged news with the Moderator and General Secretary, then were asked about our personal attitudes towards same-sex marriage. A bill had been introduced to parliament by an MP married to an Australian; it was defeated and the United Church organised opposition to its reintroduction. This led on to a conversation about aid from Australia being linked to priorities such as challenging traditional Papua New Guinea gender roles.
In the afternoon, we were meant to meet officials of the government Climate Change and Development Office, but the meeting did not take place. We later discovered it had been scheduled for the morning but no one told us!..
David Grosch-Miller is Moderator of the United Reformed Church General Assembly
This is an extract from the February 2016 edition of Reform.