By Rev SEIK PITOI
The United Church Highlands Region is a vast area that covers all of the Southern Highlands, Western Highlands, Jiwaka and Chimbu.
The regional office is based in Mendi. A mineral-rich province, SHP is one of the most blessed provinces in Papua New Guinea. Yet, it has been through some of the most tumultuous times in recent years.
A massive earthquake shook the province to its core in February this year, destroying homes and infrastructure, even with the loss of lives. In addition, the massive quake caused the multi-billion Kina LNG project down to its knees. The effect of that disaster saw great suffering in the province, with its financial effects being felt across the whole nation.
Apart from the natural calamity, man-made problems such as criminal activities, tribal fights and other social ills have also plagued this otherwise beautiful province. Yet, through it all, the Church of God soldiers on!
In the Lord Jesus’ high priestly prayer of John 17, He prayed that His people must be one so that the world will know He sent them. Therein lies the challenge for the churches. When all the individual church banners are lowered and the banner of Christ is raised, we will see a positive change.
The church is the agent of change and has the power to bring healing and hope to a disillusioned people. Among all the churches holding hands in the province stands the United Church. Having the ‘correct name’ – united – there is much anticipation that the United Church rises to her calling to be the one to promote unity among the people of God.
But the United Church has been going through a period of trial and testing, and is restructuring and readjusting in preparation for the work coming in the years ahead.
Some months ago, the Highlands Region lost a faithful servant of God in their bishop, Rev Hun Morris. The sudden death of late Bishop Morris in July this year created a vacuum in the leadership of the church in the region. There was uncertainty among the servants of God as the head of the church was no longer around to give direction.
After a period of mourning had lapsed, the 13th regional synod was convened to, among other things, choose a new bishop. It was held at Yaken church ground, Lower Mendi in the Southern Highlands on Nov 23, 2018.
Many good and able men of God from the region made themselves available to serve. However, at the end of the synod, the 58 delegates coming from the 14 circuits of the region voted for Rev Stanley Buka to serve as the new bishop. The election was presided over by the Moderator of the United Church, Rev Bernard Siai.
In speaking recently with Bishop-elect Buka, I was able to sense the determination he had to see the church meet the challenges placed before her. He felt the Lord giving him a strategy to deal with the problem.
“The Lord showed me Matthew 6:33. My priority is the Kingdom of God. We must build up the spiritual lives of our people before doing anything else. There are many physical needs in the region, for example the fallen bishop’s house and other infrastructures damaged by the earthquake – but we must ‘seek first’ God’s Kingdom business, and then He will meet our needs in His time,” he said.
In building up the churches, one of the things he will do is to run spiritual retreats for pastors and their maramas, who will then build up their members.
From Pongai Village in the Upper Mendi area, Rev Buka is married to Marama Lucy from Siassi in the Morobe and they have three children. The bishop-elect comes to the post with many years of experience on the field. He graduated in 2001 from Rarongo Theological College and served as a circuit minister in three circuits for a period of 17 years. In 2016, we was appointed regional secretary until his recent election as bishop.
He will be assisted by his replacement, incoming regional secretary, Rev Justin Wapu. A graduate of Rarongo in 2010, Rev Wapu did his practical in church planting in the Kagua-Erave area years before his graduation.
As a church planter, he has seen the need to take the gospel out to the people and help them build their own church where they are. He expressed his desire to see the mission’s trend in the highlands change.
“We have received the gospel from NGI like the Tolais and Bougainvillians, and from the Papuans. It is time pastors from our region go out with the gospel and serve in other regions, or even overseas. We have received so much; now we must give back!”
He is also passionate to see the youth in his region rise up to serve God. With their natural vigour and energy, they are the best ones to take the love of Jesus out to their peers. As the incoming secretary, Rev Wapu is determined to see that happen!
Apart from the new bishop and secretary, the synod also re-elected its regional education secretary, Johnson Pisa.
Bishop-elect Rev Buka is looking forward to the new year where his new leadership team will try to implement the vision he has for the region.
“We ask for the prayers of our brothers and sisters around the nation. With your prayers, we believe God will help us rise up to the challenges in 2019 and beyond!”
- Rev Seik Pitoi is freelance writer.