By Rev SEIK PITOI
AS you look around our beautiful country, you will find some of the most unlikely people in unlikely places.
I’m talking about people from one part of the country living amongst another people group, speaking their language and being a part of the people.
For instance, I know a man from Tari who lived for many years in the Central village of Kalo and spoke the language like a local. I also know of a lady from the Trobriand Islands (in Milne Bay) who married a Motuan man and lived for many years in her husband’s village, even after he passed away. She spoke Motu fluently. Whenever Trobriand people visited the village, she found the opportunity to speak her language again, which she said was getting ‘rusty’ over time!
The gentleman I will introduce was a policeman from Gulf who lived for many years in the Chimbu and seems to have ‘lost his passport’ to return!
John Ove hails from Baimuru in Gulf. As a young man, he wanted to serve as a policeman, so after high school, he enrolled at the Bomana Police College and began his training. After six months, he passed out and got a posting to Morobe where he served for a number of years.
While in Lae, he met and married his wife, Janet, who is from East Elimbari in the Chuave district of Chimbu. John continued serving in a few other places in the highlands such as Watabung and Lufa in Eastern Highlands. As they moved from place to place, their family grew as the kids came along. He had two sons and a daughter. His final posting was to Mt Hagen where he served his remaining time there.
After leaving the force, John and his family moved to his wife’s village in Elimbari. John was converted in 1995 under the ministry of the United Church. There was a growing church in his wife’s area under the leadership of Methodist missionaries from Bougainville. However, the church suffered a schism when some of the missionaries joined another fast growing ministry and moved across, taking most of the flock with them. John and a few others remained with the United Church.
Having settled comfortably among his wife’s people – with no intention of returning to his own province – John put his hand up to lead the local church. He became the ‘acting’ pastor, working hard to rebuild the congregation that had almost disappeared. There was another gentleman, the local community health worker, who also helped nurture the spiritual lives of the people. John led the church despite having very little Bible training, and his ministry even saw him oversee the running of eight other local churches in that area.
When Highlands Region United Church Bishop, Rev Stanley Buka and his team visited the area earlier this year, they were pleased to see the work continuing on, despite the difficulties. They also got reacquainted with John and his family, and their small congregation.
Regional Secretary Rev Justin Wapu was particularly pleased to meet John, his classmate from 25 years ago!
“I met John when I attended a Bible training programme in that area from 1995 to 1996. We trained together there. I finished from that initial training and after some time of ministry, managed to further my qualifications at the Rarongo Theological Seminary.
John, however, has served with just that single stint of training under his belt. He has served faithfully all these years, trying his best to keep the work going,” he said.
Currently, plans are underway to send a fully trained minister next year to take over the work while John attends the Bernie Collins Bible College in Mendi for a refresher and to upgrade his qualifications. After graduation, he will be posted to another area to serve.
His eldest son is a teacher at the local church-run primary school. Efforts are being made by the Highlands Region United Church staff to get the school and aid post properly registered for recognition by the authorities.
When the church, school and clinic get a facelift, the standard of the ministry of the church in the Chuave area will be elevated so that the spiritual and physical needs of the people can be met effectively.
Bishop Stanley’s visit to his denominational churches struggling in remote areas is commendable and a blessing for those faithful workers serving under difficult conditions.
Moreover, taking a holistic approach to provide the basics of health-care, education and spiritual nurturing is the right way for the church to go.
The small church in East Elimbari has done well despite the setbacks, and there is potential to reach into the community to bring more precious souls to the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Kerema policeman-turned-pastor, living and serving in his wife’s province, has done well to hold the fort until God’s own timing has arrived for a positive change.
- Rev Seik Pitoi is a freelance writer.