By Rev SEIK PITOI
ON Saturday, July 22, 1961, the Boroko United Church (BUC) building was officially opened and dedicated to God.
The ceremony was officiated by the Rev Fred MacKay representing the board of the United Church in North Australia and the Territories. Present also was the founding minister who had been appointed to oversee the work to its completion, the Rev Paul Parkin.
Today, Thursday, July 22, 2021, marks BUC’s 60th anniversary – a diamond jubilee!
I had the opportunity recently to sit and chat with two couples, current members of the congregation who have done some research into the early days of the church. One couple is Tom and Mary Kekeao. Tom, a retired diplomat who served as PNG Ambassador to the Philippines (1983 to 1987) is from the Gulf while Mary (nee Ravu) is from Hula, Central. The other couple who prepared an information brochure on the church are PNG sports personalities – Kavieng-born international basketballer Ilaita Gigimat and his wife, Karo (nee Ravusiro) from Hula.
Both couples have been associated with the church for many years. Their information is shared in this article.
A Protestant church
Early missionary work in Papua was carried out by the London Missionary Society (LMS) who arrived in 1873. As the European population in Port Moresby grew, so did the need for their spiritual welfare. This led to the building in 1890 of the Ela Protestant church, a non-denominational church for the use of non-Roman Catholic Christians. It was run under the umbrella of the LMS.
Gigimat reports that the church “continued to serve the protestant congregation of Port Moresby until 1915 when the Anglican community built their own church, St John’s Cathedral, on the next hill”!
BUC’s founding minister
“In 1955, the Ela Protestant congregation decided to make provision for the appointment of a full time minister. At a special meeting in 1958, the United Church board in Australia recognised the need for a church in the growing suburb of Boroko. The Rev Paul Parkin was appointed as the first full time minister. Paul was a young congregational graduate of Melbourne and New England College, London. He arrived in 1958, accompanied by his wife, Elizabeth and three children, Helen, Bronwyn and Jamie.” The Parkins lived at Metorteia (Hanuabada) and were ministers at Ela while overseeing the new work at Boroko. The family moved in to Boroko upon completion of the manse (minister’s residence) in 1960.
“Under Paul’s stewardship, the work in Boroko grew physically and spiritually. The first services were held under the manse. As money was donated, the area was enclosed with half walls, then windows, and finally, full walls. The original plans dated 1958, consisted of manse, church, tennis courts, and parking area. Gradually, thanks to much hard work by members of the congregation, supported by the inevitable cake and clothing stalls of the ladies, the church building took shape.
The Parkins were practical people and a former member of the church, Marjorie Head, remembers Rev Parkin ‘on a grader or bulldozer’, working on the grounds as the foundation for the church building was being set!”
“In 1968, the Ela-Boroko congregation joined with the Papua Ekalesia and the Methodist Overseas Mission to become part of the United Church in PNG and the Solomon Islands. Ela-Boroko became part of the Central Region. The Ela church was separated from the Boroko congregation in 1979”. Each congregation now has its own minister.
Beginning the Work
The Parkin family home was a haven for the kids who lived in the same neighbourhood. Some of them attended the same school as the Parkin kids, Coronation Primary “A” school. Like moths to a flame, the friendly nature of the missionary kids drew the other children to their home. They would gather there to play and later, to watch movies. The friendship the children enjoyed was the catalyst God used to bring their parents together. That fellowship of believers eventually become a congregation. Such was the beginnings of the Boroko United Church.
Mary Kekeao was one of the children who was friends with the Parkin kids. She, Ruth Tau Gabi and their other friends looked forward to the “film nights” at the Parkin house. They were children whose families lived along Tanatana and Kaubebe Streets, Vaivai Avenue and Boroko Drive, and from 4-Mile to 6-Mile. Husband Tom explains that these families formed the Motu Fellowship Group which eventually became the BUC congregation. Some of the families were Tau Gabi from Gabagaba, Ravu Oli from Hula, Gei Dibura and John Gavara from Rigo, Mamore from Orokolo and Sari Kairi from Kukipi. Soon after, other families began to join.
According to Kekeao, who was chairman of Ela-Boroko congregation in 1974, “the film nights created a need for Motu speaking parents to form a Motu Language Fellowship. They were people from Western, Gulf, Central and Milne Bay. On Sunday mornings, they went down to Koki and joined other Papuans at the Koki congregation, and in the evening, they met under the manse for their fellowship. Soon, the group grew as new members joined.
They were ably led by John Gavara and Gei Dibura, with assistance from an expatriate named Ron Lynn. Later, more members joined such as Gia Loi, Sir Kwamala Kalo, Miu Hurumu, Ravu Puana and Kila Rabona”. The group also met weekly in homes to have fellowship so each family had the honour of hosting the other members for fellowship and tea.
Past and current ministers
Gigimat’s documented list below begins with ministers from Australia pioneering the work, eventually handing over to their local counterparts. The last expatriate minister was Rev Sione Kami of the Kingdom of Tonga who had transferred from the Highlands region where he had served as bishop. Boroko ran two church services, one in Motu, followed by the other in English.
Rev Sione served the longest time at BUC, a period of 14 years! Under his stewardship, the church grew immensely, necessitating a move to their new location where the church which bears his name now stands (the Rev Sione Kami Memorial Church – RSKMC). When the English congregation moved to RSKMC, the Boroko Motu congregation became a separate entity with their own minister.
The other ministers who served at BUC (Motu) in chronological order are:
1958 – 1966 Rev Paul Parkin
1966 – 1968 Rev John Whitehead
1968 – 1969 Rev Tim Kelly
1969 – 1974 Rev Ian Fardon
1974 – 1978 Rev Andrew Dunn
1978 – 1992 Rev Sione Kami
1992 – 1993 Rev Abe Mamata
1993 – 1996 Rev Boge Reva
1996 – 1999 Rev David Kwalahu
1999 – 2001 Rev Nou Kwalahu
2002 – 2005 Rev Taunao Rarua
2005 – 2007 Rev Tom Hitolo Daure
2007 – 2010 Rev Auro and Rev Amelia Tau
2011 – 2013 Rev Momoru Hedu
2014 – 2019 Rev Jino Pala
2020 Rev Jacob Harry
2021 Rev Seik Pitoi
In the early years, BUC Motu had some notable Papua New Guineans in their congregation. Their two knights were Sir Kwamala Kalo and Sir Sere Pitoi, who were pioneer educators and senior bureaucrats. Overseas diplomats were Sir Kalo (New Zealand) and Tom Kekeao (Philippines). Among them also were teachers, senior public servants, businessmen and top sports personalities in PNG. Today, professional women such as accountants and lawyers serve in various ministries in the church!
Changing trends in ministry
As times are changing, so is the approach to ministry at BUC. Once a ‘Motu only’ church, a large number of the ‘Motu congregation’ members today can hardly speak Motu. While the actual Motuans and ‘Police Motu’ speakers are a minority, the highest population is from Marshal Lagoon, Hula and other East Central Papua Region villages. Many cannot speak Motu. English, Motu and Hula dialects are used often in services. However, the church has retained its distinctiveness in singing Motu hymns, perovetas (prophet songs) and even follow the order of service rituals as in traditional villages.
But the landscape is changing. Many non-Papuans and even our Iranian friends living nearby come to service and take Holy Communion! Guests enjoy the lovely peroveta singing at BUC! Moreover, the young people’s meetings are run in English and the main language of conversation is Tok Pisin, much to the displeasure of some elders!
The church grew under the leadership of Rev Jino Pala when many of his people from Marshal Lagoon moved from other churches to join BUC. Evangelists were trained and commissioned and teams were sent out to villages for outreach. After a slight decline, the identifying and training of evangelists has resumed. This year, the emphasis is on teaching the word of God as opposed to just preaching. The church also began to have a world focus and studies have been held on God’s eschatological plan involving Israel and the nations to bring balance. Apart from evangelism, the pastoral emphasis now is to develop the 5 fold ministry gifts among members so the rest of the church can be built up (Ephesians 4: 11-13)!
Celebrating the diamond jubilee!
The diamond jubilee celebration committee under the leadership of Deacon Warren Auka has put together an exciting programme for the occasion. The celebrations start on the actual day, Thursday, 22 with an evening programme. Videos and photos of the early years will be shown, as well as testimonies and accounts by those who were around in those days. However, the big celebration with be on Saturday, July 24 with special guests and VIPs to officiate.
Also, the church’s technical team made up of an architect, surveyor, electrician and structural engineer will present plans for the proposed new church building and associated projects. They will be presented and launched that day!
A pastoral charge
As the church celebrates this milestone, my prayer is that every member will behold and see the One who began the work in the first place. Not Rev Parkin but the God he served!
A fresh wind of the Spirit of God is blowing, stirring the church to begin to rise up from just being a comfortable weekly meeting place for friends and wantoks and to see the mandate God placed upon her – to be a light unto the nations and a beacon of hope to all around her.
As the current minister, I am humbled to follow in the footsteps of the giants of faith in such men as Rev Paul Parkin, Rev Ian Fardon, Rev Sione Kami, and Rev Abe Mamata. They did their bit in their day. I pray for God’s grace and wisdom to continue the good work in my time as well.
I am confident I can because I trust in Him who said, “The God who calls you is faithful and He will do it” (1 Thess 5:24)!
Happy 60th birthday, BUC!