‘Longlong whiteman’ making his mark on church in PNG

People

By EREBIRI ZURENUOC
LOCALS used to watch him walk long distances through jungles and crossing fast-flowing rivers and refer to him as the “longlong whiteman”.
Mathias Troeger, 63, came to the country in 2010 with wife Beate from Freiberg village in Germany to become a national youth adviser for the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Mathias and Beate, who he had married in 1980, were captivated by the beautiful land while traveling to Mt Hagen, Jimi and Madang.
Mathias, from Rodewisch (Vogtl) in Germany was born on July 20, 1956. He had wanted to become a missionary while serving as a youth coordinator at Freiberg Village.
In 2009, a vacancy was advertised for a national youth adviser in PNG by the church in Bavaria, Germany. His application was successful. On October 10, 2010, he left Germany for PNG.
From October 2010 to July 2019 he served as the national youth adviser for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of PNG based in Lae, visiting the 17 church districts in the 22 provinces.
“The work I do has not much funding for good accommodation or food in fancy restaurants. Every time I travel to remote areas, I sleep in huts, eat food cooked in the open fire and conduct trainings in church buildings.
“Many locals see me walking long distances over mountains and crossing fast rivers. They used to say “dispela whiteman em i longlong man. But this is the life that I wanted, there are many challenges I faced, but these are all normal. If you sleep in a hotel, you wouldn’t know what real life in PNG is.”

“ I never knew her, but her words brought encouragement to my soul. This small gesture for me showed the faith that people of PNG have. I had many encounters like this that gave me the strength to continue my work.”

He knew little about music but his first project was to set up youth music courses in the 17 districts of the church. He was given a funding of K68,000.
“I only teach theory at all the satellite music schools around the country because that is what I am good at. I also do trainings on leadership and administration to youth leaders, so they know how to coordinate and administer youth work.”
He walked long distances and got to know problems locals were facing.
“These are the little things that rural people are used to, and because of their faith, they were given the strength to face all hardships.”
Many locals got to know him and recognise his vehicle.
He remembers driving through a bad section of the Highlands Highway in Chimbu. Some people fixing the road were charging motorists money to pass through.

Matthias Troeger was always on his feet, walking the length and breadth of the 17 church districts to implement youth programmes, especially in most rural areas. – Picture Courtesy of of Matthias Troeger

When they saw him, he remembered them saying something to the effect: “Sir we are good criminals, you can pass through without paying.”
In January 2014, he lost his wife.
“She went to do laundry and bathe at Wara Korolnilge. We were in Kerowagi that time for one of our youth programmes. She fell into the fast flowing river. No one could save her. We found her body 500 meters down the river from where she fell.”
Her body was taken to Germany for burial.
“I had mixed feelings of coming back to PNG. I sat in my seat, and the flight attendant who heard of why I am traveling back to Germany, looked at me and said: We are all praying for you at the back. I never knew her, but her words brought encouragement to my soul. This small gesture for me showed the faith that people of PNG have. I had many encounters like this that gave me the strength to continue my work.”
He is happy that the Amron Evangelist Training Centre in Madang is conducting youth leadership studies for evangelists, an initiative of the church youth division.
But all good things must come to an end and he is planning his return home.
The national ELCPNG youth conference in Lababia, Salamaua, Morobe next month will be the last he will attend. So as national synod in January next year.
One reason he has to return is to take care of his 88-year-old mother back home. He will continue to support youth programmes in PNG in whatever way possible. It will be hard to erase his experience in PNG. And of course it will be hard for the PNG church to forget the longlong whiteman from Germany.

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