Reconciling with Tamate


REVEREND Siulangi SolomonaKavora is a very determined man. He is totally focused on a missionwhich he believes God specifically called him to. That mission is related to a Scottish missionary who was murdered over a hundred years ago in the Reverend’s own province of Gulf. In a nutshell, the mission involves bringing healing and reconciliation to all the parties to the conflict which, he believes, is the key to seeing restoration and blessing upon the land.
Rev Kavora and his wife, Marama Jacinta, are former school teachers. Sensing the call of God upon their lives, they left teaching and began theological training at Rarongo, East New Britain, before becoming chaplains at Goroka Teachers and Technical Colleges. They then moved out in pastoral work in Madang and Goroka. There, Rev Siulangi, who was aptly named by a Samoan missionary who served in Kavora’sIokea Village, began to operate in his gifts as a missionary and church planter. This became evident when he opened up many satellite congregations in remote areas.
Concluding his term in the provinces, Rev Kavora then served as General Secretary of the United Church Assembly, and became the Missions Enabler for the Pacific region under Council for World Mission (CWM), which was formerly London Missionary Society (LMS). The Kavoras have just finished a 5 year stint as pastors of the Bert Brown Memorial Church at Hohola. The burden to pursue his vision for the project has caused the family to leave the comfort and security of pastoral work and step out in faith.
The missionary in question is the person known to many today as “Tamate”. Tamate, or Rev James Chalmers, was born inArdrishaig, Argyllshire, Scotland, in 1841. He was converted in 1859 and was influenced for mission work after a letter from a missionary to Fiji was read out in his Sunday school class. This passion for missions saw him enrol at the London Missionary Society College at Highgate in 1864. He married Jane Hercus the following year and two days later, was ordained in Finchley Chapel.
Tamate sailed from England on Jan 4, 1866, aboard the John William to Australia. He arrived a year later at Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. There, he became disappointed to learn that most of the local people had already become Christian. However, he busied himself with reaching out to alcoholics, broken families and ministering to whoever needed help. He also began to teach native teachers and pastors. Chalmers learnt the language and grew popular with the people who pronounced his surname as “Tamate”. That name stuck with him, even in PNG.
In seeking a more challenging place to work, Tamate was called by LMS to work in New Guinea. Beginning at Suauon the border of Central and Milne Bay provinces, right down to the Western Province, Tamate worked tirelessly to bring the gospel to the people. He was instrumental in settling disputes and was so successful in his dealings with the local people that his assistance was often sought by administrative officials. Interestingly, it is said that the cessation of forced slave labour of natives, e.g., ‘blackbirding’ to Australian plantations, is attributed to the efforts of missionaries like Rev Chalmers.
Apart from his missionary work, Tamate was an explorer and he took risks to venture into areas no one wanted to go to. That was how he began the work around Goaribari Island. However, on that fateful day, on April 8th, 1901, Chalmers, Rev Oliver Tomkins, a chief and nine missionaries from Kiwai Island, including a mixed race young man from Torres Strait islands, suddenly met their fate. They were killed at Dopima village, Goaribari Island. Each man was clubbed, beheaded, and cannibalised. Her Majesty’s navy based in Australia was called upon to punish the murderers. It is believe that hundreds were killed in retaliation. These events have caused unforgiveness and bitterness among the local people.
While there are many versions to the story, the fact remains that innocent people died and a consequence to that is an apparent ‘deadness’ of the land and atmosphere on the island. There is incessant flooding reported on the island and, when Rev Sulangi personally visited in 2014, he spent a sleepless night on the beach where he could ‘hear’ the sound of weeping, even though he couldn’t see anyone. In fact, that trip almost caused him his life, together with his team members, when their dinghy capsized at the mouth of the Tairuma River. It seems some unseen force didn’t want the work of deliverance on the land to come to pass!
The curse on the land is widely believed to be effected when innocent blood is spilt. The saying, “the blood of the martyrs is seed of the Gospel” is true in this case where a thriving United Church exists in villages where Chalmers and many like him lost their lives for the sake of the gospel. Indeed, the blood of the martyrs speak.
Biblically, we see this in the story of Cain killing his brother, Abel. God asks Cain, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.” (Gen 4:10). Blood speaks. However, Hebrews tells us that the Blood of Jesus “speaks a better word” than the blood of Abel (Heb 12:24). That means, while vengeance is being called for, there is always forgiveness and grace in Christ. Moreover, 2 Chron 7:14 advices that when we as Christians humble ourselves and come before God in true repentance, even for the sins of our forefathers, God will hear from heaven, forgive our sins, and He will definitely heal our land.
Rev Siulangi is the Chairman of the Dopima Peace and Reconciliation Mission which is the body dedicated to overseeing this project. In this year of Jubilee of the United Church, DPRM will begin an awareness program, retracing the footsteps of Tamate through all the villages he brought the Gospel to. From Suau to Daru, the group will document by video the entire trip, reporting on the indigenous church that has grown from the blood of the martyrs. This documentary will then be taken to the United Kingdom and shown to the descendants of the missionaries in preparation of their participation in 2020 of the eventual reconciliation and treaty signing ceremony. The project has the backing of the United Church and senior political leaders of the province.
Finally, the good reverend believes that this is the key to unlocking the vast amount of potential hidden beneath this province,which at this stage seems to be stagnant in all areas of development. His desire is that all Gulf children throughout PNG will join hands in prayer and financial support to see this reconciliation take place. He believes that doing it right and doing it God’s way will ensure Gulf province rises up delivered and blessed to take her rightful place as a leading province in PNG!
Rev. Pitoi is a United Church Pastor

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