By ERIC PIET
EVER been to Western Province of Papua New Guinea?
They say it is so close to Australia and Indonesia, yet so far away from them.
In fact, in a physical setting, Western, which borders Australia to the south and Indonesia to the west is so close that the nearest Australian island of Saibai in Torres Strait is a mere four kilometers away from mainland Papua New Guinea. A boat ride from the PNG coastal village of Sigabadaru to Saibai Island takes only five minutes, much less in fine weather.
The land border is intangible since an Indonesian standing on his side of the border can only reach out to a Papua New Guinean with a handshake. Both are literally at a same place, but one is in PNG and another in Indonesia.
But seeing and comparing the proximity of tangible infrastructure developments on both sides of the border, a real difference starkly exists such that the province is not only far away from Waigani in Port Moresby, as they say, it is also miles away from our close international friends.
Home to giant Ok Tedi copper-gold mine and Rimbunan Hijau’s Kamusi logging operations, proceeds from which have been used to build empires in foreign shores and Port Moresby, Western province itself lags far behind.
“Natural resource extraction or developments have incomparably brought bad rather than good to the people of Western in environmental destruction compounded with a myriad of health issues and lack of physical developments,” Tom Kubira, a Fly River villager and a local leader stated in Daru.
“The province does not have reliable roads and other transport infrastructure, which is key to development, and so we feel being pushed backwards by Waigani through our leaders and the resource extracting companies in the province.”
Kubira added that the living standards in the villages along the Fly River and generally in the province have dwindled from the destruction of the then pristine river system which in its natural bounty sustained their livelihoods. It is now a tract of muddy water full of chemical contaminants and sediments. And of course public health issues remain a challenge in Western, a major one being TB, especially its multi-drug resistant type.
On Daru Island, the where the provincial town is, road conditions have so deteriorated that a fair sum of government money from both the national and provincial coffers is needed to repair them.
Welcome to Daru – the good, the bad, the ugly, but the best is yet to come! The best? Yes, the best because Western received the best for PNG and its proceeds will finally return to its gateway.
Wonder what this is? Well, “Heaven kissed the earth (PNG) in Western,” says the Bishop of the United Church of PNG Western Region, Rev Tiati Kelly.
Western is the gateway for the Gospel of Christ (Yeshua) to Papua New Guinea. The Word of God (Yahweh), the truth, is 148 years old in this country. The gospel landed on the shores of a southeast coast village of Old Mawata (Katau) near Daru Island in South Fly District on July 17, 1871 via Torres Strait.
It was brought by the early missionaries of the London Missionary Society (LMS. Three years later a permanent headquarters was established at a site which is now part of the city of Port Moresby in 1874. Encouraged by this, few years later missionaries from some other denominations like the Catholic and Anglican churches landed in PNG, with the rest following.
A senior civil servant visits
Two weeks ago, residents of Daru and Old Mawata village and the members of the United Church in the province celebrated the 148th anniversary of the ‘First landing of Gospel Light in PNG’.
Government presence was felt for the first time when Department for Community Development and Religion Secretary Anna Solomon and her delegation became part of the Old Mawata village celebrations on July 17.
The visit was also Secretary Solomon’s first to the province. She was accompanied by senior officials from the department including acting first assistant secretary corporate services Alice Tau, assistant secretary Gender Equity and Social Inclusion George Kulusi, assistant secretary Informal Economy Israel Luluaki and assistant secretary Office of Religion Alister Kogo.
Also, in the secretary’s delegation were her spiritual advisors, a pastor couple, Reve Charlie George and wife Rev Mollie George from the Messianic Apostolic Prophetic Movement. The couple was also a special part of the team and were there to do something prophetic to pronounce prosperity and the beginning of change in the province according to leading by the Spirit of God.
On Daru Island
Secretary Solomon’s team arrived on the PNG Air flight to a rousing welcome by the women of the South Fly Council of Churches and the South Fly District Administration led by the District Administrator Sam Bogey.
Solomon was shown around the little town that afternoon, but importantly she made courtesy visits to the South Fly District administration office and the department’s service provider partner organisations such as the Family and Sexual Violence Unit office at the Daru Police Station, the Family Support Centre at the precincts of Daru General Hospital, Callan Services and the South Fly Women’s Resource Centre, where she handed out computer bundles that included a laptop, a three-in-one printer set, and flash drives containing the policies of the department plus A4 paper sets to them. A commitment of K20,000 was made to Callan Services and K10,000 to the South Fly Women’s Resource Centre.
At the South Fly Women’s Resource Centre, Solomon told the women to utilise the K10,000 for its intended purposes in reaching out to the vulnerable women and children in the district.
“Is not a huge commitment but when it is used wisely to address the affairs of the women and children in the district, it would make a lot of difference,” she said.
Solomon also visited Daru prison to present a gift of a sewing machine and toiletries to female inmates to contribute to their rehabilitation programme in sewing and textile making.
“As a woman and a mother, I know how it feels to be in prison as I once had my dad being jailed. So I often visit women prisoners in the country whenever the opportunity arises to at least say hello to them and make them feel loved and cared for,” Solomon said.
At Old Mawatta (Katau) Village
On Tuesday, July 16, we left for Old Mawata village at midday on three boats with security provided by personnel from the PNG Defence Force and Correctional Services. But before and after us, many more dinghies with people had gone for the next day’s event.
A 30-minutes boat ride saw us landing at the very beachfront where 148 years ago a little vessel called Surprise carrying pioneer missionaries Dr Rev Samuel McFarlane and Rev AW Murray, who literally surprised the Kadawarubi tribe with the landing of the gospel in the foreign soil.
We were greeted as the missionaries had been on that historical shore those many years ago by club and spear-wielding tribal warriors who curiously smelled and touched our skins wanting to ensure that the beings before them were not ghosts of their long-gone ancestors but real humans.
Summoned by the tribal war leader, they laid down their weapons and led us to the rest of the gathered multitude that lined the path to the celebration grounds with women holding flower garlands and harmoniously singing a welcome song in their Kiwai dialect.
Coming of the light
Western Region Bishop of the United Church of PNG Rev Tiati Kelly when recounting the event stated that God’s timing to bring deliverance to PNG was prophetic. He said when God allowed the gospel to land on PNG shores it was like rescuing Noah and his household from the evil world. The landing of the gospel is similar to the ark landing on Mt Ararat.
Genesis 8:1-4 reads: “God remembered Noah and made the wind to pass over the earth, and the waters subsided. The fountains of the deep and windows of Heaven were also stopped, and the rain from heaven was also restrained…Then the ark rested on the seventeenth day of the seventh month on the mountains of Ararat”.
And in similar manner and time the little vessel called Surprise passed the Hood Point sailing westward following the divine compass in the setting of the sun and arrived on Darnley Island on July 1, 1871 and re-circled the same group of people to Murray Island, Warrior Island and Saibai Island in the Torres Strait. And on the 17th day of the seventh month of 1871 Surprise rested on the shores of the Kadawarubi Tribe (Katau), now called Old Mawatta in Western.
Dawn on Wednesday saw the people congregating at the beach for a prayer and service led by Bishop Kelly. Secretary Solomon was given the honour to unveil the monument erected inside the church. She was also handed a paper to the Government with three vital requests from that unrecognised land for the following:
- That a steel and concreted church building be built at Old Mawatta village to mark the coming of the Gospel to PNG;
- That light house be erected at a beachfront; and
- That July 17, be gazetted and declared as a public holiday instead of Repentance Day on Aug 26.
Then it time to get back to Daru for our flight to Port Moresby. But as the best is always kept for the last a significant part of the event was to pronounce a prophetic message to the people of Western with the impending change that would come about in the last days before a chapter on Earth come to a close.
Rev Charlie George and wife Rev Mollie poured salt and oil and blew a ram’s horn to signify the change of season and deliverance according to God’s will.
“This is now the time and season that Yahweh has come to bring change, healing, restoration and deliverance in this land because you are His people,” Rev Charlie said.
- Eric Piet is an environmental officer and assistant media personnel at the Department for Community Development and Religion.