From Receiving to Sending
19 Sep 2019
The church in Papua New Guinea has been born out of the sacrificial love and service of missionaries that came from many other nations. But these days Papua New Guinea is sending their own missionaries out to other nations. How did this inspiring transformation take place?
The initial Christian contact was with the explorers during the 1500 and 1600’s period. The first significant wave of missionaries took place in 1870 to 1890. They were sent out by the London Missionary Society, the Methodists, Roman Catholics, Lutherans and the Anglicans. But in addition to the missionaries from the colonial empires, a large number of Pacific Island missionaries (especially Fijians, Samoans and Tongans) following the arrival of the Gospel in their own islands served sacrificially with expatriates even to death in sailing the Pacific, planting churches across the islands to Papua New Guinea. By the early 1890s the major denominations had established their influence. A second wave between 1890 and 1940 saw the entry of new missions into Papua New Guinea including the Unevangelised Fields Mission in 1931 (later Asia Pacific Mission, now Pioneers of Australia) whose work gave birth to the Evangelical Church of Papua New Guinea. These missions-initiated work particularly inland along the main rivers and into the remote Highlands regions.
Following World War II missionaries targeted the remaining isolated tribal peoples and the growing urban populations. Few government restrictions provided ideal conditions for the rapid growth of the missionary advance. With more than 80% of the population in rural areas, missions were also involved in health, education, business ventures and transport as well as Bible translation, church planting and leadership development. As churches matured, they took on the responsibility to evangelise the unreached tribes in their regions.
In the 1970s a deeper mission awareness developed through students at the Christian Leaders’ Training College and revival movements born through the visit of Solomon Island pastors from the South Seas Evangelical Church for sending missionaries to evangelise unreached peoples outside Papua New Guinea. Papua New Guineans have joined international missions as part of their global outreach teams – particularly with Operation Mobilisation, Youth with a Mission and SIM International. The continuing growing interest to send missionaries has taken hold in some denominational churches (such as the Evangelical Church of PNG, the Baptists and others) and has birthed at least one indigenous interdenominational sending agency (the PNG Missionary Association) all with missionaries currently serving overseas. In 1982 expatriate missionaries and personnel was around peak numbers at 3,328. Numbers had begun to decline following independence in 1975 with the developing roles of national pastors and church leaders. National missionaries sent out from PNG have been increasing from 15 in 1982 to substantial numbers in many nations including, Australia, China, India, Africa and Latin America.
Today over 90% of the nearly 9 million people of Papua New Guinea claim to be Christians, with national men and women holding the key leadership positions. Papua New Guinea indeed has moved from a receiving to missionary sending nation.
– David Price
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(Sources – Operation World 7th Edition, Jason Mandryk, WEC International, 2010; Evangelical Dictionary of the Christian World Mission, General Editor A. Scott Moreau, Baker Books, 2000; World Christian Encyclopedia, Editor David Barrett, Oxford University Press, 1982 and 2001 editions; Deep Sea Canoe, Alan Tippett, William Carey Library, 1977)