AUSTRALIA—Beneath the sun in the South Pacific Ocean lie the tropical rainforests, rivers, marshes, active volcanos and coral reefs of Papua New Guinea, the island nation that 45 members of the Philadelphia Church of God call home.
The nation occupies the eastern half of the island of New Guniea, 285,753 square miles of soil rich in coffee, copper, gold, petroleum, timber and other resources. Inhabiting this land are only 8 million people, a tiny population that nonetheless accounts for 25 percent of the total known languages in the world (more than 800 languages and 8,000 dialects). Australian ministers who visit the Papuan members say that although speaking English is difficult for some of the members, communication is generally good.
The capital, Port Moresby, is the largest city in the South Pacific outside of Australia and New Zealand. Its population of 364,000 includes 20 Church members who meet weekly. Some Papuan members have running water and electricity in the towns where they live, others do not. Some live off the produce they grow as subsistence farmers, dwelling in small houses they build themselves.
Sometimes, ministers are able to bring some basics with them, such as Bibles, clothes, phones and candles. One baptized member who lived in the highlands used the candles to study at night. She kept the Sabbath by stepping out of her house into the forest, taking her umbrella with her when it rained. During the week, she would walk for a day through the rainforest to her nearest post office to pick up her PCG books and booklets. However, these would often be missing, and she would trek home empty-handed. Missing mail is a frequent problem for all members in Papua New Guinea.
PCG members and other Papuans face a number of challenges due to linguistic differences, tribalism, a rugged interior with poor infrastructure, and government corruption and instability. Unemployment is nearly 85 percent, poverty is widespread, and crime rates are some of the highest in the world. Some PCG members have been just yards away from neighbors who were robbed, or have had their house burned down, or have suffered one of their non-PCG family members being shot. Despite this proximity to danger, God has continually provided protection to His people.
Few roads exist, and the ones that do are dangerous due to ambushes by gangs and bandits. This makes flying the main means for ministers to reach members, but planes are aging, pilots are undertrained, maintenance is irregular, and airlines struggle to make a profit. The resulting frequent delays and cancellations make scheduling visits a challenge. Ministers never travel alone and generally meet members in hotels and airports. They visit two or three times a year, in addition to the Feast of Tabernacles, which is held amid lush gardens, beautiful trees and exotic birds. Papuan members say it is their favorite time of year because they get to see one another again and spend eight days rejoicing and hearing more about the truth of the Bible.
Despite the difficulties they face daily, Papua New Guinea members are naturally positive and cheerful. They have learned through physical experience the lesson of Philippians 4:11: whatsoever state they are in “therewith to be content.” They say they long for the Kingdom of God and the peace it will bring to the whole Earth.