2021 News

Local Leaders and Languages in Tribal PNG

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

The first missionaries GMP sponsored to Papua New Guinea (PNG) arrived in 1958. From that small beginning, the Melanesian Evangelical Churches of Christ (MECOC) has grown to more than 100 local churches. PNG is home to hundreds of ethnic, communal, tribal or clan ‘wantok’ groups and there are at least 850 indigenous languages spoken. All the MECOC churches in PNG are located in remote/tribal settings where illiteracy is high. Teachers/missionaries sent by GMP taught literacy in Tok Pisin, one of PNG’s official languages and developed alphabets and dictionaries for local languages. Now, there are local MECOC leaders, pastors and evangelists working among the wantok groups, running Bible studies, discipleship training and crusades in local languages.

Soni Bakura, one of the MECOC Regional Coordinators, takes responsibility for supporting and encouraging the pastors and churches, training leaders, and preaching at meetings. Last year, Soni and his wife, Nansi, held meetings and workshops, Bible studies, and baptisms, in the Sogeram River Valley area of Madang Province. One visit involved teaching in a two-week Bible school held in Angguna – a remote village in the Sogeram Valley. The language of this area is ‘Apal’.

Martha Wade (Pioneer Bible Translators) is working on a long-term project to translate the New Testament into the local language and says of her partnership with Bible schools, “I can help the Apal students to read in their own language, while other teachers work with leaders from the Mum and Nend language groups.” This particular Bible school, in Angguna, dedicated the Bible books of Mark, Jude and Titus in the Aci dialect of the Apal language. These translations were published in one booklet and the books were dedicated in September last year at Wanang.

Another Bible school is led by church leaders, also in Wanang, which is located in the Middle Ramu. There are also low levels of literacy and people speak in ‘Maghu’, which has few written records. Martha said the course is “helping church leaders to counsel people and worship more fully”. Also, “from the participants in this course, we will see which literate young leaders will want to start a serious study of the Bible, beginning with Genesis”. Other two-week Bible schools are held throughout the year and more are planned. All input is by national church leaders.

Despite the challenges of living in remote areas, community leaders, church members and pastors often walk for several days when there is a regional renewal, crusade, or teaching program on offer. Yabru Jerry, Executive Director of MECOC, is passionate about revival in the tribal areas of PNG. Lately, Yabru was preaching as part of a crusade at Misingi, also located in the Middle Ramu – between Tsumba and Chungribu. He reports that 17 new converts were baptised.

With the growing impact of COVID-19 in PNG deep concerns are held for these communities. They have limited access to information and health programs. Informing people about the virus, the importance of mask wearing and social distancing is challenging.

Please continue to pray for PNG and the many remote communities at risk of COVID-19 and for the church leaders as they care for the churches and lead the outreach programs.

International Church Partnerships (ICP) builds up the capacity of local churches in a variety of areas such as evangelism and church planting, some literacy work, and women and children's ministries. The goal is for MECOC to be a self-governing and self-led indigenous church focusing on building leadership capabilities and discipling followers of Jesus Christ.

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