Union Faces Growing Challenges


Delegates representing the nine missions and one conference of the Papua New Guinea Union Mission (PNGUM) gathered at Kabiufa Adventist Secondary School, Goroka, for the 14th Business Session. The quinquennial session was to be held in Lae but was moved to Kabiufa, after unrest in the area. Even with the late change, 228 delegates attended and the program was conducted without mishap, with administration, ministry and mission all being delivered.

South Pacific Division (SPD) president, Dr Barry Oliver, chaired the nominating committee. Pastor Lawrence Tanabose, general secretary, SPD was also in attendance and presented the Sabbath sermon, urging Papua New Guineans to share and live in the Kingdom of God. Incoming PNGUM president, Pastor Joseph Talipuan, and incoming General Secretary, Pastor Leigh Rice shared chairing duties for the reports with outgoing president, Pastor Thomas Davai.

Church membership will soon reach 250,000, making it the largest union in the South Pacific.

The theme of the meetings was “Proclaiming God’s Grace” and the week was just as much about revival as it was about attending to business. The morning and evening devotionals, taken by Pacific Adventist University (PAU) Theology lecturer Dr Scott Charlesworth, examined theme’s of God’s grace, law, the covenant and encouraged members to take an active part in finishing God’s work. The theme was particularly relevant given the churches challenges in Papua New Guinea (PNG).

Church membership will soon reach 250,000, making it the largest union in the South Pacific. However, according to outgoing general secretary, Pastor Neone Okesene’s report, member apostasy and those missing is at an alarming rate. “In the last 15 years, 152,843 people joined he church, but 55,046 or 36.02 per cent left. This is equivalent to loosing one whole Australian Union Conference in 15 years. Or one North New Zealand Conference every three years.” Thankfully the past two years have shown a downward trend in loss figures and are below the 15-year average. During the last five years, there were 29 new members through baptism and profession of faith per day. Those who were lost through apostasy or missing were 14 per day.

Another significant challenge PNG faces is the limited number of church workers. This contributes to the apostasy rate. Church members are not being nurtured and with low literacy rates and expensive resources, they are often unable to read the Bible for themselves. The ratio of ministers to members has improved slightly during the past five years from 1:678 to 1:643, and ministers to churches from 1:10 to 1:9.1. During this period, 75 new ministers were added to the workforce. At the same time, church membership grew by 24,909, while 226 new churches/companies were added. South West Papua, the mission with the highest ratios, has one church worker for every 1,035 members, while in Sepik Mission there is one minister for every 14.44 churches.

Pastor Roger Millist, CEO of Adventist Aviation Services (AAS) delivered a report that was clearly a favourite. He asked delegates who contributed in the fundraising drive to buy the first new plane. Nearly every hand went up. During the past five years, flights began to areas that hadn’t been visited in 20 to 30 years.  AAS received the highest 13th Sabbath offering ever in 2007, and have expanded from one plane to three. The money raised from the work of the first plane enabled them to buy the second PAC750 plane valued at K5 million (see RECORD, July 17). Pastor Millist challenged church administrators to use the aircraft to visit their far-flung and often hard to reach membera. In the rugged terrain of PNG, some communities are only reachable by air.

One of the biggest decisions to be tabled was a recommendation from PNGUM and SPD, was for the South West Papua Mission (SWPM) be administered by the Union. SWPM faces a number of challenges. The remoteness of the area, with unpassable swamps and rivers, makes travel difficult. Due to the costs involved and the low finances in the area, there are only seven ministers for the whole area—consisting of 12,000 members. In the 1990s it was suggested the mission be broken up and given to bordering missions, in an effort to keep travel costs down. However, it is now being treated in a different way. SWPM will keep its identity and boundaries but the positions of president, secretary and treasurer have been made redundant. The undersecretary of the Union will administer the region and the associate treasurer would be in charge of finances. This frees up enough funding to increase the ministers from seven to 17. The arrangement would be reviewed after three years.

The education report delivered by education director, Joe Ponduk prompted much discussion from the floor. The Adventist school system in PNG has been struggling with enrolments, however the past few years have seen a significant increase. This is due, in part, to the integration into the Unified National Education System. The PNG government, through the Teaching Services Commission, now pays all Adventist teachers.  Many primary schools, which had closed, have been reopened and school fees have dropped, becoming more affordable to Adventist parents. The schools are still owned and operated by the church and teachers have to comply with the policies and philosophies of Adventist Education. Enrolment has grown from 8323 students in 2005 to 18,644 in 2009.


A motion was passed for the PNGUM executive to appoint a full-time professional to access government funds for the schools and to establish a vocational college for year 10 leavers at Kokoda. Sonoma College has also become officially affiliated with Pacific Adventist University. Students now have access to upgraded awards and courses and nationally recognised certificates.

The mission and conference reports, confirmed many highlights and challenges. They all experienced baptisms and growth but struggled with a lack of resources and workers. There are many active lay people however. An example is blind Helen Suza who has started eight churches. The North East Papua Mission bounced back from the edge of bankruptcy last quinquennium to be in a much stronger position and the Central Papua Mission became the first to reach Conference status. Other highlights included the centenary of the Adventist presence in PNG, celebrated in July 2008.

Long term plans include four Missions; Eastern Highlands Simbu, Morobe, New Britain New Ireland and Western Highlands, working towards Conference status in the next five to ten year period.

The session also saw change in Mission administrations with three presidents retiring and a reshuffle in positions. Only Sepik and North East Papua Mission retain an unchanged leadership team for the next five years.

Nominating Committee recommendations

Mission Administrations:

Bougainville Mission:
President—Kove Tau
General Secretary—Charles Kakapetai

Eastern Highlands Simbu Mission:
President—Benny Soga
General Secretary—Zuzai Hizoke

Madang Manus Mission:
President—Benjamin Hap
General Secretary—Chesly Avou

Morobe Mission:
President—Geoffrey Pomaleu
General Secretary—Henry Monape

New Britain New Ireland Mission:
President—Makau Doroa
General Secretary—Julius Divu

North East Papua Mission:
President—Peter Yorio
General Secretary—Raga Nama

Sepik Mission:
President—Joel Makao
General Secretary—Gibson Lohia

Western Highlands Mission:
President—Max Zaccias
General Secretary—Peter Bani

South West Papua Mission:
To be decided at the PNGUM executive committee

Departmental Roles:
– Adventist Aviation: Roger Millist with approval from SPD and Civil Aviation Authority
– Building supervisor: refer to South Pacific Division
– Children’s Ministries—Judith Nagamisovo
– Communication—Andrew Opis
– Education—Joe Ponduk
– Health—Gad Gioto
– IT—Brad Dawson
– Ministerial Secretary—Peter Oli
– Personal ministries/Sabbath School—Andrew Anis
– Stewardship—Andrew Lukale
– Women’s ministries—Judy Ponduk
– Youth/Pathfinders—Timothy Sandau