PNG Adventists mourn ferry deaths


Lae, Papua New Guinea

At least seven Adventists are believed to have died in Papua New Guinea’s ferry disaster on February 2 this year. The sinking of the MV Rabaul Queen appears to have claimed around 100 lives, although numbers are still hazy. Vessels that participated in the rescue effort were able to save 246 passengers and crew.

In addition to the church employees who have been lost, a number of church members have not been found. The exact number is hard to ascertain...

The body of Morobe Mission accountant, Belinda Kembu, is one of only five that have been found so far. A funeral service was held for her today at the Morobe Mission office in Lae. Pastor John Kembu Snr told those in attendance that his daughter was a gift from God to his family, the church, friends and to the her friends. He said, “God gives and He takes away, blessed be the Lord.” Pastor Kembu thanked South Pacific Division president Dr Barry Oliver for sending messages of condolences to him and his family. He also thanked leaders of the Church in PNG.

Pastor Leigh Rice comforts Pastor John Kembu Snr at the funeral of his daughter, Belinda Kembu. [Photo courtesy: Andrew Opis]

Pastor Geofferry Pomaleu, president of the Morobe Mission spoke at the funeral service. His text was 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-17, which he used to encourage the family, relatives and friends in reminding them that death is a sleep. “The next thing those who are in Christ will see is Jesus Christ,” he said. “What they will hear is the jubilation of praise. The feeling and experience will be heaven. So we must be encouraged by the word of God that it is just a night’s sleep away that they will see Jesus.” Belinda Kembu’s body will be flown back to Kimbe in West New Britain Province by the family for burial. At the time of the disaster, Ms Kembu was travelling with brother, John Kembu Jr, who was rescued.

Three pastors from Bougainville Mission were aboard the ferry, along with family members, headed for the Omaura School of Ministry. Sovinta Samuel, along with his wife and baby, is still missing. Peter Murray, his wife and one child were rescued. Their other child has not been found. And the third pastor, John Mekevi, was saved.

Two Adventist women, teachers on their way to University of Goroka, were also on the MV Rabaul Queen. Jonita Tamara and her son are missing; her two daughters were saved. The other teacher, Magdaline Thomas, was also saved.

Prime Minister Peter O’Neill expressed his sympathy for the victims’ families. [Photo courtesy: Andrew Opis]

It’s believed 28 Adventists in total were passengers on the ferry, many of them heading to schools or other educational facilities for the start of the academic year. Pastor Leigh Rice, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Papua New Guinea, said it has been difficult getting details about these people but he was still trying to get information.

“This is a tragedy for the church in PNG,” said Pastor Rice. “In addition to the church employees who have been lost, a number of church members have not been found. The exact number is hard to ascertain, as the list of passengers has not yet been released. It is challenging to rejoice with those who have been rescued, sometimes in miraculous circumstances, and at the same time weep with those who have lost family members in the tragedy—sometimes this is in the same family. The prayers and sympathy of the national Church office are extended to all who have suffered loss in this tragedy.”

Adventist ladies assist rescued passengers. [Photo courtesy: The National]

When the rescued passengers began to arrive in Lae in the hours after the disaster, the Adventist community rallied to provide assistance with food, clothing, towels, blankets and necessities at the rescue centre. They also ministered to the families who had suffered loss.

According to The National newspaper, claims have been made that the MV Rabaul Queen was unseaworthy and overloaded beyond its 350 passenger limit when it sank in heavy seas.