Adventist missionary killed in accident in PNG


An accident has claimed the life of John Lello, a Seventh-day Adventist missionary who was serving in Papua New Guinea (PNG) through Adventist Frontier Missions (AFM). 

Lello died while felling trees near a remote project site in the South Pacific island nation’s East Sepik Province on November 26, a press release from the Adventist supporting ministry said. He was 46.

. . . the family were excited to be going to PNG with the opportunity to reach the Ama.

Adventist Frontier Missions worker John Lello, right, died this week during an accident while serving in a remote territory of Papua New Guinea. Here, he poses with his wife, Pam, and two daughters in 2011, before the family moved to PNG. [Photo courtesy: AFM]

“We are greatly saddened to announce the tragic death of John Lello,” the release said. “Please join us in surrounding his family in prayer.”

Lello’s wife, Pam, and the couple’s two daughters, Alissa and Abby, have since been flown to Port Moresby, where they were joined by Stephen and Laurie Erickson, another family working in PNG through AFM. AFM Associate Training director Dale Goodson, who spent 12 years in PNG with the Dowa tribe, and his wife are currently en route to lend additional support, said James Arkusinski, Communication director for the ministry.

“The tragic death of John Lello is a great loss to the church family in PNG and especially the pioneering work into this un-entered area which is the focus of AFM,” said Pastor Leigh Rice, president of Papua New Guinea Union Mission (PNGUM). “There are a number of AFM families in PNG and this accident will be a challenge to them as they reflect on the sacrifice they make to the service of God and his kingdom.”

Pacific Adventist University organised a special prayer time for the family yesterday (November 27) at midday. Pastor Rice said the church in PNG will do what it can to support the family at this time and to continue the work that has begun among the Ama people of the May River area of this province.

The Lello family had worked with Adventist Frontier Missions since 2009. They finished fundraising and launched to PNG in March. There, they ministered to the animist Ama people in the country’s northwest. The Ama live along a small tributary of the Upper Sepik River accessible only by plane or dugout canoe, Arkusinski said.

According to Lello’s project updates on AFM’s website, the family were excited to be going to PNG with the opportunity to reach the Ama. In an article for Adventist Frontiers, the magazine published by AFM, Lello added that “one thing is certain – He is calling you to give your all.”

“It is really sad,” said Andrew Opis, communication director of PNGUM. “We always love missionaries leaving behind families, friends, their country and their comfort zone to help save Papua New Guineans. To this humble man—others who died in our land and others still working—we love you all for helping our people to have an opportunity for salvation.”

Lello was born in Cape Town, South Africa. He earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from church-run Walla Walla University in Walla Walla, Washington, United States, in 1991. Later, he graduated from the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland, United States, with a master’s degree in Science Education.

Before accepting a post with AFM, Lello taught math and physics at church-run Glendale Adventist Academy and Spring Valley Academy.

Adventist Frontier Missions is a Seventh-day Adventist lay ministry dedicated to establishing church-planting movements among people groups with no Adventist presence. AFM currently has 30 long-term missionary families or single missionaries serving worldwide.

Lello is the first AFM missionary to die in the field over the ministry’s 27-year history.

For those who wish to leave their condolences, please direct all written correspondece (cards and letters) to ARM’s head office at PO Box 286, Berrien Springs, MI 49103, United States. All messages will be collected and forwarded to the Lello family at a later date.

To leave a message online, visit or AFM’s Facebook page.