For years Bob Butler, CFO at the Church’s Union office in Papua New Guinea (PNG), had wanted to walk the historic Kokoda Track. And having just celebrated a significant birthday and being as fit as he is, Bob decided he could do it.
The infamously gruelling Kokoda Track snakes over more than 96 kilometres of steep jungle across the mountainous spine of PNG and was the site of a crucial World War II battle in which Australian soldiers repelled Japanese forces.
Following the track, I was impressed by those early missionaries who walked so far in treacherous places in PNG. I was also impressed by those World War II soldiers who fought to keep our freedom Down Under.
Bob feels a special connection with this story—his father was an army medic in PNG during the war and he returned later as a missionary. But more than a personal pilgrimage, Bob wanted to achieve a larger purpose. Together with other church leaders, a plan was conceived to use the walk to raise funds for pastors’ houses and to provide young people with both a physical and spiritual challenge.
The vision caught on and 260 Adventist young people, all out for adventure, walked the track with Bob, stopping to encourage other young people at villages along the way.
The scenery was spectacular: deep gullies, tall bush-covered mountains, misty ridges. Crude bridges spanned the rivers and the walkers clung to vines to get across. Conditions were better than during the war, but although the track was clearly marked some parts were rough. All of it was steep.
“Following the track, I was impressed by those early missionaries who walked so far in treacherous places in PNG,” Bob says. “I was also impressed by those World War II soldiers who fought to keep our freedom Down Under.”
Worships were conducted every morning before the trekkers set out. Sabbath was a rest day and a highlight when a group of people were baptised in a dammed-up rocky mountain stream.
The descendants of the “fuzzy wuzzy angels”, who assisted Australian troops in 1942, still live in the area. They know the history well and were very hospitable.
The challenge for the mostly Adventist villagers along the route is to maintain their hospitality to the many trekkers coming through, while still keeping the Sabbath. Some have suggested setting up a church-supported tour company that will be sensitive to these issues. It’s a fairly distant possibility at this stage; what is more certain is the enthusiasm of local church leaders and youth for future Kokoda treks, perhaps even together with other young people from outside PNG.