The rain was relentless, and we had already overstayed our welcome. We had arrived after closing time and as the precious moments slipped away, the likelihood of us finding him grew less. We had information that he was here. To come all the way to Papau New Guinea and fail was not an option. Yet that sick anxious feeling settled over my stomach.
This was the second time Mum had tried to find her Uncle Vic. The first time was on a furlough stopover in Lae when she was young. They thought he might be in the cemetery there as he had been killed in Bougainville in 1944. This time we had confirmed it. Bomana War Cemetery, outside Port Moresby, was the place.
The beautiful green lawns were subdued by a blanket of grey. The rows of headstones stood, perfectly ordered at attention. Mum left the main group and started running up and down the rows, trying desperately to find him.
“I was actually really panicking,” Mum said. “It was the one thing I really wanted to do. I thought I’d never be able to do it again. Why hadn’t I prepared properly.”
This was taking too long. I moved as quickly as I could, down to the small shelter at the bottom of the cemetery. There was a box with a book and registry in it with all the names of those remembered here. There! His name: Victor McDonald Ferguson. Quickly, we memorised the number. With growing anticipation, we hurried past the silent rows of stone—until we found it.
It was a surprisingly emotional moment, seeing the stone memorial for this man I had never met, who had been taken in his prime, just 21 years young. We were there for the many family members who would never get the opportunity to visit. We were collectively remembering—celebrating the memory of this young man who was taken prematurely from this world by the horrors of war in a jungle far from home.
Lest we forget.
The idea of remembering is powerful throughout Scripture. It was a central theme of Moses as he gave his final address to the new nation God had led out of slavery.
“Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them” (Deuteronomy 4:9).
He goes on to remind them to follow God, obey His commands and remember how He had led them, otherwise they’d become comfortable and forget.
The Church in this part of the world is built on the sacrifice and service of missionaries, from all of our nations, who went out and put their lives on the line to bring the gospel to every home.
Ellen White emphasises the importance of remembering: “In reviewing our past history, having travelled over every step of advance to our present standing, I can say, praise God! As I see what God has wrought, I am filled with astonishment, and with confidence in Christ as leader. We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history.”
We’re in PNG to walk the Kokoda track and as I think about Uncle Vic and his ultimate sacrifice, my mind is drawn to the hike we’re about to take and the missionaries who trod the path before us.
We walk in the footsteps of our early Adventist missionaries, who expanded their influence and taught God’s kingdom along that jungle highway. We are following their legacy, with far less hardships. It is worth pausing and acknowledging those who have gone before as they have shaped and impacted our Church in this region, making it what it is today. They left a legacy of sacrifice and service.
What will my legacy be? What about yours? What will people say when they visit our grave or the site of our work? What will they be inspired to do when they hear what God has done for us?
For a list of names of those who “have gone before us” in the South Pacific mission field, visit corporate.adventistchurch.com/in-memoriam.