The new normal: Back to church in Papua New Guinea

(Credit: Wes Tolhurst)

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As Pastor Gaza Asitore stood up to deliver his message he was hit with a rush of mixed emotions. Looking out, he saw just a few church members, physically distanced, who had come to dedicate the safety and hygiene items to be used by the Rainbow Adventist Church and its six branch churches in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (PNG).

The last time the church was filled to capacity was on March 21, for a health talk by Dr Moses Lester of ASPEN Medical about awareness of COVID-19.

On March 23, the PNG government declared a State of Emergency (SOE) after WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic. A 14-day lockdown of the country after PNG’s first reported case meant all church gatherings were prohibited. Church members were having Sabbath worships at home for seven Sabbaths as Parliament extended the SOE a further two months. So all who were present in the church were feeling both happy and sad as the “new normal” would see a drastic change with the way Sabbath worship programs will be conducted in Rainbow Adventist Church and also all over the world.

Pastor Asitore shared from the scripture, 3 John 1:2, “Beloved I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.”

God’s desire for us is to enjoy the fellowship with our fellow church family. During the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown it has truly made the church family come to treasure the joy of fellowship and unity in adversity.

As soon as the restrictions were lifted (April 29) and worship gatherings were allowed, Rainbow Adventist Church held a special church board to effectively open the church building on the basis of being compliant to the National Emergency Order 28, regulation No. 9.

The church approved the purchase of church hygiene kits to ensure that the main church and six branches commenced with pastoral care for the congregation. The kits are comprised of an infrared thermometer, bars of soap, two litres of antiseptic detergent, isopropyl and a box of gloves. The deacons, deaconesses and elders were trained during the week on the use of the kits and standard operation procedures for Sabbaths. The training was conducted by the church’s Health Pillar co-leaders, Dr Tekie Purewa and his wife, Hayley.

Finally, after seven Sabbaths, Rainbow Adventist Church and its branch churches in Barakau, Dogura, Granville, Momokoura (Baruni), Moale Heights and Baruni Bay Side conducted their first Sabbath services on May 9.

Praying over the hygiene kits.

It was not an easy transition for everyone. Church member Gabriel Porolak shares that he watched people entering church that Sabbath and wondered if he should have fellowshipped at home. “Everything felt distant, including the presence of God . . .” However, he recalled the verse in Deuteronomy 31:6 and found reassurance: “My sadness turned into joy as I slowly smiled and I thanked God for the great honour to be able to attend church that glorious morning.”

While there are challenges for the present and in the future, as adhering to the new normal will take some time and as church membership grows, there are some benefits already experienced.

“The feeling of reverence is there inside and outside the church due to less noise and movement in, out and around the church,” shared Rainbow church member Veronica Bonasu.

For now, Rainbow church prays: “Beloved I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.” To all of God’s people in Papua New Guinea and around the world.

Willie Kunsei, emergency coordinator for ADRA Papua New Guinea.

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