United or divided?

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Having spent more than 25 years teaching, preaching and pastoring in the United Church in Papua New Guinea, Pastor Sabadi Sabadi never imagined that he would become an Adventist. 

“I was ordained to the ministry and became a reverend. I was a pastor in Hula District. I was also a pastor back here in my village Gabagaba,” he explains.

Graduating with a diploma in theology and bachelor’s in divinity studies in 2000, Pastor Sabadi was one of the more educated United Church pastors in his area, often teaching at institutions including the Laws Bible College in Alotau and at David’s Kidi School of Theology and Mission in Kwikila. 

But when Pastor Sabadi’s congregation at Gabagaba decided to break away from the United Church in 2008, he had no idea the trouble that would await him. 

“When I went on leave in 2008, the village people asked if I could look after the church just for the festive season. Not knowing what was in their mind, I said it wouldn’t hurt and that when my leave was over, I’ll go back to my posting. I got hooked up in this row between the United Church and the church in Gabagaba. I was suspended by the United Church for, well they said I was ‘looking after the church illegally’.”

Pastor Sabadi and the Gabagaba United Church were taken to court, and the case eventually escalated to the National Court of Papua New Guinea. “Eventually I was excommunicated from the United Church,” Pastor Sabadi explains.

After many personal attacks and misunderstandings caused relationships to deteriorate, the parties took a step back and acknowledged that mistakes were made. 

“The United Church took me back again after they looked at all my problems and could not find any expellable offence that I committed,” he said. “To compensate me, they allowed me to teach at the college again. I was teaching basically Old Testament subjects.”

A few years after being reinstated to his position at Gabagaba, church politics intensified again and Pastor Sabadi was moved on—but not without a gift from his congregation. 

“I got moved out. In fact, I moved out properly,” he says. “People wanted to show their kindness to me, so they gave me some money: K10,000. I got this money and did not know what to do with it. I had this desire to do a postgraduate study, but I never had the money to do it. When they gave me K10,000 I said, ‘this is it!’ So, I went around looking for institutions.” 

Finding nowhere he could study, Pastor Sabadi began to lose hope, until he spoke to a lawyer friend of his, Bill Nou Wari, who told him about Pacific Adventist University (PAU). 

“They took me to PAU and introduced me to Dr David Theile, who was the dean of Theological Studies. When we went to his office, he was in fact writing a letter to the United Church, inviting their members to come and do degrees at PAU. When I walked in, David was very happy. He said, ‘Oh, I just wrote a letter inviting United Church members and now you are here, a United Church pastor!’ I was really happy that he asked me to give him my transcript, which I did, and he said he could enrol me.” 

Pastor Sabadi paid the K10,000 and began studying, moving forward in faith that the rest of the money would come. “I did not know where the rest of the money would come [from], but money just came in and I completed my master’s degree in 2014.” 

Leaving PAU with an increased understanding of the Bible, Pastor Sabadi went to resume teaching at his old college, this time deciding to specialise in different subjects. “I changed the way I used to teach, having gained more knowledge,” he said. “Subjects like baptism by immersion and Sabbath are subjects I felt I needed to teach. ‘I’m a teacher,’ I said. ‘If I don’t teach these, I will be doing injustice to the people.’”

Following his principles, Pastor Sabadi began teaching on these subjects, and in doing so, says that he upset a lot of people. “I eventually got kicked out. They could not take it.” 

After being moved out of the United Church, Pastor Sabadi got married to Rahela Hera and, in the process of discovering new biblical truths and doctrines together, they decided to join the Adventist Church. 

“We both went into the water of baptism on October 12, 2019. Our baptism shocked the United Church and the community because I am one of the few scholars in the United Church in Papua New Guinea. When we made the move, one scientist who is also a United Church deacon, asked, ‘What did this pastor see that we are not seeing? What did he see that made him move?’”

When asked about his personal philosophy and vision, Pastor Sabadi responded, “You don’t find truth in a Chuch. You find truth in the Bible. My objective is basically trying to bring back those whom I have misled. Some of the things I overlooked, the Bible showed them to me in a new light. I want to teach something that is real. I want to teach purely the Bible. Nothing but solely Scripture.”

Upholding this new personal philosophy, Pastor Sabadi now serves as an elder of the Tagana Seventh-day Adventist Church—a small hand church of Manugoro Adventist Church in the Kwikila District. From May 2 to 8 this year, they ran a one-week “Revelation of Hope” series, where Elder Sabadi shared messages from the Bible. 

With a number of people from the United Church in attendance, Elder Sabadi invited attendees to submit their questions regarding any biblical subjects they desired clarification on. “The response was hectic. Questions began pouring in during the week from members of other Christian denominations,” wrote McValen Kaminiel from the Central Papua Conference’s (CPC) Media and Communications team. “He reserved Sabbath afternoon as a time to unfold all these questions and answer them one by one from the Bible.

“The segment got heated as the members from the other church got defeated by the answers—they started to use coarse languages against the four brave Adventist clerics,” he continued. “Elder Sabadi calmed the commotion when employing his experience as the former United Church reverend and sharing his reasons why he left his former church. It was a dramatic afternoon, but all ended well.”

Sixteen people were baptised on May 8 thanks to this outreach. Witnessing the baptism was Pastor Andrew Anis, director of CPC Personal Ministries and the Sabbath School department, Manoah Wanaga, director for Lands and Infrastructure, and associate communication director, Ottoa Sepuna. The pastors conducting the baptism were Kwikila District director, Pastor Palie Veroli, Manugoro Church pastor Samuel Asi and Pastor Mairi Gimana.

In addition to the baptisms, more than 20 people—mostly young—have committed to being baptised in the future.

“Let us uphold Elder Sabadi Sabadi and the small church at Tagana in our prayers as they continue to share the love of Jesus to their surrounding communities,” encouraged Mr Kaminiel.

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