Avondale students and staff join PNG for Christ

Pastor Neil Thompson baptises candidate in a ceremony at Aiyura in the Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea.

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Nine Avondale seminarians are baptising, preaching and teaching as part of an evangelistic campaign running simultaneously at up to 2000 sites across Papua New Guinea.

They join about 200 other Seventh-day Adventist preachers from the South Pacific for PNG for Christ and are ministering at seven sites in and around the Omaura and Kimi districts of the Eastern Highlands Province. The sites, some separated by mountainous terrain and rough roads, range from campgrounds with grandstand platforms to chapels at schools.

Omaura has about 8000 church members but another 2000 will be baptised during the campaign, “so the local leaders are excited to have us here,” says Dr Wendy Jackson, head of Avondale Seminary.

Wendy and each member of her team—Pastor Mark Pearce, director of the Ellen G White Seventh-day Adventist Research Centre, lecturer Pastor Neil Thompson and students Falepau Aumalaga, Cynthia Barlow, Lindsey Birch, Joshua Contaoi, Benjie Hornales and Davison Munhenga—preach a devotional sermon in the morning and an evangelistic sermon in the evening.

The students are doing so as an externship for a unit in evangelism. “The days start early and finish late,” says Pastor Thompson. It is a challenge, says Dr Jackson. “We’re learning to be flexible and to expect the unexpected.” She is proud of the students for rising to the challenge. “They’re getting good responses to their appeals.”

The size of the crowd at Onaninka—“a sea of hands” during one appeal—initially intimidated Ms Barlow. ”Now, it energises me. I’ve lost some of my inhibitions. I preach more boldly.”

Mr Contaoi would have preached just eight sermons if he had stayed with Mr Hornales at Agarabi Primary School north of Kainantu. “I wanted the easy way—half the job.” Instead, as cover for a preacher who could not come, he went to the furthest site—Aiyamontenu—and preached double the number of sermons. He describes the experience as “divine hijacking.” “By God’s grace, I created memorable children’s activities, shortened sermons and presented appeals that led to baptisms. It has been a blessing for me and, I hope, for those here.”

Mr Munhenga credits the local church members for the large number of the baptisms at Norikori. “They have done a lot and I have learned a lot.” For example, on the first day of the campaign, Mr Munhenga asked church leaders what topics might interest their members. Then during his first sermon, he asked those in the crowd what questions they wanted answered before the next sermon. “This helped me understand my audience and gave me confidence in my preaching. I realised they understood salvation as by works rather than by grace, so I spoke about the love of God.”

The commitment of the crowds at Aiyura impressed Pastor Thompson. “We’re at 1600 metres above sea level and it still feels like the wet season. Mist rolls in like a thick cloud and sometimes it rains, but the people sit under umbrellas on the ground through it all.”

Dr Jackson felt the cold, too, joining Pastor Pearce and other local leaders at Onaninka for several mass baptisms. She is the first women to baptise in the district. She is also preaching and teaching at Omaura School of Ministry, where large numbers of people are seeking prayer. “More than half the members of my audience are responding. I pray with them long into the evening.”

PNG for Christ comes as the church faces what it describes as an “exciting crisis.” Discipleship programs, house churches created during COVID lockdowns and small group Bible studies have led to a significant increase in the number of those attending worship services—in more than 6000 new branch churches.

Avondale’s seminarians arrived in Papua New Guinea on April 22. They return on Sunday (May 12).

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