World church leader preaches to “captive audience” in PNG

General Conference secretary Erton Köhler (third from left) stands for a group photo with other church leaders and police officers during his visit to the Boroko Cell Block jail in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, May 10. [Photo: Marcos Paseggi, Adventist Review]

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When Erton Köhler, secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, agreed to preach for the PNG for Christ series at Korobosea Seventh-day Adventist Church in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, he didn’t know he would have one of the most attentive audiences he’s ever had: a group of inmates at a nearby police jail.

Pastor Köhler also didn’t know that many of the inmates had been Adventist church members in the past. Through a series of events that local leaders called “providential,” not only those inmates but many others were able to follow and enjoy the evangelistic meetings.

The Power of Youth Service

It began with the Adventist Youth group from the church offering to clean the Boroko Cell Block prison as part of their Global Youth Day activities on March 16. The example of the young Adventist volunteers left a positive impression and later opened doors with the prison officers and superintendent.

At the youth visit to the prison in March, youth leaders saw that some inmates were interested in studying the Bible, so church members launched a branch Sabbath School at the prison. Then, they found out inmates had shown interest in watching the upcoming evangelistic series. Church members took their request to the congregation, and a woman in the church offered to purchase and donate three screens—two for the inmates and one for the officers—so everyone who desired to do so could watch the preaching messages delivered by Pastor Köhler.

“Every evening, inmates sit on the corridor floor of the jail to watch Pastor Köhler’s preaching,” a local leader reported. “And at the time of the altar call, many of them stand up to accept it.”

A Wider Reach

Korobosea church leaders said they are excited to see how God has led in providing the congregation with wider reach than they first imagined. The church, where PNG Prime Minister James Marape is a member, had been making major efforts to prepare for the series.

“As a church, we invested thousands of dollars to get ready for the series,” local leaders explained. The church also owns two minibuses that members used to bring people to the meetings.

Other doors began to open as they moved forward. Besides the authorisation to livestream the series into the Boroko jail, a national TV station contacted church leaders, asking if they could broadcast Pastor Köhler’s messages. “It was their initiative,” local church leaders reported. “They requested it before we even thought about it.” According to the local church, people followed the meetings not only from across PNG but also from Australia, Malta, Sweden and other countries.

During his daily messages, Pastor Köhler called on local church leaders repeatedly to reach out, connect and train those who are coming to Jesus. “Help them to get ready, together with you, for a life of faith and preparation for heaven,” he said.

An Impactful Visit

Then on Friday, May 10, when there were only two meetings left in the series at the Korobosea church, Pastor Köhler and other local and regional leaders received an invitation to visit the Boroko jail, which usually houses 70 to 100 inmates waiting for trial, and talk to the inmates.

Silva Sika Biyoma, Metropolitan Superintendent of the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary, along with Public Service Commissioner for Boroko Henry T Map and Boroko Cell Block Officer in Charge Richard Harai, welcomed the group of Adventist leaders to the facilities. They thanked Pastor Köhler for his visit, emphasising how meaningful they found it. “We know a spiritual life can transform a person,” Sika said. “And we know that once they go out, they will be different people.”

Pastor Köhler pointed to where the power to change their lives resides. “We are just instruments, but rest assured, God is working in them [the inmates],” Köhler said.

Police leaders assured Pastor Köhler of how meaningful the latest developments have been at Boroko prison. “Every faith [group] has the door open if they want to visit the inmates, but this had never happened before. It’s the first time we witness such an interest,” Sika told Köhler.

Dozens of people walk to the front to express their desire to study the Bible and get ready for a future baptism. [Photo: Marcos Paseggi, Adventist Review].

Never Alone

After touring the facilities, Pastor Köhler had the opportunity of addressing the inmates face to face. “No matter where you are or what you have done, God has the power to supply all your needs in Christ Jesus,” he told the inmates, who seemed to drink in his words. Then he showed them a Bible, telling them, “Keep this book close to you. Because if you have this book, you will never be alone.”

PNG Union Mission secretary Leonard Sumatau also addressed the inmates, calling on them to return to God, who will willingly accept them. Pastor Sumatau read to them from the Bible and made an appeal. “I invite you to return to God and start a new life in Christ, especially those of you who used to be Seventh-day Adventists,” he told them.

Pastor Köhler asked Pastor Sumatau how many former Adventists were in the group of inmates. “Most of them,” Pastor Sumatau answered. “Most of them used to be church members. Some of them were Pathfinders and part of an Adventist Youth group.”

Not an Easy Road

The group of Adventist youth acquainted with the prison then led a song of encouragement. “It’s not an easy road, but the Savior walks beside me,” they sang. “His presence gives us joy every day.”

Pastor Köhler closed with additional words of encouragement. “We can feel Jesus coming closer,” he told his attentive audience. “Jesus knows your stories, your challenges, your sorrows, your grief, and your hopes. And His message for you is a message of transformation.” Then he prayed, “Lord, we know their names are written in the palms of Your hands. Please, help them to find freedom in You.”

Originally published as “Jailed former Adventists in PNG express their wish to return to God” on the Adventist Review website.

Marcos Paseggi, Adventist Review

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