Facts, lessons and perspectives from PNG for Christ

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At the time of writing there have been 300,000 people baptised because of the PNG for Christ evangelistic program, held April to May at more than 2300 sites. Yes, you heard it right! These are Day of Pentecost numbers. Such numbers in a country with a population of 10-12 million have never been seen in the history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church anywhere in the world. 

As a participant in PNG for Christ, it was amazing to see people streaming forward, many times in the rain, to respond to the call to follow Jesus and to accept biblical truth. The Holy Spirit was really uplifting the love of Jesus and a life of truth in Him. I know the church there expected to grow but not to this extent. The numbers make me speechless; an inner spiritual emotional gratitude wells up within me. I honour an amazing God and marvel at what He has done. I also admire the incredible faithful dedication of the local church leaders and members all over Papua New Guinea. 

There were thousands who attended the meetings nightly. Site attendance varied from 300 to 13,000. Each site had baptisms—some had a handful, others had more—only a few sites had baptisms in the thousands. We baptised in pools, tanks, rivers (some crocodile-infested), extremely cold fast-flowing streams and the ocean. The baptisms were well organised—local churches had given approval for those being baptised. Most people baptised had been prepared by the church over months before the actual baptism. 

PNG for Christ was truly a harvest event in the disciple-making process. Some of those baptised had grown up in Adventist homes and now as young adults were making a choice to change their life’s direction (I had parents in tears seeing their children finally decide to respond to the God they cherished). Some were students at Adventist schools; others were former Adventists. Few from other backgrounds and who responded at the program were baptised. As the new people responded they were told they would be part of Bible study groups and they would be baptised at a later date. There were as many of these  people as those who were baptised. Potentially there is another 300,000-plus baptisms in the next year as the church works to disciple these people for Jesus. Please pray for the original 450,000 members who now have over 600,000 people to care for. This is a mammoth task. 

The Church in PNG had prepared well for the PNG for Christ program with the support of the South Pacific Division (SPD). The idea of having multiple sites of public preaching of the last-day gospel was proposed in response to the General Conference’s Total Member Involvement (TMI) focus in 2016. At that time PNG wanted to be involved and began preparing for April/May 2020. 

The Church was very conscious that it did not want to have the programs with just one evangelist in a huge stadium. Historically these events had baptisms in the thousands, but the local church people did not know the newly baptised and many of them drifted and became what PNG people call “backsliders”. They wanted to have multiple sites and have people prepared for baptism before the harvest programs—people who they knew. 

With the support of the SPD Discipleship Ministry Team, the local union and conference/mission departmental people, the leaders began teaching the harvest model of disciple-making—where to receive a multiplying harvest of disciple-making disciples, you must follow a gardening sequence: prepare the soil or heart of the people, sow the seed of the Word of God in their heart, cultivate and nurture what God is doing by watering (prayer and Bible reading) and pulling weeds (dealing with temptation). The public programs would be the harvest and then the new disciples would be trained and challenged in mission. 

The departmental teams taught church planting by using the Discovery Bible Reading (DBR) method. This is a method anyone can do: pray, read the Bible, discuss what is heard and answer basic questions that a facilitator asks that enables a person to grow. This method relies on the power of the Word and the Holy Spirit and the work of the Spirit in people’s lives. Adventist World Radio (AWR) also did training in personal evangelism.

The COVID pandemic put an end to the PNG for Christ harvest TMI event in 2020—but that is when the explosion of growth started. Churches and other public gatherings were closed to stop infection, but the local people began to put into practice the Discovery Bible Reading groups. People in PNG were allowed to meet in small groups in their homes. Six thousand new groups were formed in 2020. The SPD was the only Division in the world to grow that year because of the growth in these groups. I saw many of these groups in many parts of PNG in visits from 2021 onwards. 

Eventually the Papua New Guinea Union Mission (PNGUM) estimated from Mission reports that there were over 10,000 new churches started through the DBR method. Growth was incremental until now. But we see the results of that personal disciple-making work in the numbers from PNG for Christ in 2024.

The SPD and the GC funded roofing iron for the new churches at PNGUM’s request. The SPD funded Tok Pidgin and World Changer Bibles, picture rolls with ASI (Adventist-laymen’s Services and Industries), and godpods with AWR. Within the PNGUM there was training for nurture and retention as well as disciple-making throughout 2022 and 2023 with the SPD Ministry and Strategy team. In fact, the entire group of 2000-plus pastors and volunteer pastors at a Pastors’ Summit at Kabiufa in July 2023 focused on the garden model and Discovery Bible Reading and other simple disciple-making methods. The SPD Institute of Public Evangelism taught on preparation, presentation and follow-up to public programs too. 

At the PNGUM’s request, the SPD ordered more Bibles and resources for doctrinal and discipleship Bible study, godpods and picture rolls. We thought we ordered enough. Oh, we of little faith! God blew us away!

I am still rejoicing and marvelling at what God has done. The fact that some of us from the SPD and the world Church were invited to participate and see the deep, methodical and passionate spiritual commitment of the Church in PNG was awe-inspiring. God did more than they and we could ever have imagined. And we all have a personal story to tell—find someone who participated and listen to them. 

The apostle Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:20,21 (ESV) has been answered before my very eyes: “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work in us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever. Amen.”

 Pastor Glenn Townend is the South Pacific Division president.

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