Massive Growth, Challenges Confront Adventists on Papua New Guinea
One mission drops leaders to add 10 new pastoral positions
BY JARROD STACKELROTH, assistant editor, South Pacific Record, reporting from Goroka, Papua New Guinea
Massive growth in the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s membership in Papua New Guinea is causing church leaders to take drastic steps to accommodate growing needs. One mission will replace its officers with representatives from the union mission, freeing up funds to pay for 10 needed pastoral positions.
Delegates representing the nine missions and one conference of the Papua New Guinea Union Mission (PNGUM) gathered at Kabiufa Adventist Secondary School, Goroka, for the recent business session. The session was to be held in Lae, but was moved to Kabiufa after unrest in the area. Even with the late change, 228 delegates attended and the program was conducted without mishap, with administration, ministry, and mission reports all being delivered.
The theme of the meetings was “Proclaiming God’s Grace,” and the week was just as much about revival as it was about business. The morning and evening devotionals, taken by Pacific Adventist University (PAU) theology lecturer Scott Charlesworth, examined themes of God’s grace, law, and covenant, and encouraged members to take an active part in finishing God’s work.
PROCLAIMING GOD’S GRACE: Choir sings at the Papua New Guinea Seventh-day Adventist Church’s business session. [Photo: Jarrod Stackleroth/Record]
Incoming PNGUM president Joseph Talipuan and incoming general secretary Leigh Rice shared chairing duties for the reports with outgoing president Thomas Davai. Church membership will soon reach 250,000, making it the largest union mission in the South Pacific Division (SPD).
However, according to outgoing general secretary Neone Okesene’s report, the number of people who have left the church is alarming: “In the past 15 years we brought in 152,843 new members but lost 55,046, or 36.02 percent,” the report states. “This is equivalent to losing one whole Australian Union Conference in 15 years! Or one North New Zealand Conference every three years.”
During the past five years 29 new members were added through baptism and profession of faith per day. The number who left the church was 14 per day, and the death rate was two per day. The limited number of church workers contributes to these losses. Church members are not nurtured, and with low literacy rates and expensive resources they are often unable to read the Bible for themselves. The ratio of ministers to members has improved slightly during the past five years from 1:678 to 1:643, and ministers to churches from 1:10 to 1:9.1. During this period 75 new ministers were added to the workforce. At the same time church membership grew by 24,909, while 226 new churches/companies were added.
One of the biggest decisions brought forth was a recommendation from PNGUM and SPD that the South West Papua Mission (SWPM) be administered by the union. This decision is subject to the action of the SWPM session. SWPM will keep its identity and boundaries, but the positions of president, secretary, and treasurer will be removed. The PNGUM undersecretary will administer the region, and the associate treasurer will be in charge of finances. Because of the costs involved, there are only seven ministers for the whole area, which has 12,000 members. This frees up enough budget to increase from seven ministers to 17. The arrangement would be reviewed after three years, and would be brought up again at the next business session in five years’ time. Delegates of the PNGUM session voted the matter through to the SWPM to take final action.
Education director Joe Ponduk’s report prompted much discussion. Enrollment has grown from 8,323 students in 2005 to 18,644 in 2009. The Adventist school system in PNG has struggled with enrollments; however, the past few years have seen a significant increase due, in part, to the
Adventist system’s integration into the Unified National Education System. The PNG government, through the Teaching Services Commission, now pays Adventist teachers. Primary schools, which had closed, have been reopened, and school fees have become more affordable to Adventist parents. Schools are owned and operated by the church, and teachers have to comply with church policies and philosophies.