Papua New Guinea is REALLY far away, and that’s coming from a couple that has traveled to Antarctica! We had to take six flights just to get there, crossing the international date line and arriving three days after we left. But as far away as it is, God is in this place, and we had the amazing opportunity to witness His presence and power moving in the lives of the people in PNG.
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
Immediately upon landing in the country, we became a minority, which is an unusual feeling for two white people from the U.S. It truly felt like we were the only white people in the entire airport as we walked from the international terminal to the domestic terminal to board our second flight, a tiny twin prop airplane with only about 12 rows of seats that would take us from Papua New Guinea’s capital to the town of Goroka in the eastern highlands. Looking out of the airplane window, the landscape was breathtaking — no roads, no buildings, no development whatsoever. Occasionally, there’d be a cluster of straw circular huts, but for the majority of the flight it was just lush green landscape and rugged mountainous terrain.
After seeing the beautiful landscape, we were surprised when we landed in the town of Goroka, that it was dirty and sketchy. The missionaries we were serving with personally accompanied us at all times, even for the 8-foot walk from the car to the hotel front door, but once we got out of the town center, you could see the beauty of the country and its people, especially on the property of Goroka Baptist Bible College (GBBC). One stark difference between the town center and the GBBC campus was that on the campus, teachers and students smiled at us without red-stained teeth from chewing betel nut that we had seen in town. Betel nut, known locally as “buai,” is a stimulant drug that was once reserved for sacred events in Papua New Guinean culture, but now nearly half the population chews it all the time, and as a result, Papua New Guinea has the highest rate of oral cancers in the world. When people open their blood-red mouths or spit the the red juice on the ground, it looks terrifying, much like their unfortunate history of brutal tribal violence, which still continues today with massive man-killing bows and arrows. GBBC stands out like a light in the middle of this darkness.
GBBC was founded in 1974 with the mission of training tomorrow’s Christian leaders today, empowering the national church to transform communities with the love of Christ long after foreign missionaries are gone. Not that they want those foreign missionaries to leave, especially when they are as selfless and inspiring as Bill and Lori Smith, who have been missionaries in Papua New Guinea for more than 30 years. In fact, Bill’s parents were missionaries in PNG so he’s spent more than 50 years of his life there. Bill and Lori are missionaries with ABWE— Bill runs the Bible college and Lori is a nurse who started and leads the clinic operations. On clinic days three times a week, she sees sometimes more than 150 patients. In their “free time” they foster babies who can’t be with their birth families for various reasons. When we were visiting, they had four babies under one year old. One baby’s mother was very sick with HIV AIDS, another was a twin and the mother only had enough breast milk for one baby, and so on. The Smiths have fostered more than 60 babies in their home, usually caring for them from birth to their first year, thus giving babies who wouldn’t have a chance to survive in a village setting hope of life. Their primary focus, just like foster care in the States, is reunification with the birth families, but sometimes that doesn’t work out. Years ago, Bill and Lori adopted two Papua New Guinean boys as their own making them now a family of eight.
But it wasn’t just Bill and Lori’s stories that touched our hearts. All the missionaries who serve in PNG are sacrificing a lot to be so far away, isolated on an island that takes three day’s journey to get back to the States and a lot of expense to return for any reason. But God. God calls ordinary people to be used in extraordinary Kingdom-building ways, including all the Papua New Guineans who are sharing the Good News. We met seminarians and church planters who have left their home villages and hiked for days to come to GBBC with the dream of becoming a pastor reaching their fellow Papua New Guineans for Christ, and women who have departed from the expected road of marrying young and serving their husband to train as elementary school teachers that will raise up a new generation on the foundation of the word of God.
The hope for the future is to expand the tiny clinic to match the huge needs that already exist and create a teaching space to train more healthcare workers that can address the physical needs of their own people, and then address their bigger spiritual needs as well. The Bible college in Goroka is undergoing expansion as well, with more space for dorms to accommodate a larger number of seminarians preparing to be sent out around the country. If this sounds like something you’d like to get involved with, please visit this page: abwe.org/goroka
If you go to that link, you will see a write up about the expansion project along with one of the videos we produced for ABWE, and you can also see it below. Enjoy!