Monday, 18 May 2015

Reflections from Papua New Guinea - part 2

As I said in my last post, I wasn't expecting to be writing from the relative comfort of the UK so soon and I'll share a little here about what led to my return so that anyone who's interested can read. After spending a couple of days at the lovely Mapang Missionary House in Port Moresby for a couple of nights and being hosted brilliantly by local United Church members, I flew the 90 mins or so internal flight to New Britain Island and Rabaul Airport where I would be greeted by my former colleague Garo (pictured) and his wife Dada.

Many people have asked about why I ended up in PNG in the first place. Well, for a number of years, Garo served in the UK church in Lancashire, while I was stationed there, even serving in the same circuit for two years. As I was planning my sabbatical I wanted to test a call to theological education as well as experiencing Christianity in a different culture. Garo, now back in PNG, serves as Principal of the School of Theology & Mission at Rarongo - the primary training college for Ministers in the United Church - and so this contact provided an opportunity both to teach and see a different cultural context.

As I arrived Garo informed me that there had been a few earthquakes in the area, likely linked to the increased activity of Mt Tavurvur - an active volcano on the island of New Britain. Having never experienced an earthquake I was a little apprehensive but was unsure what was really in store.

We headed to a local foodstore, as Garo and Dada were concerned for me to have as western a diet as possible - their constant thoughtfulness and care to me from the word go was quite remarkable - and it was there that the fun(!) really began. After a while in the store I heard a loud rumble and instinctively assumed it was thunder, it was the fact that the whole building was shaking and the shelves emptying their contents to the ground that made me realise in that this was something quite different. We ran from the building, still shaking at this point, as some of the ceiling fixtures came down around me, being one of the last to leave the building with the ground still shaking violently outside. It soon transpired that this was a significant earthquake - of greater magnitude than the recent ones - and one of the largest that Garo & Dada had experienced. It was significant enough to make international news but thankfully there were no reports of casualties. A tsunami warning was issued but no major problems occurred.

For me this was a frightening experience. I've never experienced an earthquake before, let alone one that was so sizeable and I was shaking from the ordeal. Even recounting it now, nearly two weeks on, makes my heart race and the adrenaline kick in just a little.

We proceeded on to Rarongo, considering my options as I went. It was our guess, and no more, that this latest quake marked an escalation in the activity of the volcano - something that would pose a threat to many of the communities on the north of New Britain island.

On the basis of the information at the time and in the context of a frightening earthquake it seemed the most sensible decision to head back home fairly quickly in order to make sure I was safe and my family back home could be assured of my well-being. It was my guess that if the earthquakes continued, and if the volcano did erupt, having me around and needing to get me out of the province would have been a burden that the local people didn't need to have and so, it was thought best for me to return initially back to Port Moresby and then home. A couple of weeks on and that decision seems somewhat ridiculous. The earthquakes have continued but seem not be escalating and their scale is considerably diminished from the one I experienced. The staff and missionaries at the college are continuing as normal so it feels somewhat a considerable opportunity gone to waste. On the flip side, what I didn't want to happen was for the college to spend considerable resources on feeding and looking after me only for all this to go to waste just a couple of days later.

Nevertheless, my brief overnight stay at Rarongo enabled me to see the college, its beautiful setting- a rural village on the coast, just paces from the beach - and to meet some great people, however briefly. The care and love given to me by some of the staff of the college and Garo & Dada was quite something.

So this stay in PNG was a lot briefer than expected. My family are relieved I'm home, the love and affection from my two lovely children seem to bear this out! Im left with mixed feelings. Im glad to be out of the heat, I'm glad to have modern comforts again, but I am reflecting on my propensity to panic rather than to pray. My honest reflection (and my critique is of myself solely) is that I made quick, even possibly positive decisions quickly & decisively, (something I'm not prone too!) but I what I didn't do is to pause, pray and seek the mind of my Creator and Master. Unanimously Ive been reassured by godly and caring friends in the UK that my actions were entirely reasonable and I'm coming to terms with that, but how can I continue to encourage others to lean on the Lord even in the most severe of trials and to know His peace and wisdom if when push comes to shove Im unable to do so. If I had my time again, I may not necessarily have a different outcome, but I would hope to take a breath, pause, pray and seek the guidance of One whose will and wisdom can only ever be for my eternal good, whatever the earthly circumstances.

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