By Neva Rae Fox
The Anglican Province of Papua New Guinea recognizes its nation’s daunting societal challenges and is addressing them through a threefold ministry of evangelism, education, and health known as Preach, Teach and Heal.
Parenting skills, healthcare, COVID vaccines, and gender-based violence are some of the most important issues facing Papua New Guinea. In addition to social concerns, climate-change issues like rising sea levels, earthquakes, and drought affect the people. The Anglican Church is tackling many issues, first by working with other agencies and established programs.
Papua New Guinea, slightly smaller than Texas, is located in the South Pacific, north of Australia, and is the eastern half of the island of New Guinea. While the nation is known for its beaches and coral reefs, its interior features mountains, active volcanoes, and rainforests. The population of 8.9 million comprises many tribes, most with their own language, which complicates communication. According to the CIA World Factbook, the nation has 839 indigenous languages, many spoken by fewer than 1,000 people.
The nation’s rugged terrain presents compound problems. “Our mountains, rivers, and seas keep people cut off from each other, including cut off from education,” said Dennis Kabekabe, provincial secretary.
The nation is acutely aware of the devastating effects of climate change. “Disaster and climate change go hand in hand,” said Annsli Kabekabe, assistant community development officer for the Anglican National Office.
The province comprises five dioceses with 118 parishes and mission districts, three high schools, 100 community schools, two vocational centers, three rural hospitals, and 12 health sub-centers. In recent years, ministry and mission in the province have focused on health and family concerns.
COVID has taken its toll as the Anglican healthcare system has been overcrowded while confirmed cases and deaths continue to grow. Nonetheless, the province has vaccinated more than one-quarter of a million people.
“When COVID came, we lived in confusion and fear,” Annsli Kabekabe said. “We went to the communities, especially in the settlements, to help and assure the people that everything will be well.”
“The biggest challenge was to get people vaccinated,” she added. “So much conspiracy and misinformation were posted on social platforms and in the news about the vaccination, and so many people were reluctant to get vaccinated. We had an outbreak, and that gave everyone a scare. Then we saw lines for vaccines.”
The church also aimed to prevent disease by improving sanitation in two of the nation’s provinces. “People had to walk a mile or two to get to water for washing, cooking, and drinking,” Annsli Kabekabe said. “We needed washing stations for safe hygiene practices.”
The church recently conducted a 16-day campaign, “Orange the World: End Violence against Women Now!” During the campaign, the church provided colorful posters featuring arresting photos intended to raise awareness.
“We all stand for a common goal, and that is to protect our children, our women, and girls,” Dennis Kabekabe said.
Education is also key. Dennis Kabekabe has been an educator in both government and Anglican schools, sometimes in remote areas, for many years, an experience that has enriched his church work. “Education, teaching is my passion,” he said. “I took those qualities with me into the church.”
In another important step, the church worked with a UNICEF program for parents. Following the initiative of the Anglican province, early education is a significant focus. “That is one area we need to get to. It goes hand in hand with the parenting program,” Annsli Kabekabe said.
An innovative ministry, “A Jesus-Shaped Life,” was introduced to all parishes in 2019 and sparked new energy.
Mercy Salilum, the coordinator of “A Jesus-Shaped Life,” said the point of the program is to live a Christlike life, upholding the Anglican Five Marks of Mission. “Disciples transform other structures of society and challenge issues in reconciliation, advocate for justice,” she said.
Salilum took the program throughout the nation in November 2020. “We walked miles to present the program,” she said. “There were poor road services. It was heartbreaking to see our people struggling in this remotest part of PNG. Bringing ‘A Jesus-Shaped Life’ to the people of Jimi [District] gave them hope and joy.”
Salilum said she and other coordinators were asked, “Is your life reflected in what you are sharing?”
“That question really challenged us,” she said. “We came back and reflected and asked, ‘Is our life really like Jesus?’”
The result led to a renewed prayerful life, illustrated by walking the perimeter of the city every Friday in uniforms. This, in turn, was an outward sign showing the people the Anglican Church’s commitment, she said. “We are feeding homeless, we are helping prisoners, we are maintaining hospitals, and we are in fellowship in ministry.”