Project Canterbury

A Visit to the Diocese of New Guinea in the first Post-War Year.



Chairman of the Australian Board of Missions.

Who with the Rev. Ian Shevill, M.A. spent nine weeks of July,
August and September of 1946 in Papua.

The Great Cathedral of New Guinea, built by brown hands.
A witness to the power of Christ to transform human lives.

The larger part of the Bishop of New Guinea's gracious hospitality to me was spent on board of his launch the "S. George," on which he regaled me with calm seas and rough, with tide-rips, earthquakes, coral reefs and other interesting experience. We were never without a medley of passengers, for instance, who in fair weather and foul tried to make themselves comfortable on the small fore-deck. These were always carried without charge and were a constant centre of interest. I owe more than I can say to the crew of the "S. George," viz. Edward Guise (the Captain), Wilkinson, Jairus, Jacob and Benny. The grandeur of the constantly changing scenery from the island hills round Samarai to the mighty mountains in the North is indescribable.

I passed through ten major language areas. All are spoken by some Mission workers, and services are printed in four of them All over Papua the Government use what is called "Police Motu" and translators. I realised that in contrast missionary work is a linguistic triumph, recognising as I do at the same time that there are still many great language victories to be won. I visited and inspected the work at every Mission Station save one, and was able to go to several out-stations. I had the great privilege of being the conductor of the first Quiet Day and Retreat for the white clergy that has been possible since the outbreak of war. I was invited to two sessions of the Sacred Synod and listened to the working out of the plan of campaign fm the next few years. I met and had unhurried fellowship with all the missionaries, with the ten Papuan priests, six deacons and many teachers. I was brought into close contact with great multitudes of natives. In centre after centre Oga Taras or great gatherings of natives were called together, and we were able to talk to them and to listen to them placing before us their hopes and their needs. Nowhere did I find any sign that Christianity tends to de-nationalise the Papuans. I shook hands with many hundreds of them and never once did I have a limp handgrip. I was conscious always of the strong character and vitality of the people. As I looked at their craggy mountainous country and experienced their fellowship and their straight eye-to-eye look, I realised that we are dealing with a strong, vital race with a future destiny of greatness if we Australians do our part rightly. The men and the women alike are dignified and graceful, anti the children are captivating.

I had opportunities of unhurried talk with problem groups among the people like the re turned Labour Camp lads and the returned members of the Papuan infantry Battalion. All without exception win one's admiration. The problem is how they are to settle down happily and successfully in their primitive villages after their experience of more civilised ways and equipment. Indeed unless we Australians are prepared to make immense and quick strides in providing them with education we may have to face tragic circumstances.

The Rev. Ian Shevill was my travelling companion, and from the first to last we were conscious of being in fellowship with

A Wounded Church.

We visited many Mission Stations bereft of anything like an effective staff, a number of them in the hands of a native deacon or teacher. We admired very greatly the pluck and the faith of some of those hard-pressed men. The Church has had to meet a series of pitiable set backs. When American and Australian armies had conquered the Japanese and for a time had nothing special with which to occupy their time there were not wanting in some places white communists who actually took groups of natives on one side to give them teaching which may provide almost insoluble problems and possibly great dangers for their fellow white men in the future. Many a native community has also been morally hurt in a way that it will take years to heal. Because great districts were perforce left without the regular ministry of a priest there have been amongst some Christian communities anxious marriage lapses. Because there was no Christian priest to marry them young couples have submitted themselves to the rites of heathen marriage. We witnessed at least one case of pathetic mass repentance for this and of a voluntary readiness to undergo discipline after receiving Christian marriage. The experience that some Christian communities have had with the men of our own race has brought about alarming indifference, verging on apostacy. Indeed there are cases of one or two whole communities being gripped by forms of heresy. In face of these things we must all try to realise that in the whole Diocese I found only two fully manned Mission Stations. The position is of such a critical kind that I believe we should each of us do all that we can to persuade the Home Church to provide the loving help of a sufficient number of trained workers. I found twelve stations without trained teachers, save that in two cases missionary wives are carrying on a heroic work. In every case we were face to face with a renewed burning desire for education on the part of the people. They have had just enough experience of what education can mean to the white man to make them determined at all costs to find it for themselves. When I was in Port Moresby I pound eight boys under seventeen years of age who had of set purpose left one of our Stations where there is no trained teacher, and had walked across the great Owen Stanleys to ask for admission in a Government School. Yet everywhere our schools are being carried on by priests and wives and nurses with the help of Papuan teachers.

From Samarai to Lae there is not a single Government or Missionary doctor. Dr. White, a member of a well-known Australian Church family, lays us under great obligations at Samarai. Our five missionary nurses are placed far apart at Taupota, Dogura, Wanigela, Menapi and Eroro. They live and work in pathetic professional isolation and they perform quite regularly deeds of heroism in their work of mercy and healing in face of the terrible and sudden tropical ills that are manifest everywhere. There are one or two Government hospitals, but the principal one I saw is in charge of a man who has had three months of medical training only. Every Mission Station is an isolated unit, for the means of transport apart from the Mission launches just do not exist, and radio facilities are obtainable through the whole area on five Government stations only. Eight of our principal Mission Stations are without any professional medical help whatever. I have returned with the strong feeling that we ought literally to pray every day and search for a man or woman doctor for the Diocese of New Guinea.

In the beautiful Northern areas of the Mission, covered with glorious jungle growths, the war has left its scars. Wherever Army units have been, rubbish, rotting buildings and tumbling down equipment disfigure the scene, and produce an unfortunate psychological reaction. On several occasions I listened while little children sang of the horrors of their experiences of war. The following is a letter addressed to the Australian Board of Missions from the children of Eroro, who after I had talked to them expressed a desire to write, and which is produced exactly as it was written:

St. Chard School
23rd of August 1946
North West of Papua.

Dear our Fathers A.B.M. in the name of the Church. We thank you with all our hearts. Because what so ever you are sending to us every year.

We will tell you what we did through the war in 1941 to 1945. In this war Japans landed our villages and spoil our buildings, animals, plants and all solts of things, and also killed our loved one in the battel. But God is always with us all these troubles, and He bring us to the pease again. Now we arc quite safe here at Eroro and also you too.

Every Friday we pray for the work, for God that time we remembering you in our prayer.

We are your sincerely St. Chard's children.

(Note, please, that the Church should be "St. Chad's," but s written as they pronounce it.)

Yes, we of the Australian Church are face to face with a tragically wounded First Century Church--a Church who is our own child, and which we must carry in our hearts and serve now and in the future with all our might. But it is

A Courageous Unvanquished Church.

Signs abound everywhere that this is so. In many places Native Clergy and teachers are living and working in isolated spots, carrying responsibilities which should not be theirs, and in no ease was I able to detect anything but splendid faithful work and witness. Perhaps I should correct that by saying that I did meet one such isolated teacher on the island of Naniu who, I thought, was at the end of his tether. In the South and particularly in the Northern war areas there are many new volunteers for service. S. Aidan's College is filled with thirty-three of them, three-quarters of whom have passed through war experiences with distinction. I cannot speak too highly of S. Aidan's and of the penetrating effective influence of its Principal. It is an experience to be remembered to listen to the careful and reverent way in which these men take their own Matins and Evensong. The standard of S. Aidan's is exemplified by the fact that it is immediately to be recognised by the new Government Education Department as a Teachers' Training College.

The courage of the Church is illustrated by

The Joyous Worship

which you meet with literally all over the Diocese. Some places stand out in my memory in relation to these as, for instance, Archdeacon Gills wonderful services in his new native Church at Dewade, The Rev. A. P. Jennings' Church at Taupota, All Saints' Church at Boianai, where young John Andersen is now in charge, Samuel Tomlinson's old Church at Mukawa, where Raymond Nicholls is in charge, the Church at Menapi, where Frere Lane ministered for so long and which is now without a white priest, the Village Church at Wamira, and, in particular, the Cathedral of S. Peter and S. Paul. flay by day and night by night I worshipped with these people in all types and kinds of Churches, and often in the open air. All my critical and perceptive faculties were wide awake, for I had sometimes heard sceptics speak sarcastically of Papuan worship as being a veneer super-imposed on lurking heathen preconceptions. While of course there are grades of attainment in the art of worship as there are with us, varying according to the degree of teaching received, I was never able to feel anywhere that the sceptic is speaking the truth. I worshipped sometimes in the Sanctuaries, sometimes down at the West end of the Church, and some times in the body of the congregation. The worship amidst the glorious simplicity of the great Cathedral may be regarded as representatively expressive of the Papuan's approach to his God. The careful devoted, intelligent reverence of servers and other attendants is extraordinarily up lifting, and is utterly natural. Quite evidently they know what they are doing and enter into it with heart and soul. The singing is superb in its exuberance of enjoyment. Everyone sings. There is no choir. There is no instrument. The Sub-Dean sings the first line of Psalm or Hymn, and then it is taken up with a great volume of sound--boys and men leading. The one criticism may be that on the higher notes the boys and men tend to shout and to be a little flat. But this does not spoil the effect, for it is so patently expressive of natural worship. You get the strong impression that the worship belongs to them. It is theirs. When you investigate the back ground of the worshippers--their old heathenism, their present primitive manner of life and their constant contact with and awareness of heathen practice--it is impossible not to rejoice in the fact of Christian transformation. In matters of conduct and habit there is in some quarters still a long way to go, but to the student of the past and of the present there is solid ground for great rejoicing. The wounded Church is utterly unbeaten even by the frightfulness of modern warfare.

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