Picture this… a group of tropical islands, remotely positioned in the Pacific Ocean; coconut palms soaring into the cloudless blue sky; glistening white sandy beaches; sea life burgeoning; lush jungle alive with the kind of flora and fauna one usually only dreams about… ‘Lord, where on earth are we?!’ These lush, volcanic islands are populated by a people group still grappling with the on-going devastating effects of civil war, waged in the late ’80s, early ’90s, which continues to undermine the local economy and impact the livelihood, soul and psyche of the people…people unable to access employment, good quality health care and educational opportunities for their young people. Put these two pictures together and you begin to get a sense of our observations and experience of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. I was keen to join Reverend Kathy Clifford to understand more of the Bougainvillian context and how we as a church can support Rev Kathy and the Wesleyan Methodist Church of Bougainville. Seeing Kathy at work among her wider church family was a heart-warming experience in itself and an honour to witness. She kindly worked hard to facilitate our desire for adventure and to serve the Lord in a volunteer capacity, representing the Wesleyan Methodist Church in this poorly developed nation. Reverend Kathy Clifford marvellously arranged a 2 week itinerary for Dr Amanda Mitchell and myself, which encompassed building relationship with the local Wesleyan Church Leaders, serving in 3 medical clinics and one ‘hospital’ ( treating approximately 500 people), conducting professional development for local health professionals, scrubbing filthy work environments and teaching basic first aid to the Bible College faculty and students. We greatly enjoyed ‘bushwhacking’ our way through the jungle for our daily swim; wading through the water to access one of our medical clinics and many cultural experiences including long boat rides ‘captained’ by renegade young men and eating BBQ’d possum, turtle and giant clam. We found the local people were warm, appreciative and generous. The Lord opened the most incredible doors of opportunity for us including meeting the Doctor in charge of Rural Health for Bougainville, who welcomed us with open arms. He confirmed the fact that there has been no nursing training conducted in BV since before the crisis and that the islands we visited had not had a doctor visit them in more than 20 years. These people seem overlooked by the world and disconnected from many facets of life which we in New Zealand simply take for granted. In fact, some people here in NZ even grumble about our health care system, which is absolutely stellar by comparison. We went to Bougainville with ‘reconnaissance’ in mind but were prepared to serve in our professional capacities with around 50 kg of donated pharmaceutical and other medical supplies with us to treat the Bougainvillian people. Michelle and Andrew Davies, Pharmacy owners from Shore Grace (previously ECW) donated many thousands of vitamin tablets and beautiful dressing products for us to take, Westgate Medical Centre also donated hundreds of dollars of supplies and the generous people of Shore Grace donated money and products for us to give our under-privileged brothers and sisters. Dr Amanda also discovered the MAA, an organisation which is expressly dedicated to providing medical aid to under-developed countries around the world. We were given many kilos of beautiful medical products for the people of Bougainville.
My ancestors lived in PNG for 4 years around 1910 and served on the Island of Samarai with the Methodist church. They lived amongst the people in very basic circumstances, possibly not unlike our village-life experiences of Buka, Saposa and Matsungan Islands. Our first church service in Bougainville was a rather heart-warming experience for me as we sang hymns which my Great Grandfather and Great Grandmother would have sung a century ago….Holy, Holy, Holy and The Lord’s My Shepherd. I am so blessed to be a descendant from such a rich Christian heritage and to be able to return to the nation of PNG, in Jesus’ name. To say that I’m keen to return would be an understatement! Our husbands Reverend Mike Yates and Captain Pete Mitchell and our children ‘Big Tom’, Reuben, Anna, Joshua, Ben, Tom and Annaliese were our number one supporters and we feel incredibly grateful to our families for managing so very well. We are thankful to the Wesleyan Methodist Church for enabling us to make this ‘world-view’ challenging
trip. It makes the possibility of another trip to Bougainville slightly more tangible. Why not join me? There is a lot that we can do to help our Bougainvillean brothers and sisters in their intrepid journey to bring the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the people of Bougainville
Michelle Yates is the National Missions Ministry Leader
for the Wesleyan Methodist Church of NZ and belongs to
Shore Grace (Auckland)