I was recently asked, ‘What kind of missionaries are needed in Papua New Guinea (PNG) today?’ PNG first had Anglican and London Missionary Society missionaries well over a century ago, and many argue they are no longer needed, but as I travel in both rural and urban areas I get a different perspective — the picture is similar to the New Testament, where the churches soon needed encouragement and correction.
The answer to the question must be: ‘PNG needs men who love God, his Word and his Church’.
‘PNG needs men…’ William Booth is reputed to have said. ‘My best men are women’! Women have contributed an immense amount to church and mission, and PNG still needs godly women. Christian married couples can be examples of ‘heirs together of the grace of life’, and women are better able to relate to women, whose value and potential is, sadly, often demeaned. But the norm is for PNG’s communities to be patriarchal; PNG needs Christian men on the mission field.
Although PNG’s 800 cultures are changing, a man will usually get a hearing in preference to a woman, particularly in the more conservative rural contexts. Maturity and fatherhood bring particular respect to men too. This can aid missionary work.
Recently a friend referred to an outspoken missionary who had all the answers of parenthood — until he became a parent! The wisdom gained from pastoral experience in the missionary’s home culture is recognised and respected in PNG.
Love for God
Secondly, PNG needs missionaries who love God. Missionary strategy often focuses on the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19ff), but we must hold this in tension with the Great Commandment.
When asked ‘Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment’. Without further prompting, he then added, ‘The second is like it: love your neighbour as yourself’ (Matthew 22:37-39).
Mission work often emphasises leadership development, but the church needs men who consciously exemplify loving service to God and to others. Jesus constantly stressed that he had come to do the Father’s will.
Men who know that God has called them will be slow to desert the one they love in times of difficulty — and there are many difficulties.
Thirdly, missionaries who love God’s Word are needed. Christ told his disciples to ‘preach the gospel’; Paul exhorted Timothy to ‘preach the Word’. It is only the clear, simple, relevant and applied preaching of Christ from the Word of God that produces anything of lasting value in Christian ministry.
In the Old Testament God promised that his Word would produce the fruit for which he sends it forth (Isaiah 55:11). PNG needs men who will teach the Word of God, as well as help others understand and teach it.
Fourthly, missionaries must love God’s church. Jesus said, ‘I will build my church’. They must be committed to drawing people together into the believing community — the church. Emphasis on personal discipleship is good as long as it leads to identification with a local church.
Matthew’s version of the Great Commission emphasises that disciples are not only to be taught but also baptised. Baptism is not a mere initiation or rite of passage — it is a gospel ordinance prescribed by Christ within the context of the church.
The church is not merely an organisation; it comprises the sheep for whom Christ died. John’s description of the Great Commission demands love for God and his people (John 21:15-22). Paul struggled ‘daily [with] the pressure of my concern for all the churches’ (2 Corinthians 11:28). The apostles (‘sent ones’/missionaries) were people who cared.
PNG tribes have a strong cultural identity, alien to the individualism of secular society. Tribal identity, however, can easily overemphasise authority, whereas the church is to be a group of redeemed people committed to mutual care and support.
We need missionaries who will, supremely, practise love and care for others — while helping people to develop and exercise that same care themselves.
PNG welcomes missionaries. There are requests for medical, administrative and technical personnel. The demands are great but the greatest need is for those who will teach and explain the gospel from God’s Word to the people