Weaving a Global Neighborhood
A look at life & Lutherans in Papua New Guinea
By Rick Steves
Lutheran churches throughout the USA use this 30-minute video in their adult education hours. To watch this and all of Rick's collaborative videos with the ELCA online, visit their website.
Here is the script for the video:
Hi, I'm Rick Steves in Papua New Guinea. Through my travel writing I teach people how to travel smart...and that's a lot more than stretching your travel dollar...that's broadening your perspective through travel.
By traveling as a temporary local we find new tools — like this handy bilum, new fruits — here's a juicy papaya...and new friends.
One day it occurred to me that I was just as interesting to the person in my viewfinder as my subject was to me.
We are different. But we are also the same.
As a schoolboy visiting some faraway country, I saw mothers and fathers loving their children just as my mom and dad loved me. And it hit me — this world is home to billions of equally precious children.
In my work — through writing travel guidebooks and my public television travel series — I try to show this. And at home, my wife Anne and I want our kids to understand this.
As Christians, we're a part of a global community...a family — the family of God. It's a family that doesn't get together as much as it should. In this video we'll show you how and why our Church is working to close the gap.
We'll meet the people of Papua New Guinea and we'll learn from them...like how to eat kaukau at a mumu. This fancy dinner is a mumu — sort of the local luau. A pig or chicken, yams, and bananas are wrapped in banana leaves and buried with hot rocks. In the local pidgin language, kai kai is eat, kakarook is chicken and kau kau is yam. Right now I kai kai kakarook and kau kau at a mumu. And as we explore this fascinating country, we'll learn how a program in our church laces our world together.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America through its Division for Global Mission has a Companion Synod program. This unique vision for mission connects our church with our companion churches from around the world.
By matching up churches and people, we become more of a family. Now, let's be travel buddies, and let this video fly you away the easy way.
For you, there's no risk of jet lag, malaria or diarrhea but we hope this experience will come with a healthy dose of culture shock, challenge some of our myths about other cultures, and get you excited about our church's global mission program.
God has a plan...a global mission. "Love one another" doesn't mean love one another just within your school district, or city, or country, or race. Love one another is a command, loud and clear, to think and act globally.
Travel gives you a feeling of solidarity with the world. Suffering far away becomes just as real and painful as suffering across the street. Because of my travels, when I vote for a president, I consider not how his politics will affect me, but how they'll affect the poor throughout the world.
Recently, the Pope said, "Travel leads to peace and respect of different lifestyles." But this understanding of the value of thoughtful travel is nothing new. 1500 years ago Mohammed said, "Don't tell me how educated you are...tell me how much you've traveled." Mark Twain came home from his travels in the 1800s and wrote, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness."
Travel is wonderful — but it's expensive too. I've wrestled with the issue of stewardship...should Christians from rich countries travel through a world with so much hunger and need? Whether on Church work or simply traveling on vacation, travel comes with a responsibility.
If travel turns foreigners into friends and expands the "our" in Our Father, then travel is good stewardship.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has given me this opportunity to travel thoughtfully — with you. Now that we've eaten, and made a few friends, let's make a quick orientation tour.
Here's Papua New Guinea: the eastern half of a huge island called New Guinea, and a cluster of smaller islands in the South Pacific.
This country — roughly the size of Arizona — has rugged mountains, deep rain forests, lush tropical valleys, and pristine beaches.
The people you'll encounter are both helpful...and friendly.
Papua New Guineans celebrate folk fests more for each other than for the few tourists who visit. The town of Goroka hosts a happy explosion each September when tribes from all over converge for a massive cultural festival. Traditional life thrives here. Each of these dance groups comes from a different region, its name proudly displayed on a signpost.
Like our world in general, the four million people of Papua New Guinea are surprisingly diverse. Just about every ethnic group has its own language...imagine 800 different languages in Arizona.
Strong as tribal traditions are here, Christianity is the national religion of Papua New Guinea. 90% of the people here are Christian.
A quarter of the Christians in Papua New Guinea — or PNG as they say here — are Lutherans, members of the ELCPNG.
These Lutherans wouldn't recognize a green hymnal, but they still come to God like you and I do...through Jesus Christ.
One of my favorite kinds of sightseeing is sampling different ways to worship our same God. In spite of what a few hometown worship boards may think — there are plenty...even for us Lutherans.
I am longing to hear the gospel, that is why I am coming. I am coming. I am thinking of Jesus. That is why I am coming. That is why I am coming.
Christianity has profoundly influenced Papua New Guinea. Like any religion, Christianity cuts across linguistic and cultural lines to bring people together.
Papua New Guineans have been independent since 1975. Their constitution says, "We are to guard and pass on both our noble traditions and the Christian principles which are ours today."
The Companion Synod program matches up congregations around the world.
The Lutheran Church is a global church with synods throughout the rich and poor parts of our world. I have to be reminded that there are more Lutherans in Africa than in North America — and red jello with fruit cocktail is not really a typical Lutheran picnic dessert.
Through companion synods, we not only become more aware of other Christians, we get to know each other better, as neighbors and as friends. This is part of God's plan.
This isn't charity. The goal is togetherness. Here in Tanzania, an American and a Masai pastor share in a baptism.
When you laugh, cry, and worship with new friends, you know you are brothers and sisters in Christ. Togetherness is a great equalizer, regardless of your material riches. Through the companion synod program we visit and work as equals.
But for me the equality stopped at chewing betel nut. Throughout this part of the world, betel nut is mixed with a long green seed and lime from crushed coral.
Chewers enjoy an effect — similar to chewing tobacco. And they end up wearing what locals call PNG lipstick. Strange as this may look, this is the local equivalent of coffee and doughnuts. Like we have no-smoking zones, in PNG, places like airports, churches and schools have no-chewing zones.
To some, the clichetic image of a missionary is a cultural imperialist — armed with bras and Bibles. But Lutheran missionaries, like Grant Stevensen of Minnesota, don't try to change people or their culture. Instead, they reach out with the love of Christ. This is a powerful and effective way to share the good news.
Decades ago, missionaries like Richard Ernst Taebuer brought Bibles and the message of salvation through Jesus Christ to New Guinea. In 1929, Taebuer and his family adopted New Guinea as their home and his two daughters carried on his work.
Today, in the spirit of the Taebuers' work, the ELCA works as a companion with the independent ELCPNG.
Missionaries helped Papua New Guineans begin to read and write. Now there are 180 elementary schools and eight high schools run by the local Church.
Missionaries taught locals to run modern health care clinics. This has led to longer and healthier lives. For instance, the formerly very high rates of mothers dying in childbirth and infant mortality have dropped dramatically. Local church health workers have lobbied the PNG government to prioritize here, trained midwives to help with rural deliveries, and provided delivery rooms for mothers choosing or needing a hospital.
And the church has helped local business. In a nation of many islands, shipping is crucial. The largest shipping line here is Lutheran Shipping, owned and operated by the ELCPNG. It distributes mail and food to remote coastal areas and provides a reliable way for goods and people to get around this island country.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea continues to grow. It's contributing to the health, education, social welfare, and worship lives of its people.
And the face of mission has changed. Before, it was satellite church work run by a parent church from a rich country. Now, missionaries help local churches help themselves.
Today in Papua New Guinea, ELCA missionaries are here by invitation of the local church. They come, not with a bag of answers, but with skills and a question: How can I help you? And when they return to America, they bring with them a fresh and broader perspective.
Deep in the bush we visited the Yagaum Hospital and saw another creative way the ELCA is working with the church in Papua New Guinea. Dr. Mamy Ranaivoson, the hospital's only doctor, is a Lutheran missionary from Madagascar. He is a fine example of our church's South/South missionary program. This matches the skills of church workers from one developing country to the needs of another developing country.
Whether making the rounds in nearby villages, encouraging a teacher with high blood pressure to be an example of healthy living fitting of his highly respected position in his village, or accepting a thank-you chicken from a former patient, it's clear: Dr. Mamy's skills are vital to this community and much appreciated. Dr. Mamy begins each day by gathering his staff for a devotional. And with a pre-surgery prayer, he reminds his patient that he is God's servant and God will guide his scalpel.
It's Wednesday evening and Dr. Mamy's congregation gathers next to the hospital. Good travel means becoming a temporary local...communing with new friends, sharing a hymnal...and singing in the local language.
In PNG, church is not a one-hour-a-week chore. Many families gather together in their villages to sing, worship and to pray — every night. Because of the strong respect for people in authority — village elders are called "big men" — people pray more formally than we might, but prayer is an integral part of the people's day.
People here talk and talk and talk. And a popular topic of conversation is their faith. They struggle publicly, debate and intimately share church issues and their personal beliefs. Here, you don't ruin a dinner by talking about religion...you give it spice.
The strength of community in a developing country such as PNG provides a telling contrast to the frayed neighborhoods in much of America. We often get so caught up in building up wealth and status that we forget about building relationships. People need community.
Where I come from, if your neighborhood doesn't provide "community," you'll find it somewhere else...in urban gangs, in cyberspace, or through your congregation.
In PNG, mutual dependence bonds people. Neighborhoods are strong. People know each other so well, parents can identify their kids' footprints.
Much importance is given to taking care of each other. You hear the word "Wantok" a lot. While that's literally "someone who speaks my language," Wantok means "someone who looks out for me".
Wantoks help each other build a home. Wantoks take care of their relatives as they grow older. The wantok system is so strong there's no concept of an orphan. PNG society works because wantoks make strong commitments to their communities.
And with all that security, upwardly mobile doesn't have to be for anything more than a coconut.
Throughout the developing world, transportation works like this. This is the rush-hour commute. One third of humanity lives on less than a dollar a day. In PNG, a thousand dollars a year — $3 a day — is a decent income. Compared to most of the world, we Americans are incredibly wealthy.
While production in the USA has doubled in a generation, we work more than ever, need two incomes in a family to "make ends meet," and are swimming in stress. Ours is a land where the hottest things in real estate are prisons for the poor and gated communities for the rich.
Less can be more. Here, in a culture where material satisfaction is less elusive, there's more time for God's work and for just being human. This road may be bumpy, but then there's more to life than increasing its speed.
And by palling around with people so immersed in nature, we learn that the best way to control nature is to obey her. Our planet is smaller, more fragile, and more interdependent than we realize. It's a gift which is ours only on loan.
After eating with new friends in PNG, I'm reminded that those of us who use spoons and forks don't have all the answers. Here in PNG, people paint their faces differently then we do. And they know it. The world is not a pyramid with the USA on top and everyone else trying to get there. Papua New Guineans may go to the United States to study or visit congregations but they wouldn't swap passports with us. Our world is diverse and it will stay that way. It's a family — but a multicolored and multifaceted family.
And for Christians, travel can be so much more than tourism. It can be the sacramental experience of two very different parts of the body of Christ finding each other.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is working hard and creatively to establish closer relationships between people from all corners of our planet.
You don't need to fly to Papua New Guinea to join in. Your congregation is a great place to start. Thanks for traveling with us. We hope you've enjoyed our look at this fascinating culture and a peek at an exciting side of our church and its global mission.
We can think of the world as God's yarn shop — filled with colorful but individual strands. By working together, we can weave a fine bilum. We can be God's bilum — and imagine all the love that could carry.
I'm Rick Steves wishing you happy travels and God's blessings. Bye.
Produced by ELCA Department of Global Mission
Written by Rick Steves and Kevin Jacobson
Photographer/Editor: Tim Frakes
Field consultants: Kevin Jacobson and Grant Stevensen