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PNG church grasps thorny social issues

One of the guests at Methodist Conference 2004 was moderator of the United Church of Papua Guinea Rev Samson Lowa and his wife Jessie.

Samson spoke about some of the challenges the United Church faces and how it is dealing with them. Six years ago the church faced a financial crisis after some of its investments turned sour.

Today its financial situation has stabilised. However, it now shares in social problems that affect the whole of Papuan society. The include HIV/Aids, sexual and domestic violence, marriage breakdown, and law and order.

“The problems Papua New Guinea can seem so overwhelming they can almost cripple us. We have adopted the approach of starting by making an impact in a small way. Our focus is the family. To deal with these social issues we need to invest the Gospel in the family, children, and youth.”

He says the 2000 census shows PNG has a population of 5.2 million. The United Church has 600,000 members and 69% of them are under 30 years old.

“We are glad to have such a membership but it is a challenge because young people are the ones affected by these social issues. The church has to minister to them in a way that is relevant.”

As a member of the advisory of the United Church’s Women’s Fellowship, Jessie Lowa is also involved in dealing with these issues. In particular the Women’s Fellowship has organised itself to address domestic violence and HIV/Aids.

One of the things the United Church of PNG is doing to create social change is to give individuals personal viability through courses taught at a ‘grass roots university’.

“PNG has a lot of land and resources – timber, fish, minerals. We need to learn how to turn them into monetary returns. We can do this if we learn to help ourselves rather than have a handout mentality,” Samson says.

“The training we offer helps people make a paradigm shift to independence. The course is run by a Chinese man who was a successful businessman in PNG. It cost about 200 kina (NZ$100) and the church is sponsoring some people to take the course.”

Another exciting approach the United Church uses is street meetings in which local people discuss the issues that affect them and get ideas to deal with them.

Samson says the churches, the government and international donor issues are recognising the need to work together to address these social issues. The church is now talks about sex more openly and advocates the ABC approach – abstain, be faithful, and use a condom.

He thanks the Methodist Church of New Zealand for the privilege to speak at Conference and meet church leaders.