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Hope on a library shelf

By John Roberts

A letter arrived on my Mission and Ecumenical desk in 2002. It was from Eky Perebugo, librarian at the United Church’s Rarongo Theological College on the island of New Britain in Papua New Guinea.

PNG is a country where 40 percent of the population lives on less than US$1 a day and the church is dependent on outside assistance. Eky’s was seeking second hand book donations for the college library. He wrote that the total collection at Rarongo was small and most books 50 or more years old.

How to respond? A book collection effort would have probably produce many outdated books, and a good many in poor condition. Could we do better than that? Why not buy new books that are relevant to the needs of the student community? I put this to Eky who responded enthusiastically.

But where would the money to buy these books come from? We appealed to church groups and there was a good response. But what books should be bought and how will we go about the purchasing?

Keith Carley once taught at Rarongo and was then teaching at St John’s Theological College in Auckland. He offered to assist. He looked for appropriate books, purchased them off the internet, and Mission and Ecumenical paid.

I told Eky and sent him a small amount of money for library supplies - catalogue cards etc. He wrote back, very excited saying “It’s so fantastic that God is at work in this way. This is the first time we receive such an amount for the library.” Eky is overjoyed when the first consignment of books arrive at Rarongo.

On a subsequent visit to the United Church in Papua New Guinea I travel to Rarongo and meet Eky. He takes me to the library. All the book purchases are set out on tables for inspection. Eky is wearing a very broad smile and is full of gratitude.

However there was a problem. There was not enough space on the shelves for the new books. A new shelving unit was needed. We made a deal. Mission and Ecumenical would provide the money to purchase of materials and he’ll have some students build the bookshelf unit.

Back home I sent Eky a cheque for the timber supplies. He replies immediately. The cheque arrived on a Friday, Eky would pick up the materials on the following Monday and work on the new shelves could begin that day. “It’s so fantastic,” he said, “we’re so thankful for your blessing us in this way.”

When Keith retired from St John’s College at the end of 2005 he sent much of his personal library to the college and we pay the shipping costs. Eky was thrilled when the books arrive. Another need was for a computer. Can you imagine a library operating without a computer?

With assistance of funds from the Margaret and Bruce Gordon Trust we made this possible, and again Eky immediately went to the supplier in Rabaul, picked up the computer and back at Rarongo used it for the first time to send a letter of thanks.

In that letter Eky wrote, "Thank you for the money, books, computer, your prayers, and your moral and spiritual support. You have contributed a lot and our library has completely changed. When the staff, students and council of Rarongo Theological College saw the changes in the library, they really appreciated it.? Our sincere thanks to the Methodist Church in New Zealand for your continuous support of our library. May God bless you all”

Mission and Ecumenical will continue to support the library at Rarongo with book purchases. This project is quite a small one really. Yet it means so much to Eky and the staff and students at Rarongo.

I’m reminded of the parable of the yeast in the dough, something small can make a big impact.