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March 2009

In the footsteps of missionaries – Wesleyan spirit alive in Papua New Guinea highlands

Two daughters of Rev Cliff Keightley were on hand to mark the 50th anniversary of his arrival in the Nipa in the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea (PNG) to set up a Methodist mission.

In early December Dr Jenny Keightley, her husband Geoff Ridley, and her sister Susan Sinclair were hosted by United Church of PNG bishops, ministers and their wives when they attended the anniversary celebrations.

For Susan and Jenny it was a return to their childhood homes in the Southern Highlands and the Hela region of PNG.

In December 1959 Cliff arrived in Nipa Valley to establish a mission after walking for three days from Mendi. He was accompanied by a team of locals, pastors from the coast, police and Australian patrol officers.

Jenny says 6000 people attended the two day commemoration of the event.

"The church land was rededicated by the customary landowners and 60 to 70 pigs were killed for the feast. There was much singing, chanting, laughter, hugs and tears as well as long hours of listening to speeches in Pidgin and local languages. Luckily we were able to sit in the shade!"

"It was a time of renewal, joy and rebuilding relationships. We were cared for beyond expectation and felt very safe. We loved the time we spent developing relationships with the second generation, who were small children when we lived there," Jenny says.

Descendants of original customary landowners rededicate the Puril church land. Bishop Wesis Porop ( back to camera R) leads. Rev Stanley Buka centre ( circuit minister) holds the sod.

"These younger people have no memories of our family but have inherited the benefits of education, health care and faith that the Missions brought. Many are living the gospel, succeeding against all odds to preach and teach the good news of the Jesus Christ.

"The United Church in Hela and the Southern Highlands is a movement in the style of Wesley, burning with enthusiasm to spread the good news, living by providence, and rooted in the community and people. Last year in the Southern Highlands alone, 8000 new people were baptized and 12,000 rededicated themselves to Christ."

Jenny says there are problems in the regions and the Churches are the only organizations able to really engage with the population to face them. This is especially so the fully indigenous United Church.

"In Mendi, after work by the United Church bishop and Catholic leaders, there has now been three years of peace after 10 years of intertribal fighting. It caused the loss of 70 lives and destruction of many buildings, gardens and vehicles."

"In Tari, after two years of mediation among 30 groups there had been no loss of life for eight months. This work was done by Young Ambassadors for Peace, led by Moses Komengi, a son of one of the first Mission converts. This is on the background of no progress by armed forces and constabulary," she says.

Jenny urges church people to pray for people of the United Church and for the wisdom, commitment and faith of United Church bishops Wesis Porop and Wai Tege and their staff that they may continue their careful use of scarce resources.

Pray for protection for the people of the Southern Highlands and Hela from the divisions caused by affluence when mining and LNG do begin having more effect financially.

PNG today

Jenny Keightley says Papua New Guinea faces serious challenges. These include HIV AIDS, endemic violence particularly against women, wide income differentials, and high unemployment.

The country has also seen an influx of overseas mining companies such as the multinational Exxon Mobil. They bring the promise of prosperity through mining without commitment or concern for the effects this will have on the population.

"The national one party system is relying on churches to provide the infrastructure for peacemaking, education, health and employment, especially in rural areas, because it is unable to do so.

"There is no road access to the capital city from the Highlands or Hela. There is a main road from Lae on the north coast which is ‘sealed’ to Mendi but not beyond to Tari. It is as rough as a riverbed and it takes two or three hours to travel 60 km."

Subsistence farming works well but everything else costs the same or more than it would in Australia and NZ. Annual income average is NZ$1500 for those in employment.

ubsistence farming works well but everything else costs the same or more than it would in Australia and NZ. Annual income average is NZ$1500 for those in employment.

One initiative being developed is village tourism in partnership with the United Church. Now that peace is more secure the Churches can provide a secure experience. If you want to visit and are prepared to live as if you were camping, this may suit you. The financial costs will be higher than you expect because of the cost of travel, living costs and a donation to the churches, but you will have the experience of a lifetime and experience inspiration, and a possible renewal of faith. You will also bring cash to a cash-strapped economy.

Some people with skills in building, electrical work, diesel mechanics and accounting may also be able to help with project based advice.

Contact: if you are interested.

You can also donate through Methodist Mission and Ecumenical United Church projects by sending a cheque to Rev John Roberts, 22A Penney Ave, Mt Roskill, Auckland 1041.

Oxfam ( and Medecin Sans Frontierre ( also have development and health projects in the Hela region.

You can find out about Young Ambassadors for Peace through Uniting Church of Australia) website (

ubsistence farming works well but everything else costs the same or more than it would in Australia and NZ. Annual income average is NZ$1500 for those in employment.