Digging Below the Surface

Staff in Papua New Guinea work to get to the heart of university students.

  • by Gareth Watkins
Image Courtesy of Ian Finnan

The two beds in the room were barely a meter apart from each other. Books and clothes occupied the rest of the available space. A lone ceiling fan hung desperately still in the stifling heat and humidity. Two young men sat bare-chested against opposite walls. A combination of Pidgin and English words floated gently from the smiling mouth of Alfred, student president of Student Life in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (PNG). Alfred and I were being shown hospitality in the small dormitory room of two first year law students, Colland and Fish, at the main campus of the University (UPNG).

It was the first and only door we knocked on during the witnessing blitz. As is very common in PNG, both young men said they had a Christian background when we first asked. But digging just below the surface, there’s often a lot more to be found. Colland and I hit if off immediately, as I found out he represents PNG in the sport of Tae Kwon Do. From the island of Bougainville, he gradually shared with us that he didn’t know Jesus personally, nor did his family. As we proceeded through the Knowing God Personally booklet, Fish, from the town of Lae, also said that although he often goes to church, he didn’t feel that Jesus was Lord of his life. After almost two hours of really enjoyable and deep conversation, Colland and Fish gave their details to Alfred, saying they would like to get involved in the local Student Life movement on the campus, and find out more about truly following Jesus. They were really thankful to us that we had approached them with a clear and caring presentation of Jesus’ message. We encouraged them by sharing that God could use them powerfully to reach out to their fellow students and to their hometowns and villages once they had graduated from uni.

Building spiritual movements on the university campuses is incredibly strategic in Papua New Guinea. If we can win the uni campuses starting in Port Moresby, we really can win the country for Christ. With around 1,000 different cultural groupings in the Nation, the universities provide the most effective way to reach people at one time and place, who will then take with them a personal relationship with Jesus and the skills to build that into others.

Student Life Australia sent our first full team to partner alongside PNG Student Life this year. Four missionaries, four students and one alumnus from QLD, NSW and VIC spent ten days in Port Moresby giving training at their Easter conference, spending time with staff and students and participating in a campus outreach. Whilst there were some significant challenges, such as long transport delays and a civil protest that disrupted plans, we were delighted to feel we achieved the main goal of the trip. Our desire was to work alongside local staff and students to empower them to reach their own country, modeling skills for movement building and generally being a blessing to them. The Australian team was so excited to meet the four new staff raising support, and some of the key student leaders. Greg Lionel, one of the new staff raising support said he couldn’t thank us enough for bringing our team over to PNG, and how much it meant to the staff and students. It reminded me of Paul’s words to the church in Rome; “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong - that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” (Romans 1:11-12).

Most excitingly for all of us, though, was knowing that our trip wasn’t just a flash in the pan. It has started a meaningful ongoing relationship between PNG and Australia Student Life which we know will bear fruit for the gospel.