Worship – Papua New Guinea Style

When my husband and I moved to Papua New Guinea, our first priority was to find a church we could attend. For me, worship is the glue that holds my shifting expat life together. Worship steadies my soul when I’m changing time zones, suffering jet lag and navigating a new place to live. I find normalcy with the body of Christ in the midst of abnormal circumstances.

Based on my experience in Dubai, I thought it would be easy to find a church in Port Moresby. Dubai is a city governed by Islam and yet there were lots of churches and big congregations filled with expats. I looked on this as proof of God’s faithfulness in providing for His people, regardless of the social, religious or political climate. Papua New Guinea openly adheres to freedom of religion. But to my surprise, it took more effort than I imagined. It turns out that many of the expats in Port Moresby worship in their homes, so there’s not really an “expat” church. This puzzled me, but I kept on searching. Eventually, through the fellowship of other believers we met, we were led to a local congregation, Boroko Baptist Church.

On the outside, Boroko is pretty different from most churches in America. And it’s a definite change from the hotel meeting rooms used as sanctuaries in Dubai. The church building consists of a roof with semi-open walls, jalousie windows and a concrete floor. There is no air-conditioning, only overhead fans. In the summer months it’s stifling hot, even more so when the power goes out (a fairly common occurrence in the city). I struggle with the heat and humidity in the Southern Hemisphere summer months. Being a middle-aged woman from Texas, I love an air-conditioned room with the temperature turned down low. I compensate for my discomfort by remaining very, very still. My good friend Lee comes to mind. He worked with my husband in the oilfields of Iraq. He would mentally “go to a cool place” when sitting in a searing hot armored car, in a helmet and 30 pounds of body armor. If he could do it in Iraq, then I could certainly do it in church. The gentle breeze created by the overhead fans is a welcome relief. Once the singing starts though, you can sit still no more.

If Lee could do it, so could I

If Lee could do it, so could I

The music at Boroko is spirited and lively. The singing is led by a host of naturally talented praise and worship band members and soloists. They are young and full of life. It’s fascinating to me that Chris Tomlin’s lyrics have made it from worship in Texas all around the world, even here in this small church in Papua New Guinea. His songs are a connection to home for me. I also love the 80’s and 90’s praise songs we sing. They remind me of a time in my life when I was experiencing tremendous spiritual growth. Occasionally we sing songs in Pidgin English or Tok Pisin , New Guineas common language. The rhythms and melodies are infectious…if someone asked me to “rate the record”, I’d definitely say, “It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.” (Only those of you from my generation will recognize that phrase).  It doesn’t matter that I don’t know the words. But it is fun to try to figure them out.

“Jisas o nem bilong yu  em i swit tumas

Swit, swit, swit  swit , Jisas O

Nem bilong yu em i swit tumas”

The praise and worship time is alive with the power of Jesus and I love it.

A glimpse of Boroko

A glimpse of Boroko

The majority of the people who attend Boroko are local residents. The ladies come to church in their brightly colored meri blaus (ladies blouse), adorned with a single flower fastened tightly in the back of their hair. Their dresses remind me of the Mexican housedresses worn in Texas, but with a more Polynesian flare. They look comfortable in the sweltering heat. The men come with their bilims secured across their bodies, around their necks or strapped across their foreheads. These satchels are woven from tree bark. Their color and pattern indicate their village of origin. I chide my husband that his skin tone and stature are clear indicators he is not a local resident, but his Fossil canvas bag helps him fit right in. Many of the worshippers come to church without shoes. I thought this strange at first, but God prompted some sweet memories of my own childhood when I practically never wore shoes in the summer, and of my dear sweet Mother, who loved to tell me about walking barefoot to church when she was a young girl. Once again, I felt connected to something familiar.

Brother Joshua—the older, and Pastor Julian—the younger, lead the congregation. They are both local residents with strong ties to the community.

Joshua is a diminutive, raspy-voiced, honest preacher. In heavily accented English, he teaches the truths of God’s word. His messages are often tailored to the specific troubles of his people and his country with the reminder that trouble is common to us all, regardless of our circumstances. He always points us back to God for His counsel. Joshua is a living example of 2 Timothy 4:7 as he makes his way to the finish line. Julian is tall – he towers over most of the New Guineans in his midst. His strength is in his experiences and his story telling. Hearing him speak about the sufferings and victory over dark, supernatural activity encountered by Christians in this region makes the threat very real. He has a heart for the youth of this congregation and it is obvious he is dedicated to mentoring the next generation. Both Joshua and Julian are welcoming of all who come to worship with them. I am thankful for God’s provision.

My search for a church home away from home was driven by my desire to be part of the body of Christ in my new surroundings. This longing for community brought to mind the exhortation in Hebrews 10: 24-25, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24–25, NIV) On an experiential level, I completely understand this counsel now. On the outside I look different from most people in my church in PNG, but on the inside, I’m much the same. I reach for the bond of fellowship wherever I am because all my homes on this Earth are temporary. I want to spur others on, encouraging them as we await His glorious coming. In this season of my life, I’m doing it with the people of Boroko.

“Jesus, O your name it is very sweet to me

Sweet, sweet, sweet, Jesus, O

Your name it is very sweet”

God's provision of fellowship

God’s provision of fellowship

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2 Responses to Worship – Papua New Guinea Style

  1. Gail says:

    Love hearing about your experiences! You have such a gift with words.

  2. Hi Shirley,
    You’re so right… again! Reaching for the bond of fellowship is a mantra that rings throughout the expat community and really around the world. Thank you for sharing your story of using your connection to God as a way of adapting to your new surroundings. Why not ‘go native’? I can just picture you in your meri blaus! Sounds very airy and comfortable.

    I love continuing our connection by reading your blog. Please keep writing!
    Hugs,
    Anne

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