Thursday, 22 February, Queen’s Park in Mt Hagen was very busy as many local churches gathered together to donate goods for those affected by the earthquakes. There were cabbages, sweet potatoes, clothes, blankets and cash donations all from their local congregations.
Siobhain Coles, a member of the MAF PNG Disaster Relief Team, witnessed the event:
“They are giving out of what little they have to those people who have nothing just a few hundred kilometres away from where they live. They are neighbours, they are brothers and sisters. And they are wanting to share whatever they can. It was a privilege to be able to be there, and see people bring even just a small bag containing one blouse or a few sweet potatoes wanting to bless other people. And it is also a privilege to be a part of the disaster response team and the MAF PNG operations team, so we are able to send as much of these vegetables tomorrow on some of our flights to the worst affected areas as a result of the earthquake.
It was humbling to see local people, who have very little themselves, giving a few clothes, a few cabbages from their garden, whatever they can spare, to bless those bush people who have even less than them. I felt like I was watching the widow at the temple from the story in the Bible, Luke 21 v 1-4:
“As Jesus looked up, he saw… a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. ‘Truly I tell you,’ he said, ‘this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’““
The Komqui Primary School dropped five very large, heavy bags of sweet potatoes. One of their staff had this to say: „after the earthquake we heard that the people there, our friends in the Southern Highlands, were suffering. Then some of our friends from the Ministers’ Fraternal in Western Highlands drove through our school and made the announcement that they need some help. So we organised our students to donate especially kaukaus (sweet potatoes) to help our friends out there in the Southern Highlands and Hela Province.“
“It was amazing and very touching to see people arriving one by one with a bilum full of fresh produce or other donations, as well as individual cars and buses arriving with big bags of kaukau or cabbage,“ reflects Mandy Glass, MAF PNG’s Communications Officer. “Everyone arriving was welcomed by some sort of cheering and hand clapping by the pastors and their wives overseeing the event. Some men were continuously busy re-packing the fresh produce into huge bags and making sure that they are sewed together properly for safe transportation. During the three hours I was at the Queen’s Park many different churches brought their congregation’s donations.“
MAF is flying these donations to the affected areas straight away. The fresh produce went on flights immediately (23 March) and the remaining donations this week (26-29 March).
This initiative to get local people involved assisting the earthquake stricken areas started with a God-given idea by someone who knows first hand how it is when a natural disaster like a strong earthquake shakes up people’s lives.
Philip Brewster, who lives in Christchurch, New Zealand, and who closely follows MAF PNG on social media commented on one of our posts about our first relief flights, “That’s awesome. Can someone near Mt Hagen use a truck to collect donations of food from the local villages to give to the worst hit areas through MAF? Let’s say, if a church in the Baiyer River valley had an idea of encouraging the villages to bring what they want to give to the road pic up areas on a certain day, to bring them to you. Could you then pack it and fly it out? Its easy to see 10+ reasons why it’s ridiculous and wouldn’t work in a timely manner. But I was hoping one person with faith would ask God how to make it work. Think what it would do for rival villages to work together for their own people. Even though they themselves are poor.“
This very idea was passed on the MAF PNG Disaster Response team as a nice idea but difficult to make happen. MAF simply does not have the people or resources to put this into action. However, the commitment had been made that if someone obtains the goods and gets them to MAF then we will fly them. MAF has received some funding to pay for the transport to the places if people get us the cargo.
So the idea was further delegated to Kambowa Kukuwa, MAF PNG’s Mission and Ministry Team Coordinator:
“It was on Tuesday, 13.03.2018, when I was at the Ministers’ Fraternal (town pastors) meeting at the United Church when Rev. Joshua shared the devotion from Psalm 139:13-14. ’We are fearfully and wonderfully made’. After the devotion Pastor Daniel Wek, the Ministers’ Fraternal Chairman invited me to share about the recent earthquake and what MAF was doing for the victims. I told them that the recent earthquake has displaced a lot of people whom God has made. Their gardens (food source) and houses have been destroyed and now many of them gather at care centres and thus they are in great need of help.“
This prompted the pastors to take ownership and to volunteer to organise a donation gathering at Mt Hagen knowing that MAF can transport vegetables like sweet potatoes, bananas, sugar canes, taros as well as blankets, pots, etc. “The ministers got excited about the opportunity,“ continued Kambowa, “and said MAF has done well and we should do something that will further strengthen our church-MAF partnership for our people. Then they agreed to carry out a campaign among their church congregations and the general community for donations.“
While at Queen’s Park, one of the pastors explained, “When we were praying for the people at Hela and Southern Highlands we also felt that prayer isn’t good enough. We thought we should gather as pastors and try to help in a practical way. Hagen is the place of fresh produce, for sweet potatoes and greens. So we are facilitating this gathering and waiting for the individual people to come and give whatever they can.“
The main message the Chairman, Pastor Daniel Wek, expressed was the sorry they felt for their country men and women who were affected by the natural disaster. The Ministers’ Fraternal communicated that is was a natural disaster and refused any other speculations about the wrath of God over this nation for doing evil things and not following God’s will. “Natural disasters do happen and sadly this time it happened in our country.“ Pastor Wek said. “We as citizens need to stand up and exercise our good Christian faith and character to go out and help those affected. It is not only the food and goods we send to the brothers and sister out there, our thoughts and prayers are with the people affected. We also pass our condolences to the families who lost their loved ones.“
Reverend Wek also expressed gratitude towards the work of MAF in making it possible for the transportation of the goods to the affected communities. “MAF used to be based here in Hagen but we (the local churches) have never realised the importance of their existence in this part of the world until this incident happened.“ He went on to say that “the churches will now build on from what we do today and foster a good partnership with MAF.“
In receiving the donation, Kambowa Kukuwa thanked the churches for their good deeds. MAF Administration Manager, Eric Eribiang, who also witnessed the Queen’s Park event, closed the gathering by expressing that “MAF and the local churches are partners in the work of God. This donation campaign is a clear demonstration of partnership in action. MAF is the bridge to help the needy out there. MAF should be seen as the middleman between the donors and the recipients, those affected out there.“
Philip Brewster, when seeing the first pictures on the MAF PNG social media page about the donation campaign, commented: “Yes, God gave me the idea but you wonderful people made it happen. My prayers for PNG are that the churches will lead the way in showing love and empathy outside their own village, especially to their old enemies so God’s glory and grace will be known through his people. Thank you so much doing God’s work in PNG even more than we know. I couldn’t be there but you were making it real.“
Mandy Glass. Photos Siobhain Cole (SC), Eric Eribiang (EE), Philip Brewster (PB), Mandy Glass (MG)