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Monday, February 22, 2010

Melanesian Brotherhood

Missionaries meet new challenges in re-evangelisation

PIVO is a two day walk from Kerema or an eight-hour dinghy ride up the Vailai and further up the Lohiki river.
Here in this isolated part of the Gulf province is situated an Anglican mission station.  There is no priest but the parish is served by four men who are doing so out of their love to serve God and other persons. By living and working there, they are living out their vow to own nothing of their own (poverty), remain unmarried for as long as they are there (chastity) and always obey their superior (obedience).

Obeying the superior therefore includes going anywhere in the country they are assigned - which is where they are in this very isolated part of the Gulf province.

At Moreguina, in the Abau District of Central Province, another group of such missionaries are at work.  There the parishioners are mainly mountain people of Milne Bay Province's Agaun area who have come to settle and work on the rubber plantations on the lower plains of the neighbouring Central Province.

These missionary men are members of the Melanesian Brotherhood, a ministry of the Anglican Church that was founded in 1926 in the Solomon Islands.
 (ABOVE: Brother Campbell Yakawa and Brother Matthias Onderi at the ATS Settlement house in Port Moresby.)

The founder is Ini Kopuria, a police sergeant in the Solomon Islands police force then.  In 1937 he traveled to the West New Britain Province of PNG with a view to establish a "household" there for a team of his brothers.  The church in the New Guinea Islands was then under the Church of Melanesia whose headquarters was in the Solomon Islands.

The diocese of Papua, pioneered by Englishmen Albert Maclaren and Copland King had its headquarters at Dogura, Milne Bay Province.  Dogura then was established under the Australian board of missions.
The Melanesian Brotherhood were to establish a ministry outpost at Kandrian in West New Britain but the Second World War forced the missionaries to abandon their plans and head back to the Solomon Islands.

In the forced retreat, the Catholic missionaries also stationed in the province at that time urged the lone Anglican priest there to accompany them to Vunapope in East New Britain.  The Anglican missionary refused and instead gave a chalice, stole and cassock to his friends telling them, "take these and keep them to remember me."  He remained and was martyred by the Japanese.  His grave at Vivilo, Kandrian is another sad reminder of that phase of missionary activity in the region and country.

Years later Bishop David Hand approached his counterparts in Solomon Islands to send brothers to NGI and then to Madang, Goroka, Siane Valley, Jimi and Simbai.

In a typical first encounter in a Highlands village, two of these Melanesian brothers were captured and tied and the chief was called to determine their fate. 

In a miraculous twist in events, the village chief told his people not to kill as the two men were there with good news.  Whatever that good news was, he was to know it only later on through the ministry of the two "captives."

The man who told this story, Brother Matthias Onderi, attributed the survival of the brothers to an intervention of God himself.

From that incident on the brotherhood was quite successful in converting hitherto heathens of parts of Eastern Highlands, Jimi in Western Highlands and the neighbouring Simbai area in Madang Province - at the behest of the last Archbishop Sir David Hand.

Today, the ministry of the Melanesian Brotherhood, has largely moved from one of converting heathens to one of urging people to return to the mother church.

According to Brother Matthias, "in this new millennium there are no longer any heathens to convert.  The brotherhood's ministry has shifted from evangelization to re-evangelisation."
Port Moresby diocese bishop Peter Ramsden agrees.  He said a lot of people have drifted away from their upbringing in Christian families.

For such people, the Anglican community has a specific petition to God that is recited during Mass:  "We pray for those who have lost you that they may find you again."

Asked if he would be just as happy if they "found Him again" outside the Anglican circles, he said because of their Anglican upbringing, it would be better if they returned to the mother church.

This is where the Melanesian Brotherhood comes in.  "MBH helps Anglicans come back to the church," Bishop Peter said.  Bishop Peter said many Christians have left the church through the growth of urban centres. There are many challenges to the church in the modern world of consumerism and secularism.   The growth in cities and modern lifestyles are challenging to Christian and Melanesian values, the bishop points out.

Basing on his experience of working as a priest in Jimi and Simbai, Bishop Peter said church provided schools and health centres were better run when the whole community cooperated through the agency of the one faith, be it Anglican, Catholic or whatever.  When later on other faith groups ventured into such areas, schools and aid posts began to suffer neglect and lack of care because of divisions or reduction in the number of willing hands to help maintain them.

Even social issues such as urban poverty and HIV/AIDS are great challenges the church need to face up to. 
The Melanesian Brothers are a self-sustaining ministry but there is also a group of laity known as companions who pledge to support them financially and materially.

Brother Matthias said in most places where there are households of brothers there is ample gardening land for them to work on for survival.  Their local chapels and their companions do provide regular support as well.  However, he noted with concern that support from companions has been on the decline, due to various reasons including perhaps the high cost of living for urban dwellers.

The Port Moresby diocese has a house of brothers at the ATS settlement, better known as the Oro Camp.  There are four brothers led by a senior.  One of them is young Cambell Yakawa who had recently completed a three year training for his work.

In an urban settlement area, the brothers' work involves visiting youths, families and encouraging people with special needs such as addicts and the destitute.

Brother Campbell has been assigned to the Aipo Rongo diocese and will be serving at Simbai, Madang Province.

The past few weeks most of the brothers were in conference at Popondetta.  When they return from there to their posts such as Pivo and Moreguina, young Campbell will travel to Simbai to start a new mission life away from his Milne Bay home.

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