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Papua New Guinea, 1984

Papua New Guinea Flag

Village at Winima, PNG In June 1984, I went to PNG with a group of about 45 people on a missionary trip. I was 21 at the time, and this was my first trip overseas. This photo was taken in Winima, a village in the southern interior of PNG, where a small group and I visited one day.

School classroom This photo is at the School of Life in Lae, PNG, a small school for young native evangelists. Lae is a major city on the east coast of PNG, and was the starting-point for a five-day bush trip for me and my group.

Needless to say, after thirty-six hours of travel, we were very relieved to land in Papua New Guinea! However, we were a weary and sleepless looking lot when the warm humid air hit us getting off the plane. Traveling to Papua New Guinea was an exotic experience, but a very positive, and adventurous one. It was my first trip overseas and my first experience being a foreigner in a distant land. Fortunately, everything went remarkably well. There was even talk about going back for my two-year missionary apprenticeship after graduation from university, but things did not work out in that direction, and a couple years later I ended up going to London instead.

I will never forget the natural wildness of Papua New Guinea, and the pleasant encounters I had with the people. Papua New Guinea is a tropically-mountainous, developing country, located just south of the equator and above Australia. The people vary in ethnic origin and physical appearance, and spoken language. There are some 700 different dialects, making PNG the most linguistically diverse country in the world, but English is the official language. (We studied Pidgen English before the trip because it is widely spoken there. It was like a foreign language to us, but it was useful in communicating, and by the time we left PNG, I understood it fairly well.) About 80% of PNG's population live in rural areas with few or no facilities. PNG is an independent country, but has colonial ties with Britain and Australia since the end of WWI (before that, Germany). This visit to PNG was truly an adventure, and it has helped shape my consciousness toward other cultures, and sharpen my aims on travel. I think travel is the best education in the world!

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In a nutshell, the purpose of our trip was to spread the gospel, and strengthen a local congregation in Port Moresby, the Capital and largest city (population 170,000) as well as learn about and experience the Papua New Guinean culture. We did a lot of singing (including a spot on the radio), performing puppet skits, meeting people and evangelizing. The residents of Port Moresby were very receptive for the most part, and we had quite a lot of success attracting them to meetings and Bible studies. Our accommodations were at a hotel in Port Moresby, and the church provided our transportation around Moresby in a long flatbed truck, and a van or two. Most of our meals were provided at the Murphree's house, a missionary couple, except for lunches that we usually got on our own. We also traveled some by public transport. Everywhere we went it was hard not to attract attention, so we were constantly meeting people.

The three main parts of the campaign involved: (1) a week visiting the University of Papua New Guinea, (2) attending the Port Moresby Show--an annual festival--where we sang and had puppet shows, and (3) spending about five days on a "bush campaign," traveling in smaller groups to other parts of the country, such as the highlands, or to Lae.

My group of five people flew to Lae, which is located on the east-side of the country, for our bush campaign. Not many people know this, but Lae is famous for being the last place where American aviator Amelia Earhart (1898-1937) took off, at noon on July 1, 1937, on her infamous flight to Howland Island in the distant Pacific on her trip around the world. When I visited there in 1984, Lae was a growing city of about 50,000 people, but had a smaller, less developed, frontier-like feel to it than Moresby. We visited with missionaries there (the Lock's, the Page's, the Ford's, the Franklin's, and several single missionaries); attended the local church on one Sunday (I even got to preach at one service), and went on a further trip, hosted by missionary Ken Page, into the country to the villages of Bulolo, Wau, and Winima.

Some of our activities in these villages included: visiting a butterfly farm near Bilolo, and an Ecological Institute & Zoo near Wau, and we got to visit the "Bossman's Haus" in Winima, along with a local church. These were the most remote people we met, in a village accessible only by a wire bridge, and we exchanged gifts with some of them. Next, We drove to the top of 8,000 foot high Mt. Kaindi, basically, to see what was up there (a big satellite station, to our surprise), and saw a lot of other interesting sights on this tour with Ken. PNG used to be rich in gold deposits, and you could still see where large gold mining dredges were abandoned in the 1930s-40s. As we passed some men who were panning for gold in a river, one of them proudly showed us his prized pillbox which contained gold dust.

In Wau, we spent one night with an older missionary couple, the Bundt's, who were Dutch-Australian. They had lived in the "outback" of PNG for many years, even among tribe people, and one night Tom wanted to show us some slides of their house in the bush, and, still tired from jet lag, I just couldn't stay awake. On another evening, we visited some Baptist missionaries with a Peace Corp worker. Most of the meals we ate on the bush trip were cooked by Ken and ourselves on a portable gas stove.

Back in Lae, on our last day there, we visited the school of Life, a medical clinic, and went to the International School, and played some soccer with the kids. I had to play barefoot, because I didn't want to run in my sandals. The bush campaign was, for most of us, the most memorable part of the whole trip because we visited "remote" areas that were hard to get to except by a four-wheel-drive vehicle. This was in many ways, an exciting adventure, that, let me put it this way, would probably qualify for a National Geographic documentary! Unforgettable scenery, and friendly encounters with native people were the norm from beginning to end.

The last full day that we were in PNG, the whole group was allowed to tour the newly constructed parliament building, in Moresby, which was designed in an unusual South-Pacific architectural style (it was a brand new building at the time). We also went to the PNG Museum of Culture, and to the Moresby harbor where we saw a submerged Japanese ship that sank during WWII.

New Zealand Flag

For the trip we had two layovers in Auckland, New Zealand, where on the return trip we had about a three-hour guided bus tour of the city, ate dinner at a downtown McDonalds (we were on a tight schedule), and visited a sheepskin souvenir shop. An odd thing that happened at the airport that evening, was that the fire alarms went off and everyone (quite a large crowd of people) had to go outside and stand/wait till the fire drill was over. That has never happened to me before or since. All-in-all, it was a short, but fine introduction to New Zealand. I would love to go back there one day. Then, we had a short layover in Fiji (in the middle of the night), and continued on to Hawaii, (which was sort of a culture shock after PNG) where we spent two and a half days and three nights at the end of the trip.

We stayed at the Hawaiian Isles Hotel in Waikiki, not far from the beach. In Hawaii we saw many interesting sights in Honolulu and Pearl Harbor. We climbed to the top of Diamond Head, an extinct volcanic crater where there was an old WWII look-out point. From Diamond Head the view of Waikiki was spectacular! We visited the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial which was about as somber as any war memorial I have ever been to, and we went snorkeling in a coral bay that I think is where "Blue Hawaii" was filmed, with Elvis Presley. We also went on a free tour of the Dole Pineapple Company in one of their buses, and went to the International Market. This foray to Hawaii was fun-packed and admittedly too short to really experience our 50th State properly, but it was unforgettable.

In the end, we crossed the International Date Line twice, which was noteworthy, and spent a lot of time in the air and changing planes at airports. We flew American Airlines, Air New Zealand, and Air New Guinea. It was on Air New Zealand that I first began to enjoy drinking hot tea, and I got in the habbit of drinking at least one cup a day in PNG. We also had two layovers in Los Angeles. On the return trip we had to change airports, so we took a bus from LA Airport, across town (passing downtown LA, and the HOLLYWOOD sign) to Ontario Airport, where we waited for a late-night flight to Nashville. We talked a lot and played charades to pass the time!

Since this was my first trip overseas, I was able to absorb everything without feeling too tired or bored (although I lost my voice toward the end). It was an amazing experience which could involve a lot more description, but I will close right here to keep it brief. After this trip I would never be the same. The travel bug got me, that's for sure!

Note: I have a small diary from this trip consisting of brief descriptions and itineraries each day. I am surprised that I still have it, as much as I have moved around since 1984, but the words in it really bring back memories.
The National
The Post-Courier
PNG's Prime Minister
The New Zealand Herald
Government of New Zealand