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Over a Quarter Million Recently Baptized in Papua New Guinea

Over 260,000 people have been baptized in the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s recent “PNG For Christ” evangelistic effort in Papua New Guinea. 

Described as a “Discipleship Reaping Campaign,” the mass baptism-focused series was composed of around 2,000 evangelistic programs. They were held from April 26 to May 12 at 162 sites across the Independent State of PNG, population about 10 million. 

Almost 300 international church leaders, including General Conference president Ted Wilson, secretary Erton Köhler and South Pacific Division president Glenn Townend delivered talks at various locations as part of the country-wide event.

Wilson, who delivered a 16-night Revelation of Hope sermon series in Minj, was greeted by a massive crowd when he arrived on April 24. 

The prime minister of PNG, James Marape—who has pushed for an constitutional amendment naming God “as the creator and sustainer of the entire universe,” along with the nation’s Supreme Court Chief Justice and Speaker of the House—all Adventists—publicly welcomed Wilson to the country.

“The big reason why we were looking into having international guest speakers,” said Malachi Yani, president of the Papua New Guinea Union Mission, “was for their learning—that is primary.”

While some parts of PNG have recently seen increasingly deadly tribal clashes, no international speakers visited the area near the violence. 

“Coming here and partnering with this province,” David Butcher, South Australian Conference president, said, “is wonderful because we see something bigger [than ourselves].”

A video Köhler posted to his social media account shows celebrating spectators accompanying massive groups of white-clad people awaiting baptism on the PNG shorelines. “5,000 people being baptized on the beach in Port Moresby,” Köhler notes. 

“It blows my mind,” said Ronald Lawson, when the official church media reporting was quoted to him. A noted Adventist sociologist, Lawson has traveled around the globe, including to PNG, interviewing over 4,500* Adventists at all levels of the denomination. 

Much of what determines if you are an Adventist in PNG “is which village you are born in,” Lawson said. It is important, he explained, to understand this phenomenon in the context of tribal affiliation and a syncretistic mix of Christianity and animism. 

Mass baptisms were not confined to beach areas, though—so great were the baptism requests that they have also taken place in creeks or makeshift pools. 

According to Wilson, the goal of the evangelistic campaign is a final total of 600,000 baptisms. The current official membership of the Papua New Guinea Union Mission is 395,636.

Lawson also shared an event he witnessed in PNG.*

My first interviewing trip to PNG was in 1986, when there were already many Adventist politicians, whom I was eager to interview. One of them was from one of the first villages to become Adventist in the Eastern Highlands–Kabiufa.  This village was the site of the best-known Adventist secondary school in PNG. It had been the first of our five secondary schools  to move its top grade from 10 to 12, which allowed Adventists to have unusually good educations. (The 4 other Adventist high schools at that time topped out at grade 10.) I was staying with the mission president in Goroka, who was then still an Australian. 

On Sabbath morning we “looked in” on 3 churches, finishing at Kabiufa Village Church. The politician and I recognized each other from our interview, and we greeted each other after the service ended. The president proudly chaufered me around on Sabbath afternoon, showing me just how significant the Adventist presence was there in the Eastern Highlands.  When we returned to the president’s home in time for dinner we were met with shocking news: the politician had had what we would call a heart attack that afternoon and had died. The village elders wanted the mission president to resurrect him next morning. The president became very nervous—how could he refuse such a request given the New Testament, and yet resurrections don’t seem to happen any more. The attempted resurrection next morning was not successful.

But the Mission president returned home with disturbing news: the village elders had met afterwards to determine who had been responsible for killing their leader, and had decided that a neighboring non-Adventist village was to blame. Their actions were somehow associated with their ancestors, who were still part of the Village, and the ancestors of both villages had traditionally been enemies. The Mission President was very upset: he told me that this would lead to armed conflict between the two villages, and it was likely that some would be hurt or killed.

“I am wondering to what extent the PNG Adventist politicians are involved in this,” Lawson added. “When I asked these politicians, how does being an Adventist impact the sort of policies they pursue, they would look at me blankly.” He remembers a political leader finally offering that he was able to “get a piece of land for the church.” Reflecting on the news, Lawson wondered aloud. “Who are we baptizing? What villages do they come from? Why are they being baptized now?”

*Earlier versions of this contained details from a phone call that Ron Lawson asked to correct and expand on in writing.

Alexander Carpenter contributed to this report.

About the author

Nate Miller is a Spectrum 2024 summer intern. He is a student at Andrews University, studying for a BA in English (writing), music (piano), and French. More from Nate Miller.

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