– by Anna Irwin, LHF staff writer
Picture this: A prominent businessman in your neighborhood dies. It’s the middle of the afternoon, and in the streets, men are shouting. At first, it’s only one or two voices, but steadily more and more join in until it’s a mob of angry men. They’re looking for a woman – surely a witch! – whom they believe has used her magic to kill the businessman. The woman is found; the men interrogate and torture her until she gives up the name of “the real witch” who killed the man. Now the mob hunts out this new woman and the cycle begins anew, until eight or nine women have been accused of killing the man. Only four of the women survive, and of course, none of them actually killed the businessman.
In America, that story sounds like a recounting of the Salem witch trials, but in Papua New Guinea (PNG), an island nation north of Australia where witchcraft is part of daily life, this scene happened recently. Witch hunts are also more common in villages where the people suffer tribal fighting and killings.
Where is God in the midst of a world like this? How does the Gospel message go out to a group of people who are so filled with fear?
According to LCMS missionary Dr. Martin Dicke, who worked in PNG until January 2023, the Word is being taught to 50,000 to 80,000 people in more than 500 Lutheran congregations throughout the country.
“The most effective means of sharing the Gospel in PNG is faithful, indigenous pastors proclaiming God’s Word,” he said.
To support this valuable mission, LHF has been supplying Timothy Lutheran Seminary in PNG and their church body, Gutnius [Good News] Lutheran Church, with a plethora of free resources that clearly proclaim the Good News.
In the last few years alone, LHF shipped almost 60,000 copies of books like “Jesus Never Fails,” Luther’s Small Catechism, A Child’s Garden of Bible Stories, and a liturgy book – all translated into languages like Tok Pisin and Enga.
“The Pentecostals and the Seventh Day Adventists are very prominent in the Enga province [of PNG],” shared Dr. Dicke. “Providing Lutheran pastors [and seminarians] with materials so that they can study and interpret the Bible correctly is crucial. That is why the work of LHF is so important.
“Some of the catechisms will be used in the seminary classes,” he continued. “We pray that others will also study them personally. Many will be glad to have a book, since books are so rare!”
God’s Word is also taught in the schools of Papua New Guinea! In 1975, when PNG became an independent country, they declared themselves to be a Christian country, and so Christian education is part of the curriculum of even the government schools.
The recent large shipment of books sent by LHF included several titles written in English, such as Bible Stories in Pictures, A Simple Explanation of Christianity (which is a Small Catechism), and LHF’s new publication God’s Word for You, all of which will be used in Lutheran schools throughout the country.
Just as in the parable of the sower and the seed, the Good News of Jesus hits fertile soil in Papua New Guinea. Where one believer is baptized, many new believers are brought to Christ through the Holy Spirit.
Dr. Dicke shares this story:
“While serving in PNG, I had the honor of visiting a church in the Tarua District, which is a four-hour drive from Timothy Lutheran Seminary on a challenging and very rough road. There, I met the son of the first man who had been baptized in that region. That first baptism was held in the early 1960s, and my uncle (Rev. Dr. Willard Burce) baptized this man’s father.
“From that one seed, along with the others baptized that day, there are now 12 strong congregations. Everyone in these congregations has memorized the Six Chief Parts of Luther’s Small Catechism. It is not often that one witnesses a harvest of a hundredfold!”
And what about the people who get carried up in the violence and mass hysteria of mobs like the one described earlier?
“I was sharing the story of Psalm 51 with my music class at Timothy Lutheran Seminary,” Dr. Dicke said. “The seminarians were mesmerized to hear of all the terrible things King David did, how he was led to repent and how God forgave him.
“I could almost feel God lifting from them the burdens of their past lives, which for some included tribal fighting and killing. Many are now serving their own congregations. I trust that they are standing in and proclaiming God’s mercy and grace.”