Expect the Unexpected

My Personal Experience of ‘Papua New Guinea 4 Christ’

Jonathan Walter
Expect the Unexpected
Baptismal candidates at the Keioketi preaching site

“Expect the unexpected!” was a repeated phrase I heard while traveling to the edge of modern civilization, into the highlands of the paradise-like country called Papua New Guinea (PNG). This island nation, rarely heard of in the news, and mostly known for its incredible variety of languages, remote villages, and primitive tribes untouched by the modern world, has fascinated me since I first heard about it in mission stories as a child.

When I learned that the Seventh-day Adventist Church in PNG was organizing a massive, Total Member Involvement (TMI) powered evangelistic campaign, I knew right away I had to go. “PNG4Christ” is certainly one of the largest simultaneous evangelistic pushes in the history of the Adventist Church. At over 2,000+ sites, evangelistic meetings were, and still are, taking place across the nation of PNG.

First Impressions

As I journeyed across the Pacific, arriving first in Port Moresby, the capital of PNG, then on to Mount Hagen, located in the Western Highlands, I saw what a very special place PNG is. Wherever I looked from the plane window, I saw endless untouched nature, rivers winding through the lush landscape like snakes, beautiful mountain ranges, and the occasional isolated villages, many of which can only be reached by long treks or by small aircraft.

When I landed in Mount Hagen, I was greeted by exceptional church leaders and volunteers who sacrificed their time and resources for evangelism. I was impressed by everybody’s professionalism and optimistic attitude. I stayed at the newly built Mt. Ararat Hotel, owned by a local Adventist businesswoman who has dedicated her means to support the mission of the church. Immediately, we felt the warmth and love of the PNG members and were happy to spend the next three weeks preaching the gospel in this garden of Eden, with its birds of paradise, pure organic foods, and adventures.

The highland above Mount Hagen

Adventist World Radio (AWR360) was a major sponsor and organizer of this event, providing financial and material support and bringing in international speakers from around the world, including Elder. Ted N.C. Wilson, multiple General Conference leaders, church workers from various divisions, lay members, and students. The group of international speakers I was part of was spread out to around 60 preaching sites in our district. Some held meetings in Mount Hagen, others in the far corners of the surrounding mountains and valleys. The gospel was preached every night through ‘Revelation of Hope’ presentations.

Local village

My assigned site was part of the Keioketi church district. A beautiful outdoor stage, crafted from natural materials, was erected next to one of the branch churches. For many years, this church of about 80 members had been praying, working, preparing, and waiting for this massive harvesting campaign to take place. I was impressed by the diligence, sacrifice, and commitment of the lay members and leaders not just throughout the campaign but also hearing about how thoroughly they had been preparing souls for these meetings. It quickly became clear that this was not a ‘drive-by-evangelistic meeting’ built on the hope that foreigners would attract people. No, the members, pastors, and administrators across the country had been preparing their communities, contacts, and seekers for a long time for this decisive reaping moment. They also had a plan in place to provide follow-up care and nurturing for the new members through discipleship programs.

Prime Minister James Marape (center) at Elder Wilson’s preaching site

PNG may be one of the most undeveloped countries in the world. But what they “lack” in infrastructure, proper roads, and basic modern-day conveniences, they make up in communal-focused living, love, neighborly care, and involvement. Society here is organized in villages, communities, and tribes. While Pidgin English is the nation’s language, many tribes have their language, customs, and ways.

Jonathan Walter with locals in traditional tribal outfits

One night when I arrived at my preaching site, I wondered where everybody was since typically at that time the place was full of people eagerly waiting for the message. I noticed a large gathering close by. I was told a village court procedure was taking place dealing with two individuals who had a dispute to settle. The entire community seemed involved in bringing justice and a solution to the situation that had stemmed from drunkenness. It was fascinating to watch and showed me how much people there care for one another. It explains partly why members are so connected with everybody around them, a concept foreign to me living in a Western individualistic society.

“PNG is a Christian nation,” locals told me more than once, and it is true. The majority is Christian, with the Adventist Church making up a respectable percentage of the total population. One drive around the highlands revealed countless Adventist churches along the roads and even in remote villages. Twenty to 30 percent of the nation’s government is comprised of our faithful members, including the prime minister, James Marape, and other high-ranking officials. Adventists here are known for being orderly, trustworthy, and morally upright. Yet, like all nations, this nation has its own struggles and challenges. A large percentage of the people in PNG are addicted to various drugs, such as betel nut, alcohol, and other substances. Domestic violence is common. A walk through the markets reveals many red-teethed smiles (from chewing betel nuts) and broken-looking individuals in desperate need of good news. This is precisely why we must preach, teach, and live the gospel of Jesus.

Miracles Still Happen

In preparation for the PNG4Christ meetings in our area, a massive mega-health clinic was organized, offering basic health care, oral-, dental-, and eye surgeries, and other medical treatments. Over 10, 000 people experienced the blessing of the right arm of the gospel, provided by sacrificial and mission-minded doctors, nurses, and volunteers from around the globe. Before I even arrived in Mount Hagen, I had already met someone whose life had been touched by a free eye surgery performed by Dr. Jacob Prabhaker of India. He and his team provided cataract surgeries with precision and incredible speed, restoring sight to thousands who had given up hope.

One older lady had been standing in line to receive eye surgery, but the massive number of people made it impossible for her to get access. Returning home disappointed but inspired by what was being done by our medical teams in the name of Jesus, she prayed with the faith of the woman with the issue of blood. Praying, since she couldn’t get the help she needed so desperately, that God would help her somehow. The next morning when she woke up, her eyesight was miraculously, completely restored! She carried her testimony to the community and certainly prepared the soil for the evangelistic meetings that followed.

There are other reports of miracles, even angel sightings, from PNG4Christ. But the biggest miracle is, and always will be, the miracle of the converted heart.

As I preached the message each night, I could tell that, despite the obvious battle between the forces of darkness and our victorious Jesus, the Holy Spirit was shining His light into the attendees’ hearts. People sat or stood outside and eagerly listened. Even during heavy rainfalls or longer presentations (due to translation), people stayed and listened to the truth as it is in Jesus. Appeals for heart surrender, victory in Christ, and baptism were made, and many responded. By the time I finished the meetings at my rural location, God had granted a doubling of the branch church membership through 75 decisions for baptism. Other sites in the more urban areas reported hundreds and thousands of attendees and baptisms. As of May 20, 2024, 278,369 people have been baptized in “PNG for Christ” with only about 52 percent of the over 2,000 sites reporting. A much higher total number is expected.

One of the highlights for me was when some of us participated in baptizing an entire Church of Christ (COC) congregation—one of 16 non-Adventist churches that converted over the last few years in that particular district. General Conference general vice president, Billy Biaggi, AWR360 president Duane McKey, and other GC/AWR officials attended the official ceremony to welcome this congregation. Interestingly, during the ceremony, it became evident that the pastor of the COC congregation, despite being positive about the transition and supportive of his members’ decision to convert, was the only one who had not yet fully committed to being baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Together with AWR vice president Kyle Allen and another local pastor, I proceeded to baptize some of the members. As we finished the last baptisms, we suddenly heard a call not to end yet! Unbeknownst to us, Robert Dulay, AWR Asia-Pacific regional director, had skipped watching the baptisms and personally appealed to the COC pastor. Convicted by the Holy Spirit, the pastor and his son also expressed their desire to be baptized! It was a powerful moment when, standing in a river in the Papuan jungle, we got to baptize this man of God into the truth!

Baptism at the Keioketi preaching site
Baptism of the former Church of Christ pastor

When initially I was told to ‘expect the unexpected’, I mostly thought about all that could go wrong with logistics, technology, schedules, materials, and health. And while there certainly were some of those challenges, not only did God solve them for us, but the unexpected blessings that we experienced far outweighed any of the earthly problems we encountered. What I witnessed during PNG4Christ will remain in my memory as a testimony to the power of latter-rain-infused-outreach. I was inspired by what is possible, when members and leaders join hands in evangelism, when the gospel is paramount in our lives, when the joy of the nearness of Jesus’ coming overshadows the love for worldly distractions, and when having little to nothing in earthly means equals a powerful faith in the Great Provider, Sustainer, and Heavenly Evangelist—Jesus Christ.

Jonathan Walter

Jonathan Walter is assistant editor for the Adventist Review.