I grew up in Efogi, a village along the Kokoda Track (Papua New Guinea). I’m from the mountain Koiari people. Pastor Lock set up a mission in our village prior to World War II. Our other contact with Adventists was in the 1920s when they built an airstrip in the village that provided our first real connection to the outside world aside from trekking. The airstrip became a very strategic asset when the battle between the Anzacs and the Japanese reached Kokoda. My father witnessed the fighting along the track but was too young to be involved in any substantial way. However, many of my other family members were involved in assisting the Australians and Kiwis during the Kokoda campaign.
Our family viewed Australians positively. There were a few reasons for this. Of course, there was our experience with the Lock family. Our first contact with Australians was with this godly family. We also felt an affinity with Australia because we’re neighbouring nations. And, of course, most of us were Christians.
Sadly, when the Japanese invaded PNG they burnt down Christian churches. People mourned when their churches were destroyed. The Japanese also destroyed many homes. So, although they claimed to be liberators, the way they acted told a different story. The way that my people remember World War II is that the Japanese lost the war because they destroyed our churches. That was a huge mistake. If any of us had any sympathy for the Japanese cause, the burning of our churches took that away. In contrast, the Australian missionaries had brought us the gospel, and their military didn’t destroy homes or churches.
In 2014, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Adventist work at Efogi. During the celebration we talked about the concept of international evangelism. We told our people that they didn't need to leave home to be missionaries. Today, God is bringing people from around the world to hike the Kokoda Track. These people are our mission field. We told our people, from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday, give the trekkers food and shelter for free as a spiritual service. And do not accept money on Sabbath—everything you do will be missionary service.
Pastor Tony Kemo, former president of the Central Papua Conference (CPC), took the divine service at our anniversary celebration and preached on international evangelism. He challenged the people living along the track to view their territory as an international evangelism field. I perceived that Pastor Kemo’s sermon was inspired by the Spirit of God, and so for the closing event, I endorsed his theme and also focused on the vision of spreading the love of God to the men and women from around the world coming to hike our track.
To be a witness for Christ, I told them, we need to make sure our villages and bodies are clean. Cleanliness is next to godliness. Many of the trekkers don’t know God. Presenting a clean, tidy, happy, organised village is witness for what God can do in our homes and in our hearts. I also encouraged our churches to organise choirs because the trekkers love to hear our local singing. Why not use the opportunity to share the love of God?
Conference CFO Max Lassah recently told me that three non-Adventist trekkers had heard our people singing songs from our church hymnals. They liked the music so much they wanted to buy our hymnals. Our people told the trekkers that they could get as many copies as they wanted at the Adventist Book Centre (ABC) in Port Moresby. So the international trekkers visited the ABC to get the hymnals when they got back to town! They said how much they loved the singing from the locals and the porters. Some of the porters were backslidden Adventists who have come back to church as a result of the witness of their brethren along the track.
Pastor Samuel, from Goroka, ministers in Manari Village. When I visited him last Christmas he told me that so far he had prayed with more than 1000 trekkers. Most of them were Australians and New Zealanders. But some were from further afield. One couple was from the Middle East! After he talks with them, he asks, “You have a long way to walk, do you mind if I pray for you?” Every trekker has responded positively to his request. So far he has met 10 former Adventists—he encouraged them to “come home to your church”. Six have since let him know that they have gone back to church. One was a former Adventist minister—an Avondale College graduate. Pastor Samuel challenged the minister: “You’ve left your pulpit.” The man asked, “What’s my pulpit?” Pastor Samuel replied, “You are called to be preaching the gospel from the pulpit.” The man began to weep. And through tears said, “Yes, I’ve left my calling.” The former minister recently wrote to Pastor Samuel, saying: “Thank you for helping me find my God again. I’m back in my church again—back where I belong. Thank you for helping me to come home.”
Prior to 2014, our people were witnessing in their own little ways. But after our 100th anniversary they are witnessing in big ways and lives are being changed. The people of the Kokoda Track have embraced the role of international evangelists. We once were blessed when people from overseas brought the gospel to us. Today, we’re passing that blessing back to overseas visitors. The gospel has come full circle—a most beautiful gift that keeps on giving.
Today, our major challenge is that tour companies organise trekking on Sabbath—and they are pushing our people to work. And some of our people are compromising their faith in return for the money. We are working with the tour companies to urge them not to coerce our people to work on Sabbath. And we’re encouraging everyone to stand strong like Daniel.
Please pray for our church family along the Kokoda Track. And please keep our international evangelism efforts in your prayers as well. God can do great things through us when we are faithful to Him.'
Pastor Kepsie Elodo is president of the Bougainville Mission, Papua New Guinea.