Papua New Guinea (PNG) may not loom large on the U.S. evening news, but this country is an epicenter of incredible spiritual activity and growth. In the past 60 years, The Foursquare Church in PNG has experienced God’s presence in awe-inspiring ways.
In 1956, PNG was unreached by the gospel. But that changed as legendary Foursquare Missionaries Mason and Virgene Hughes left their home in the U.S. to make a new home in Hageri, PNG.
The challenge set before them was not an easy one.
PNG is home to over 1,000 cultural groups, many of which observe animistic religions and once practiced cannibalism. These tribes are often separated by steep mountain ranges, swamps and stretches of barely traversable jungle. Their customs and beliefs can vary widely between individual tribes, and 838 languages—representing one-third of the world’s languages—are spoken among the different indigenous groups.
Despite every difficulty, though, God moved.
Foursquare Missions International (FMI) Missionary Frank Greer explains: “One of the things that we discovered about many of the Papua New Guineans was you tell them things like, ‘Jesus Christ heals,’ they just kind of go, ‘OK,’ and there’s not a problem there,” he says. “They believe it, and then they go out and practice it. We had guys go out and raise people from the dead.”
Concern for the future of the PNG churches and deep love for these people moved Mason Hughes, and later Frank Greer, to begin training local leaders. The PNG church moved out of the pioneering stage into a position with established local churches; then the local churches began sending out their own evangelists to unreached villages.
These new, national pastors reached PNG locals through the lens of their own languages and multifaceted cultures. They began teaching and spreading the gospel to PNG’s most remote corners, and the stories of what God was doing were incredible.
With a grin from ear to ear, Frank tells one story illustrating the miracles in PNG’s Foursquare churches, about a young, local pastor who was attending a funeral in nearby village.
“He’s sitting there, and they have the woman there in the coffin, because she’s been dead for two days,” Frank explains. “And the Lord speaks to him and says: ‘Don’t bury her. Raise her up.’ He turns to his elders and says, ‘I think the Lord wants me to raise her up.’ So he went over and spoke to the body and said, ‘Get up in Jesus’ name,’ and she sat up in the coffin.”
By the time FMI Missionaries Paul and Carina Greer (Frank’s son and daughter-in-law) returned to PNG in 2008, The Foursquare Church in PNG had experienced monumental growth, was being led entirely by national leaders, and was sending out their own missionaries to the Pacific island nations and even to aboriginal tribes in Australia.
The mission field and opportunities for the Greer family in PNG were changing. More indigenous pastors, they realized, needed to be trained how to reach the next PNG generation. As The World Bank reports, “Young people account for almost half of Papua New Guinea’s population and comprise a disproportionate part of the urban poor.”
As PNG opens up to the world, these children will be the ones most influenced by modern ideas of materialism and sexual identity. A desperate need has risen for youth pastors to reach out to this next generation, who are struggling with rampant poverty and an epidemic of HIV.
On their blog about PNG, the Greer family confirms these new struggles in the nation. “Over 70 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty,” they write. “About 80 percent of the population is unemployed. HIV is growing so fast that there is fear it will reach sub-Saharan Africa levels.”
Partnering with the Greer family, PNG Foursquare churches are taking steps to address these demands. In 2011, total membership of PNG Foursquare churches was 2.3 million people among approximately 20,000 churches and meeting places. Five Bible colleges and 26 institutes are training new church leaders to meet the needs of growing Christian communities. Three orphanages are open to give children shelter, food and hope.
“I think there’s a legacy that’s been invested in that nation,” George Butron, a former FMI area missionary to Southeast Asia, comments. “I think spiritually we’ve had the opportunity to make a deep deposit and see transformation take place in the nation.”
To learn more about Paul and Carina Greer and FMI’s work in PNG, watch this video. Also be sure to visit the Greer family’s blog. Then visit FMI’s website to learn more about missions works around the world and to make a donation.
By: Rachel Chimits, a freelance writer living in Reno, Nev.