Papua New Guinea celebrates 50th anniversary

General Clifton leads congress in Papua New Guinea

by Allen Satterlee, Major – 

More than 3,000 people crowded into territorial headquarters in Boroko, Papua New Guinea to share in The Salvation Army’s 50th anniversary congress celebrations. Led by General Shaw Clifton and Commissioner Helen Clifton, supported by Territorial Commander Colonel Andrew Kalai and members of the THQ staff, a total of 19,142 attended 12 public events over the extended weekend. Crowds would have been even larger but another 1,000 delegates were unable to come because the ship they were booked on did not sail.
Close to 200 Salvationists came to the airport to welcome the international leaders. Joining them were national dancers and official greetings from the Papua New Guinea government via Dame Carol Kidu, Minister for Community Development.

Major Eda Hokom, former training college principal in Papua New Guinea, represented the Western Territory. “Celebrating the 50th anniversary provided an opportunity to rejoice in the growth of the territory, renew friendships and experience the maturity of many of my cadets— now majors. What a joy it was to see them as leaders, to see their now grown children, to observe their commitment to God and their desire to be involved in telling his story,” Hokom said.

All congress meetings featured aspects of local culture, including traditional dances and dress, musical instruments and singing—along with presentations of “prophet songs,” a traditional means used by the first missionaries to tell Bible stories in the local language when people could not read.

In a first for Papua New Guinea, the General admitted Sir Brian Bell to the Order of Distinguished Auxiliary Service. Sir Brian has been a leading businessman in Papua New Guinea for nearly 60 years and a charter member of the original Salvation Army Advisory Board that formed in 1984. He has served as chairman of the Advisory Board for the past 15 years and has overseen the raising of large sums of money for Salvation Army use

The commissioning and appointment of 12 cadets of the Visionaries Session took place the next day.

A men’s prayer assembly early on Saturday morning included a stirring testimony by Benny Wasu, whose past included drunkenness and criminal activity, even the burning down of a nightclub. When his wife and daughters began attending the Army they urged him to join them but he continually declined. “Then one day,” he said, “I was in my car and lost control. It was hanging off the edge of a cliff by one wheel. I called out to God to save me and then slowly began crawling out of the car. I went and found Colonel Kalai, telling him I needed a change in my life. The following week I went to a youth congress and there found the Lord as my Savior.” He related how he took The Salvation Army back to his home province where no Army work existed. With his friends he built two new corps buildings, allowing the Army to open work. Benny Wasu went from burning down clubs to building churches.

A fast-paced women’s rally followed. After Commissioner Clifton’s Bible message the mercy seat was lined with seekers.

One highlight of the cultural meeting was the reminiscing of Commissioner Ian Cutmore who, with Major Keith Baker, was one of the first two officers in the country. Salvation Assault, Papua New Guinea’s first history book, was launched, along with the biography of Kei Geno, the first national to become a Salvationist.

At the meeting, General Clifton challenged the congregation by saying: “I have been thinking of what one Salvation Army symbol transcends all culture. It is not the uniform, the crest or even the flag. It is the mercy seat. By simply turning some chairs around at the front we transform any building into a Salvation Army hall. The mercy seat is the very definition of Salvation Army mission.”

The General also explored personal holiness. “God commands us to be holy, but how is that possible? It is possible by a baptism of the Holy Spirit of Christlike love into the heart of the seeking believer.” For an hour seekers streamed forward in search of that baptism of love.

During the visit, the General also dedicated to God the first Salvation Army high school building in Papua New Guinea as well as an expanded Focused, Open and Distance Education Center (FODE) at the territorial headquarters compound. The expanded facilities include an IT lab with 30 computers, fully equipped labs for science and home economics, a double performing and visual arts classroom and a workshop area to teach hand skills and carpentry.

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