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56. Don’t want to leave Papua New Guinea

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Sven speaks: In 1984, we were gathered to an Assemblies of God Papua New Guinea mission field conference, where the major topic of the discussions was the handing over of all of the work of the missionaries to the national church. In a formal sense, this was already how it functioned. Indigenous pastors led the churches and the boards were made up of national pastors, however there were still missionary advisors to the different boards and some non-church support activities were still carried out by missionaries. The national church movement was now considered strong enough to take over all of the responsibilities for the running of Assemblies of God PNG by themselves.

At this time there were 34 Assemblies of God missionaries in Papua New Guinea. It was decided that the number would be reduced to six by 1990. When this was done, it would be decided for how long these six missionaries were to remain. But the goal was clear; the nationals would completely take over the responsibilities of the running of the Assemblies of God in Papua New Guinea. This idea did not quite appeal to me since I was set on living in Papua New Guinea for the rest of our lives. Marianne and I believed that this was what God wanted us to do with our lives and we were enjoying it as well.


The conference ended with a night service where a well-known pastor of the Assemblies of God in Australia preached. He said that there were other mission fields awaiting the gospel. Even if our time in Papua New Guinea was reaching its end, our job as missionaries did not necessarily have to be over. The service ended with a time of prayer for an hour and we were encouraged to ask God about his future plans for us.

During the prayer, Marianne had a vision in which she saw herself and me walking on a well-trodden track in Papua New Guinea. It seemed as if we were very happy with our lives. Suddenly Jesus was standing on the path. He had a machete in one hand and held onto us with the other hand. He pulled us off the trail into the dense jungle. It was so dense that He had to use the machete to clear the path in front of us. It was very dark, awkward and awful in every way. After a long hike, we reached a huge wheat field. Jesus asked Marianne what she was seeing. She said that she saw a huge wheat field. Jesus asked if she saw something more. "Yes." Marianne answered, "I see that it is ready for harvest, but no one is harvesting the crops." Jesus then said: "This is where I want you to work. But if you do not let me show you, you will never get there."

Marianne told me about her experience, but I did not take any notice and instead said that I knew God had called us to Papua New Guinea. If God wanted us to go somewhere else, he had to tell me about it! (This makes Sven laugh.) After that conference, Marianne kept telling me that she knew there was going to be some sort of change, but I did not want to hear about it.


When David Cartledge and Vic Stolar, on behalf of the Assemblies of God, visited some places in the Soviet Union in 1986, they had during their conversations considered what missionaries they were going to send there. They looked at each other and said: "Sven and Marianne would be suitable to send here." In a letter to the Assemblies of God World Mission's director George Forbes, they came with this suggestion. When I heard about this, I wrote to George Forbes telling him to pay no notice to this proposal and continued: "I know God has called us to Papua New Guinea and He has not told us about any change in this. Hence, I do not want to hear any further about these plans."

Earlier, I said that “we left” David in Australia in 1986 in order for him to be able to go to University. In 1990 it was time for Andrew and Sonia to study in Australia as well. Everything went well in the beginning but in 1991, Sonia fell seriously ill. This came as a great shock to us. She had never had any problems during her childhood and had always been good in school. But all of a sudden, she was like an empty shell – you simply could not communicate with her. Marianne went to Australia to take care of Sonia but when she met her, she called me and said, "You have to come here! Sonia is going through a very difficult time." I did not think she was that ill but when I met her later on, I realized how bad it really was. For half a year we could not get a sensible word out of her. To make a long story short, this was a very difficult time for both Sonia and us.

Sonia had gone to a psychologist who belonged to our church, but he said that there was no point in her continuing to come to him since she did not communicate. "What shall we do?" I asked. "You should take Sonia to a psychiatrist." was his reply. To me, this sounded like bringing her to the devil himself. This was my concept of psychiatrists at the time. At first, even our family doctor was a bit hesitant about this, but he later changed his mind and referred Sonia to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist turned out to be a Christian doctor, a Seventh-day Adventist. He was also a highly qualified, friendly and wonderful man. He identified the problem and told us what needed to be done. It had felt as if we were in hell but now we began to return to life as Sonia started to get better. Finally, she was feeling better and could return to school. Marianne and I returned to Papua New Guinea in 1992.

But in 1993, Sonia experienced a relapse in her illness and we had to go to Australia yet again to take care of her. This was also a long time with very difficult problems, but eventually it all turned around and Sonia could in 1994 finally complete her Senior High, and Marianne and I could return to Papua New Guinea.

When school ended in Christmas 1994, Sonia applied to pursue a nursing education. She was not offered any place in the Brisbane University, but she did get an offer from the Toowoomba University, 130 km west of Brisbane. Sonia was very worried since she did not know anyone in the city. Stolar, the family that all of our children lived with, wrote to us, suggesting that perhaps it was a good idea to come back to Australia. They were worried that Sonia would get ill again because of her anguish.

We then decided that Marianne would go “home” and help Sonia moving to Toowoomba. It turned out that we did in fact know a lot of people there, including the local Assemblies of God pastor and his wife. His wife was an old classmate of Marianne’s from the time when she did her nursing training in Cairns. They had also been missionaries in Papua New Guinea and they thus knew us quite well. When the pastor in Toowoomba got to know about Sonia's situation, he advised us that we ought to come home and stay with her in Toowoomba during her education.


I realized that if we left Papua New Guinea for three years, it would be the same thing as quitting our mission operation there. I had great trouble accepting this. God then reminded me of the Scripture about Jesus´s farewell speech to his disciples "But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you."(John 16:7) The part "it is for your good that I am going away" was suddenly seen in a whole new light for me. When Jesus was physically present among his disciples, they always assumed that it would be He, who was going to solve the problems that arose. Jesus being on earth prevented the disciples from growing spiritually with the help of the Holy Spirit. But if Jesus was "taken away from them", they had to rely on Him, although invisible, and the help of the Holy Spirit. Now I began to see a pattern. We had taught the national pastors how to solve problems that arose and I knew they could do it, but as long as I was there, I was an obstacle in the way for them to deal with the various problems themselves.

So even though it felt difficult in many ways, after I had received the revelation of the Scripture "it is for your good that I am going away", it was a little bit easier to make the decision to leave Papua New Guinea. Sonia needed Marianne and me in Australia. The pastors' spiritual growth would benefit from it as well. I based my farewell sermon on the scripture quoted above. "It is for your good that we are going away, because if we don´t, you won´t put your trust in the Holy Spirit, but rather think that I will solve all your problems. Until today, you have said, 'Sven will fix this'. But now, as we will leave you, you must tackle the problems yourselves under God's direction."

You never know everything, but now I had been taught that knowing God's calling and direction to a certain place is not the only thing of importance, but to listen to God when he says that it is time to leave is also very essential. When this became clear to me, I was at peace about leaving the work in Papua New Guinea. This later proved to be the right decision. When we left the Highlands, there were about 200 Assemblies of God churches there. Today, in 2012, there are approximately 400 of them.

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