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34. The path to the Assemblies of God

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Sven speaks: When Ludvig and Hilding Eriksson and their wives began their missionary work in Mount Hagen, they were very particular about the work being "Swedish" in terms of worship and church structure. It was one of the reasons why they wanted the name of the church in Mount Hagen to be, Filadelfia Kristen Kongregesin (ref Chapter 24). When Marianne and I came to Papua New Guinea, we did it as Swedish Pentecostal missionaries. We came from Australia and we were Australian citizens, but the churches supporting or sponsoring us were part of the Swedish Pentecostal Fellowship. I probably didn’t share Ludvig and Hilding's position entirely when it came to establishing "Swedish Pentecostal Churches" in Papua New Guinea, but rather thought that the assemblies and worship services should be coloured by the Papuan culture as long as it was consistent with the word of God, of course. However, we agreed to the concept that each congregation should be independent and not part of any association. These would also be independent from the missionaries. The missionaries would not control or direct the churches, but rather have an advisory and training role.

I have previously mentioned Petrus Hammarberg's visit in January 1977 (ref Chapter 27). During that visit, he said that if we wanted PMU to be involved with the Vocational training Centre I had to take charge of both the Centre and other Missionary activities. He had obviously read the news articles in Sweden about the two older men, Ludvig and Hilding, who in their old age had gone to Papua New Guinea to start a mission work. When Petrus was in Papua New Guinea, he realized that Ludvig and Hilding well fulfilled their mission as "pioneers" but they did not have enough experience to to lead a growing church planting missionary programme.

A few weeks after Petrus Hammarberg’s return to Sweden, I received a letter from him. It was an official letter about the contributions of PMU. The interesting thing was that he had attached a little note saying, "Åke Boberg’s and my opinion is that you must cultivate your contacts with the Assemblies of God in Australia with the intention of eventually getting the missionary work under the Assemblies of God covering. (Åke Boberg was at that time the Missions Secretary of the Filadelfia Church in Stockholm). This was the first time that this idea was mentioned. Personally, I had never thought about it, but as I read the letter, I thought that this might be a sensible thing to do. I do not know what was the background of Åke's and Petrus’s suggestion, but I would imagine that they thought the distance between Sweden and Papua New Guinea was too great. The fact that Marianne and I were relatively young might also have been an important factor that meant we needed a lot of support, support that was difficult to provide from Sweden because of the great distance. Finally, I can imagine that the simple reason might have been that since the Assemblies of God in Papua New Guinea already had grown into a strong and viable Pentecostal work in the lowlands of the northern coastal region of Papua New Guinea, there was no reason to start a rival Pentecostal work in the Highlands. Oh well, no matter what the motive might have been, this was the call telling me to cultivate my relationship with the Assemblies of God in order to get our missionary work in under their "umbrella".

Based on this "mandate", I contacted Pastor Cyril Westbrook in March 1977. Cyril was the Field Leader of the Australian Assemblies of God PNG Mission at the time. I asked him whether Assemblies of God would be interested in bringing our work in under their covering. I almost immediately received a negative response. The reason for this was that they had very little knowledge of our Mission work and us. In addition, they had heard that we had created problems for some other evangelical mission organizations (ref Chapter 31). Anyway, they were not prepared to take responsibility for our missionary work. But the contact had an advantage. When the Assemblies of God's missionaries all too often had to stay overnight in Mount Hagen, as they were passing through, we invited them to participate in our worship services and also to preach. In this way, we “developed” further contact with the Assemblies of God.

After I met with various missionaries from the Assemblies of God during a few years on several occasions, I was invited as the guest speaker to their annual pastors' conference in the Sepik Province in September 1980. During the conference, I stayed with Cyril Westbrook. During one of our conversations, I said: "I have no mandate to talk about our churches coming under the covering of Assemblies of God at this time, but I want to know for myself what your position is today. Now if we were to do the same application we did three years ago, what would be your answer? "

Cyril had different suggestions on how we could find a good solution. My favorite was that new Swedish Pentecostal missionaries who came to Papua New Guinea would be associated with the Assemblies of God. It meant that they would apply for a visa through this organization, which would facilitate the visa process as they were accepted by the authorities. The missionaries would formally be subject to the Assemblies of God's mission leader in Papua New Guinea. When it came to our churches, which were independent but at the same time cooperating with one another, each church would individually decide whether they wanted to join the Assemblies of God or not. I told him that I liked the idea and would discuss it firstly with our Field missionaries in the Highlands and if they were agreeing I would then bring it up with our sponsoring churches in Sweden.

Back in Mount Hagen, I spoke with the Eriksson families about this proposal. They said that if the Swedish Pentecostal churches agreed they would have no objections. The Bernhardsson family had by this time returned to Sweden. I wrote a letter to Samuel Halldorf, who was our contact person to our sponsoring churches in Sweden, and explained my conversation with the Assemblies of God, and asked him about his opinion on all of this. As a result, the letter made him come to Papua New Guinea. We talked about the pros and cons of the proposal. Most of the time, Samuel had to chair the meeting from his bed since he got sick during his stay.

There was a new law legislated in Papua New Guinea in early 1980, which said that all registered organizations must make an organizational chart. All positions held by foreigners also had to be included in this chart. Each such position had to include a plan on how this particular role would be taken over by a national citizen within five years. This law also applied to missionary societies. Thus, we had to make an organizational chart where the missionary positions were explained. By this time we were four Swedish and three Finnish missionaries. It was a complex job preparing and making this plan but after I had finally finished it, I sent it to the authorities for approval.

When Samuel visited, we had still not received any response from the authorities about the plan we had sent in. The Bernhardssons had, as I mentioned, already gone home to Sweden and we were currently waiting for Anders and Kristina Olsson to come and take care of the training school. In order to get their visas, we needed to get the organizational chart approved. The ability to be granted visas easier was another good reason to go through the Assemblies of God since their organization was more established than our missionary work.


When Samuel had been with us for a week, he suggested that we should travel to the Sepik Province to talk with the brothers at the Assemblies of God Headquarters. As we contacted them, it turned out that all of their missionaries in Papua New Guinea as well as their national board were gathered there at the time. We rented a MAF aircraft and flew to the Headquarters. After having spoken with the representatives of the Assemblies of God, Samuel approved, as a representative of the Pentecostal churches in Sweden, the approach that Cyril and I had thought to be the best solution.


Sepik in 1980

After Samuel had gone home to Sweden, we continued to work on the implementation of the cooperation plan. Among other things, I wrote a letter to the Immigration Department in Papua New Guinea, explaining that we would not apply for any more visas through the Filadelfia Church but that all of our visa applications would go through the Assemblies of God from now on. In December 1980, the cooperation plan was completed and new missionaries from Sweden could now receive their visas this way. Eventually, our churches also joined the Assemblies of God, but we will return to that in another chapter.

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