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39. Back in Papua New Guinea

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Sven speaks: Our return to Mount Hagen was a bit strange. No one came to meet us at the airport and during the first week, we didn’t have one single visit, not even from Kundi Pok. "What are we doing here?" Marianne said, "we might as well go back to Australia." "No," I said, "God has called us here to do a job so I want us to stay. I want us to wait and see how God is going to resolve this and what He wants us to do."

Now the Holy Spirit started revealing to me what was behind all of this. After we had left Papua New Guinea in the late 1980s, some outside expatriate people had been visiting each of the churches we had planted and told them not to join Assemblies of God PNG, since this would be the same as joining the Catholic Church again. The result was that the pastors and churches developed a very negative picture of the Assemblies of God. Unfortunately, Hilding Eriksson and Anders Olsson did not understand what was happening. They understood that the churches were a bit critical of them, but they did not know the reason behind it. In Hilding’s case, it was probably because of his lack of experience. Anders did not know about this since he had just recently come to Papua New Guinea and thus did not have the contacts needed to get any insight into what had happened.

Through divine revelation I was able to see all the details of how this problem had arisen. A Christian businessman from Australia, who had been welcome to share the word in our churches, had by default become the leader when we left. He had also invited some other Christian businessmen from New Zealand to minister in the churches. The problem had not arisen from their preaching, but rather from their understanding and philosophy of church organization. Instead of looking for spiritual maturity in people being appointed to the steering committee, they were looking for business abilities and availability of resources. The practical outworking of this was a disaster for the work. I was beginning to understand what the Lord meant, when he told me that the wall of Jerusalem had been torn down, and that I had to go and rebuild it. I looked up the Australian Christian businessman and said to him:

"You and some other expatriate Christian businessmen have been around our churches preaching while we were in Australia. I would like to invite you and them to a barbecue at our place on Saturday."

"We've just been teaching" was his response when he understood the purpose of the invitation.

I responded: "If so, it is very important what you are teaching, because when the churches fall apart, you won’t be there to pick up the pieces."

"We will be there on Saturday" he replied.

These people did indeed come to our house on Saturday. While we ate, I told them about how we felt that God had called us back to Papua New Guinea in order to "build up the wall of Jerusalem". But they did not understand what had been torn apart.

After a few weeks I managed to gather seven of the most experienced pastors to a meeting. One of them was Kundi Pok. During this gathering, I told the pastors that they had abdicated their responsibilities as pastors by electing an unbiblical steering committee to control the work. This was not the will of God. "You must get rid of this steering committee and take back your functions as pastors. God has called you to be pastors and lead your churches." I said. We finished our meeting by writing a minute, stating that the current steering committee would be abolished and that the pastors would take back their God given responsibilities of governing the churches. Everyone present at the meeting signed the minute.

One of the pastors went to the man who was the president of the old steering committee and showed him the minute. It was clear that we were going to appoint a new board, which would only consist of pastors. He got so angry that he immediately resigned from his position of president. This was a good thing since it made the whole process much easier. His real intention with resigning was his belief that all of the pastors would plead him to stay on as the president because of his wealth. Some pastors did, but not the majority of those who had been part of our deliberations. Later we found out that he had an "affair" with a woman. To legalize this, he married her and thus had two wives. Now the pastors began to understand that he was not the right man to lead the work of God. When the treasurer got another wife as well, the picture became even clearer in regards of the problems of the old steering committee. But even after this, some of the people found it difficult to accept our decision. They thought we should agree that the people who were used to managing large companies would also be able to lead churches. My response was that the future will show who is right and that the truth will prevail, always.

Just because we appointed a new board of directors it did not mean that the churches became affiliated with the Assemblies of God automatically. The Philadelphia Church in Warakum (in Mount Hagen) wanted to join them immediately, but since the other churches were not ready to do this, I advised the church to wait in order to prevent a potential split. The church in Warakum then decided to wait with their application for joining the Assemblies of God.


Sven and Marianne in front of the Warakum Church Building in Mount Hagen in 2012

After that, a long period followed where I once a week gathered the pastors from the affected communities. Since I was the only one who had a car, this day of the week meant a lot of work. First, it took about four hours to drive and pick everyone up and when the deliberations had ended, it took the same amount of time to drive them home. This went on until the end of 1983.

For nearly a year and a half we had these gatherings. We had Bible studies but also a lot of discussions about the past and about the future. Unfortunately, someone in our pastors’ group leaked information about our gatherings to those who worked against us. This hampered the work a lot.

In late 1983, I felt as if I could not keep on managing this anymore. When I was on my way home from the pastors' weekly meeting, I told God: "I’m giving up. I will let the church in Warakum apply to join the Assemblies of God. Once that is done I will try to plant a new Pentecostal Fellowship based on that church in the Highlands."

When I got home, a Christmas card from a woman in Australia who belonged to a church that we had no contact with had arrived. It was probably because they had a women's group in the church and they had agreed to send Christmas cards to all of the Assemblies of God's missionaries. This woman who had written to us didn’t know us and knew nothing about us. The card naturally contained a customary Christmas message but also: "Remember Sven, when Nehemiah would build up the wall of Jerusalem, there was a lot of opposition and hardships facing him, but he did not give up. He continued and persevered and completed the work." I told Marianne, "This is incredible, she doesn’t know us!". If we had not received this card, I would have given up the mission to get all the churches to join the Assemblies of God. But this card made me continue my work with the pastors.

In May 1984, the Highlands Regional Assemblies of God Conference was planned for the churches in the Highlands that already had merged with Assemblies of God. The conference would be held in October. The fact was that a group of churches in the Enga Province, which had been independent from the steering committee of Western Highlands, had decided to join the Assemblies of God. This also applied to the seven churches that originated from the Wesleyan Church and some other churches from different places as well. This was the first conference for the pastors in the Assemblies of God in the Highlands. A regional executive council would be appointed for the region during this conference.

One day when Kundi was at our home, I felt the Spirit of God prompted me to tell him: "I want to talk to you about something. You know that Marianne and I are missionaries with the Assemblies of God, but you also know that we are in no way attempting to force any church to join the organization. But at the same time, I think you understand that we believe it would be for the best for the churches if they all together at the same time applied for membership of Assemblies of God Papua New Guinea." I took a pen and paper, and spent two hours explaining to Kundi how the fellowship of Assemblies of God Papua New Guniea is functioning. After the explanation I continued, "What worries me is that no pastor from the Western Highlands will be allowed to attend the conference, and neither can any of them be elected to the Highlands Regional Executive Council of the Assemblies of God, because none of the churches have become Assemblies of God member churches as of yet." It worries me because the real leaders of the Highlands Churches are among the pastors in the Western Highlands. Do you think the churches are ready to apply for membership of the Assemblies of God so that the pastors of these churches can be involved in the conference and also be eligible for election to the Regional Executive Council?"

"Give me two weeks and I will find out if it is possible." Kundi replied. After two weeks, he returned and said: "Yes, the churches are ready to apply for membership of the Assemblies of God, but first you have to visit all the churches and in the same way you explained to me, explain to them how it all works. After that, each church will vote if they are to join the Assemblies of God or not.


Happy young girls in church in Mount Hagen in 2012

I did as he wished and the result was that 15 of the 20 churches decided to apply to join the Assemblies of God. Unfortunately, the other five churches took an oppositional position. Their reason for this was that they believed that by joining the Assemblies of God they would lose the support of the businessmen who sought to influence the churches during the time we were in Australia. It is possible that the support would have stopped and one can thus see that their decision was entirely based on economic motives. These five churches never joined Assemblies of God and was unfortunately not part of the same positive development as the other churches.

However the opposition continued in particular from the local businessmen who had been in charge of the previous steering committee. At one point they invited Kundi to come and stay in a hotel for three days. They offered him food three times a day, which of course was nice for Kundi who never ate food at a hotel restaurant. After three days they told Kundi, "If you turn your back on Sven and come with us, we will regularly provide you with a monthly support." Kundi answered: "You are not for solidarity in the work of God, but are on a constant strive to divide the work. Your thoughts are not of God, but of men. If you want to help me, you can put some money in the offering basket in the church in Tega." And then he went away from there. Kundi had always been short of money to live and for work, and we had no money to give him. These men could have given him a lot of money if they wanted to. Being in this situation and refusing the money was a very strong move by Kundi. He understood that what they were doing was not inspired by God.

In the conference in October 1984, Kundi was elected to become the first Regional Superintendent of the newly formed Highlands Region of Assemblies of God in Papua New Guinea. Later he was also elected as a Member of The National Executive of Assemblies of God Papua New Guinea. One period he also served as the Deputy National Superintendent of Assemblies of God in Papua New Guinea. His wisdom had great influence on Papua New Guinea – see chapter 33, "The gangster who was ennobled".

In November 2011, Marianne and I, along with Anders and Helen Olsson, visited a church of the Western Highlands, whose pastor is the chairman of a district that comprises 60 churches. When the pastor told us about their work, he said: "We are standing on top of the wall of Jerusalem, and making sure no one will come and destroy it again." I thought that it was amazing that they could still understand how critical it was back in 1984, after all these years.

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