On a recent Thursday we were asked to travel to Lae, and Tuesday morning we were on a small jet scooting over the mountains to the north east coast of PNG. We were a little stressed to just suddenly drop everything and take off, yet at the same time we were excited to get away from “the big city” and to see another part of this wonderful country. We were sent to Lae so Sandy could help with budget preparations and do an audit and so I could check on some projects there.
Lae is known for its warm coastal climate, and for its potholes! The temperature is comparable to Port Moresby, but being in the north, they get a little more rain, so everything is lush and green. The flip side is that “more rain” means that it wreaks havoc with the roads!
Tuesday afternoon Sandy started right in with some budget meetings with finance staff at DHQ and then the Lae Motel run by The Salvation Army. I met with two dedicated young men who, along with another, run the Lae Street School to discuss project funding to continue operating.
The street school started as an outreach to youths who wandered the streets and got into (caused) trouble. Stanley and Steven, two Salvationists, were asked by the DC at the time to do something to minister to these kids and keep them out of trouble. With a few scones and cold drinks in their pockets, the young men started approaching kids to talk and give hope for a future. Soon it was evident that these street kids needed education. Without homes and families, there was no one to send them to school, no one to pay for the education, the books, the uniforms, pens and paper.
A large hall on the Salvation Army’s compound called “The Big House” is used to shelter homeless people at night in just one large room. Guys sleep on the floor, sometimes on a woven mat if they have one, and clear out in the morning. Stanley and Steven were given the go-ahead to then bring in the seven youths they were working with, and using only a chalk board, began to teach letters, numbers, reading and math.
That was in 2009. Today, one of those seven street kids is in her first year of nurses training at a local university. There are two boys about to graduate from secondary school with a certificate from 10th grade. There are four others that are in their ninth-grade year. The street school now has about 150 students regularly attending, down from a peak of 220 (that was simply too large for the three teachers to manage!).
The funding for this school has run out, and the territory is desperately looking for funds to build on the successes, grow the school and hopefully partner with local organizations in order to sustain themselves for the long run. And Stanley and Steven are hoping to continue their own education to earn degrees that will help them be better teachers and administrators.
Over the next few days I visited the Jim Jacobson Center, a multi-service facility that edges the old airport field on the south side of Lae. There are programs there for HIV/AIDS work, gender violence and homelessness, and an office for juvenile justice work.
I also got the chance to revisit Back Road, a fellowship that sprang up north of Lae and close to the dump, where homeless boys pick through the fresh deposits looking for anything of use, anything they can sell, or
even anything edible. The Salvation Army meets on Sundays under a roof built on the property of some longtime Salvationists. They’ve also built a small shack called the William Booth Coffee Shop where they feed rice, biscuits and tea and coffee to the homeless in the area. About 60 children and young men gathered, and after Capt. Buka spoke for a few minutes, I was introduced, and asked if I wanted to say anything. I was able to share a short impromptu Gospel message with the guys, translated by the Captain.
A highlight of the trip for me was a visit to an area they call “Top Town.” Last year on a quick half-day tour, I was privileged to go with Captains Buka and Jenny on their first visit at a small cluster of shelters that had
sprung up around a cell tower and some water tanks high on a hill overlooking the harbor at Lae. The Captains had just “discovered” this small settlement of sex workers and their families. I got to go along for that first visit to share cream buns and Cokes, soap and toothpaste, and a gospel message by the Captains.
On that first visit, the women were wary, but eventually came out to sit scattered on some rocks or tree stumps to listen to what the Captains had to say. After passing out our gifts and sharing a message of God’s love, one of the ladies asked if it would be okay if she came down to town to attend a Sunday service with The Salvation Army!
Now, a year later, one of the women has given up her former life and has started working as a
housekeeper at the Lae Motel. Several of the women along with their families now attend worship services at The Salvation Army. As we pulled in for our visit this year, there was no holding back. People clustered close, presented me with a new bilum adorned with fresh flowers, and sat close as we again chatted about God’s love and care. I got to pray with the group, and then we all gathered around a makeshift pulpit that had been built by one of the men for their weekly evening services conducted by the Captains.
On Saturday the divisional leaders, Majors George and Georgina took us to visit Tent City, a small village north
of Lae where The Salvation Army has a beautiful little compound nestled near towering cloud-covered mountains, with a church, a community hall and a tiny two-room school. We revisited Back Road and Jim Jacobson so that Sandy would get the opportunity to see them, then popped in at the huge outdoor market to buy some fresh vegetables and fruits to bring back with us to Port Moresby. Everything was so much nicer, fresher and cheaper than we can get at home when we shop.
We awoke to heavy rainfall on Sunday morning, and as we walked across the compound to the church we wondered if the weather would affect the size of the congregation. The hall was full, with a great spirit of
worship and fellowship. We were warmly greeted and it was such a joy to relax and worship with them.
It had been a long tiring week in many ways, yet such a blessing to be cared for so graciously and accepted into community. Seeing God’s work in The Salvation Army outside of the Port Moresby area was
refreshing and encouraging to both Sandy and me, and we remain grateful to Him for the opportunity of this great adventure.
***** UPDATE!!!***** I just got a call from Captain Buka in Lae to report that last night some youths were told to come in to Top Town and burn down the homes of those living up there. The Captains went to visit, and found the residents sitting in the ashes and crying. They’ve been told to move away. The Captains will continue to minister to the folks from Top Town. Please pray for this ministry and for those families affected by this event.