The Papua New Guinea Bible Church
A non-dependent national church - Alive and Thriving
Let me begin this article by introducing myself and the missionary organization I represent. The Evangelical Bible Mission, Inc., (EBM), was founded by my father, G.T. Bustin, in 1940 under the name, Bahamas Bible Mission. The mission's name was changed to the present one in 1959.
In 1958, as a teenager, I went with my father to New Guinea and spent the next five years serving as a "teenage missionary" in that very primitive country. During this time I learned three tribal languages besides the Pidgin English trade language. As an adult I went back to serve several more terms in Papua New Guinea, spending a total of 20 years there.
In 1985 I was elected by the mission board to serve as the General Director of EBM International--a title which was later changed to President.
EBM is an evangelical, interdenominational, missionary-sending agency of the Wesleyan tradition. We believe firmly that it is incumbent upon all members of the Body of Christ to network together wherever possible to advance His Kingdom.
Our ministries cover the full range of missionary activity including church planting, medical, educational and philanthropic ministries.
While it is our goal to establish indigenous works on all fields, the Church in Papua New Guinea, which chose the name, Papua New Guinea Bible Church, is our most established work.
How It All Started
In the fall of 1948, my father felt led of God to pioneer a work in the highlands of New Guinea (it wasn't until 1974 that it became known as Papua New Guinea). The first mission station he established was at Pabarabuk, which at that time was three trekking days beyond the most remote mission and government outposts. The people were truly "stone-age" with no knowledge of the outside world.
Eventually seven main stations were developed in the Southern and Western Highlands Provinces that became the springboard for future growth of the church.
The remote areas in which we were working had no stores or supply centers of any kind. We ordered supplies for the most part from the Lutheran Mission Supply Center in Madang, on the north coast. Then each mission station set up a trade store where the nationals could come to purchase supplies. Trade goods included steel axes, shovels, knives, matches, soap, cloth, salt, canned meat, fish and the like. These were sold at a very low mark-up to cover expenses and provide supplies as reasonably as possible.
In those days, since there was no outside business, and government outposts were very few, the mission also supplied most of the paying jobs in the area. At one mission station where we built an airstrip, as many as 500 men were hired for about three months. The mission stations sometimes offered other employment for carriers, grounds and garden workers, construction teams, (using bush materials to construct houses and churches), house help, water carriers, firewood cutters, etc. At the end of each month when payday arrived, the workers would line up to receive their wages. Then the line would shift to a roped off area where we had boxes of steel axes, knives, spades, etc. for them to buy.
Our mission stations also became a place where people brought food from their gardens to sell. This was used to feed our station workers and boarding students, but it put money into the hands of the local people. Of course our mission station trade stores were the only places where they could spend their money unless they were willing to walk for three days or more to the other nearest stores.
Eventually these trade stores became an important source of mission operating funds for each station. Then, when the nationals themselves began to build small, one-room trade stores, we provided a wholesale supply center to help stock their stores and enable them to become entrepreneurs.
On one of our mission stations a large truck garden was established. We bought pig manure and ashes from the local people to use on the garden and then shipped the garden produce to the coast where it was sold to grocery stores, hotels, and boarding schools. Because of the high altitude (7,000 feet above sea level) we were able to grow wonderful carrots, cabbages, cauliflower, beets, strawberries, etc. This brought money to the mission station and also into the hands of the local people.
Today this mission station is the home of the Tambul Baibel Skul, where 150 boarding students are able to subsidize their school costs by working in the school farm. Several hundred pastors and Christian workers have gone out from this Pidgin language Bible school to serve in many parts of the country, and the school operates totally on funds generated by school fees and farm projects.
As time passed and the nationals learned to operate projects themselves, we encouraged them to begin their own businesses and assisted them in the management and marketing of their produce until they got their own forms of transportation.
Our Philosophy Of Mission
1. The Great Commission involves more than just scattering the Gospel seed upon foreign soil. It includes:
Telling the Gospel Story of the God who loves., the Jesus who came, died, and rose again, and the Holy Spirit who calls people to repent and believe the Gospel. "He said to them, 'Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.'" Mark 16:15
Training the new believers how to live godly lives according to the word of God--teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. Matthew 28:20
c. Making Disciples.
Through role modeling and formal teaching, leading the believers to become mature followers, disciples of Jesus Christ--not just passively refraining from evil, but actively seeking to do good to those about them.
Giving the new disciples the tools which will equip them to become independent agents for fulfilling the Great Commission. Equipping means to furnish completely the new saints for their own ministry.
In the Kingdom building battle against sin and Satan, Jesus Christ does not take captives and make them prisoners of war. Rather, He converts the "enemy" and conscripts those He has converted immediately into His army to become fully commissioned soldiers of the cross. Not only must these new soldiers be trained in the art of warfare, they must be equipped with the weapons of our warfare and be trained to convert, conscript, train and equip others.
2. The Great Commission is Self-Perpetuating:
"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." Matt. 28:19
Disciples evangelize/baptize and then teach new converts to be disciples, which includes going, evangelizing, baptizing and teaching their new converts to be disciples . . . and on and on. Disciples "Teach them to observe all things" ...(including the Great Commission. New Disciples take up the Great Commission which equals second generation evangelism.
When any new generation of disciples becomes permanently dependent upon the previous generation for support and control, it short-circuits the self-perpetuating nature of the Gospel and breaks the cycle. This means the growth of the Gospel becomes limited by the ability of the previous generation. The perpetuation of the Gospel can only be maintained and accelerated when each successive generation accepts total responsibility for their part in fulfilling the Great Commission.
Mr. Jones has a son, Brian, whom he lovingly raises and supports. At age 21 Brian gets married and starts his own family. If Brian has a job and is self-supporting at this point, his family is limited only by his own ability to support them. But if Brian is still living with Mr. Jones, expecting his father to keep supporting him, his wife, and children, technically, Brian's family size is limited by Mr. Jones' ability to support not only his children but his grandchildren as well. Ethically, Brian should get permission from Mr. Jones before having any children since he is dependent upon Mr. Jones. If Mr. Jones cannot support any grandchildren, then Brian and wife will not be allowed to have children.
In the same way, when a national church allows itself to remain dependent on the sponsoring mission, it effectively gives control of its well being, survival, and growth to a foreign body.
Note: In the Biblical model, the saints at Jerusalem did not support Antioch, Ephesus, Philippi, etc. Instead, Paul raised money among the new "mission" churches to help the poor believers in Jerusalem. Also, the new churches often assisted Paul on his way to evangelize new areas. There is, however, no Biblical record that indicates pastors were supported by other than their local congregation.
3. The Gospel teaches a strong work ethic = Self-Support
"For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work neither should he eat." 2 Thessalonians 3:10
Paul's teaching concerning the care of widows shows this same practical work ethic as seen in 1 Timothy 5:3-16
a. "Widows indeed" were those who were old and desolate with no family to care for them.
b. Younger widows should marry and work to care for their own children.
c. Widows with children or nephews should be supported by the children.
d. Families who don't support their own family members are worse than unbelievers.
4. The Gospel Teaches Us to Be Givers
"Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth." Ephesians 4:28
Even "poor" people can learn to give. Giving always brings ultimate blessings from God which enables the giver to give more. Local Christians who learn to give will be able to support their pastor at a rate equal to their average income. They can become self-supporting at their economic level, and God will bless them with more.
Implementation of the Philosophy by the Parent Mission
From the very first, the new Christians in New Guinea were taught to give. During the early days, before the nationals could read or do simple math, they were paid with two packets--one containing their money to keep and the other with "God's money," the tithe, to put in the church offering. When they had no money they were taught to give produce from their gardens; and the church offerings were often piles of sweet potatoes, sugar cane, bananas, and other produce.
Many times we taught them to count their potato hills and set the tenth one apart for God. On occasions, I took ten bundles of peanuts and laid them on the platform, teaching them that the tithe belonged to God and offerings began after the tithe was paid.
We never considered the people to be "poor," just under-developed. Most of them had access to tribal land for farming and bush materials with which to build their houses. Sometimes the children suffered from malnutrition because there was no milk or protein source for them after they were weaned, but hunger and starvation was not a problem among young people and adults.
As the nationals began to desire clothes, blankets, and even shoes, they were required to pay for what they got. If they didn't have money, we would often provide them with work in the mission gardens or on the grounds. Of course, some missionaries broke policy, but a "hand-out" except on rare occasions to "widows indeed" was contrary to official policy.
In 1964 the people of the Tambul District needed a new church building since the old one made of "bush" materials was falling down. I told them I would not raise any money from overseas for the building until after they had done their part. With some teaching and encouragement I convinced them to give a pig offering to God for the building fund. When the offering was taken, pigs were staked out all over the churchyard. These were sold and the money put into the building fund. Then assistance was given from donors in the States; and the church, seating 1,400 people, was built debt free.
In 1974 as the country of New Guinea moved toward independence, national mission leaders began working closely with missionaries to develop a constitution for the national church. The national leaders themselves chose the name, Papua New Guinea Bible Church, and the church was organized on three levels: local, district and national. A national Chairman and Church Executive Committee were elected by the new national church conference, and national leadership began to take on more and more responsibility for the church operations. Districts took responsibility for the support of their pastors and eventually began raising "missionary offerings" to send national missionaries to plant churches in new areas.
The Policy Pays Off!
In 1980 my wife and I personally felt led to begin planting churches in the cities. The national church appointed me to serve as Evangelism Officer of the church and put me in charge of city evangelism. With their blessing I toured the existing church districts and met with local pastors, asking them to raise offerings for city evangelism. We were able to raise $10,000 from the village churches to use to begin planting churches in the cities.
I took most of that money to buy land and built a parsonage in the city of Lae. We built the house on tall posts so we could conduct church services under the house. After the congregation reached about 300 and we were running out of space, I raised an offering from the local church which came to over $10,000 to build our new church building. This eventually became the pattern for starting works in the city. The national church would raise money to build the parsonage first, with space below for services. Then the new congregation would be expected to give the money to build their own church.
Then the established church would be responsible to help raise money for other new church-planting endeavors. In the city of Lae we also opened a Christian school which, from the first, was self-supporting. I used a simple budget plan to figure how much school fees to charge. First we established total projected operation costs for one year. Then we divided that figure by the number of students we could handle and that became the school fee cost per student. The school took off, and after one year the parents were so pleased with their children's progress that others stood in line to get their children in school. Today, almost 20 years later, that school is still operating with all national staff. It is completely self-supported.
The Lae church became the model for city churches. It not only became immediately self-supporting; it began to sponsor students in Bible College. We sponsored one of our church members to spend a year doing missionary work on the Dulos Gospel Ship.
From that point on, the national church began to explode with true missionary zeal and fervor. The following are just a few of the accomplishments over the last twenty years.
- Churches have been planted in most major cities and towns in the country.
- 1989, the national church raised $45,000 to send and support their own missionary to teach in a Bible College in Nigeria. Rev. Pilipo Miriye and family served one three-year term in Nigeria. Upon their return to PNG he was elected foreign missions secretary for the PNG Bible Church. Since then he has been instrumental in working to plant churches in Vanuatu and Irian Jaya.
- 1991--I went to PNG to raise money for starting a work in Ukraine. The people gave approximately $20,000 for reaching people behind the Iron Curtain.
- 1993--I raised money in PNG to assist in building EBM's International Headquarters in Summerfield, Florida. The church gave around $5,000.
- 1995--I raised money in Papua New Guinea for helping to build our World Conference Center in Summerfield, Florida. Around $4,000 were raised.
- 1995--The PNG Bible Church raised $6,000 to assist the William Fish family in planting a missionary work in Vanuatu.
- 1996--The PNG Bible Church in Lae, (the church we personally planted in 1980) budgeted $20,000 to put on a citywide crusade. They paid for fares for my wife and me, chartered 45 buses, covered all costs of advertising and did all the preparation for the crusade. The last service had around 20,000 people in attendance and hundreds were saved. Early the next year the Lae church chartered two buses to take the crusade converts to attend the yearly church camp meeting in the Highlands.
- 1997--The PNG Bible Church in Port Moresby paid my way to preach for a crusade in that city.
- 1998--Without any outside support, 67 new churches were planted in Papua New Guinea by the PNG Bible Church. Over 5,000 new people were saved.
- 1999--The PNG Bible Church of Mendi paid my way to travel to PNG and preach for a citywide crusade in that town. Again, they covered all expenses for the crusade, which cost them around $10,000.
- 1999--There are approximately 500 local PNG Bible Churches throughout PNG, and all of them are totally self-supported.
There are many factors that have favored the growth and maturity of the Papua New Guinea Bible Church.
A. Social factors.
For the most part the people of Papua New Guinea are a very proud and independent people. They are not carrying the baggage of past slavery, nor do they have a slave mentality. They have relied on themselves in the past to plant their own gardens, build their own homes, fight their own wars, and raise their own families. They have not seen themselves as poor, helpless, dependent people.
At one time, the City Council in the town of Mt. Hagen, Western Highlands Province, printed a pamphlet to be given to tourists visiting the city. The gist of the message was, "Don't give money to people who beg. We are not beggars and do not want to be treated that way." This attitude has resulted in begging being almost non-existent in PNG. (They may rob you at gunpoint in certain areas and demand your money--but you won't be harassed by beggars!)
B. Economic Factors.
Papua New Guinea is a land rich in natural resources. There is normally an abundance of rain so gardens grow easily. Coffee plantations, first started by foreigners who saw potential for making money, began to spring up all over the Eastern and Western Highlands. Soon nationals began planting and harvesting coffee as well.
Copper, gold and then oil were discovered, bringing work as well as royalties to the national landowners. Of course the landowners who benefited from these finds were relatively few in number; but large mines called for many workers and suppliers of food, etc., so the wealth has been spread around, at least to some extent.
As I have already mentioned, most of the people had tribal land available on which to plant gardens and build their bush houses. Therefore, in terms of a place to live and food to eat, they were not poor.
Another economic factor was the financial status of Evangelical Bible Mission, Inc. As a relatively small "faith" missionary organization, we have not operated out of large reservoirs of cash. Often, missionaries have had to discover self-supporting projects that would fund local ministries. The nationals have seen these necessary efforts and have been trained to carry these projects on.
But more important than the project itself was the "spirit"of self-reliance which the nationals saw exhibited in the missionary. It was easy to see that the missionary was doing these fund-generating projects for the sake of ministering to the needs of the nationals and not for selfish reasons. Many of the nationals caught this same spirit of selfless service and saw their personal businesses as tools to use in serving others.
Fred Tulia -
Typical Case In Point
Fred received his education in an EBM school on a mission station in the Wiru valley. He became a Christian and felt God was leading him into business. With the help of friends and fellow tribesmen he was able to accumulate cash to begin. Today Fred owns two service stations with attached fast-food stores in the town of Mendi, Southern Highlands Province. He also owns a construction company that was awarded the contract to build the airport terminal at the Mendi airport.
Fred is also a leader in the Papua New Guinea Bible Church in the town of Mendi. He was appointed chairman of the crusade committee for the citywide crusade I preached for this year.
On the day after the crusade, Fred picked me up from the pastor's house and took me to one of the services stations and fast food stores where his family and employees were gathered. With tears in his eyes, Fred shared his burden for the souls of his workers and wept openly that some of them had not made decisions for Christ during the crusade.
He went on to declare that all he had was the result of God's blessings and he wanted to give it all to God. Fred then asked me to pray and dedicate his business to God in the presence of all the workers and friends gathered. I stood and held hands with Fred and his wife as we prayed together, formally dedicating all the businesses to God for His Glory. After the prayer, Fred clearly stated for all to hear, "God owns this business. It is all for Him to use as He directs."
Fred is typical of a number of former EBM students who have caught the vision of being God's servants. As God has blessed their businesses and investments, they have been enabled to give and have done so joyfully.
But it is not only the "rich" businessmen who are givers. I cannot count the times I have had subsistence farmers, little old women, or even young people come up, take my hand and slip a wad of money into it. Sometimes they add, "This is to buy yourself a soft drink or lunch."
One government employee gave me an envelope containing his two-week pay packet in cash. With it he enclosed a letter telling me to use the money to spread the Gospel around the world. This man was personally supporting a national pastor and had given the money to build a village church.
Without doubt, God is blessing the Papua New Guinea Bible Church as it not only supports itself but also has become a sending missionary organization helping to fulfill the Great Commission. I believe the One who began a good work among these wonderful people will continue His blessings upon their ministries until the day of Christ.
Gerald Bustin is the president of Evangelical Bible Mission International and has served for many years in the field of Papua New Guinea. You may contact him at [email protected]