When Jesus is asked in Mark 12 which is the most important commandment, he replies with two. The first is, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ He immediately gives the second: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Curiously, Jesus also adds this qualification: ‘There is no commandment greater than these.’

Loving our neighbour is inherently linked to loving God.

When we think of our neighbours, we tend to think of those in our nearest vicinity: next door, down the street, across the hall. But in Luke 10—in the Parable of the Good Samaritan—Jesus is quite clear that proximity has little bearing on being a good neighbour. What is important, is showing mercy to someone in need.

But if that someone is right in front of you, the inference is clear.

People in PNG associate with a church as much or more than they associate with the location they come from

Our nearest neighbour

Papua New Guinea is Australia’s closest physical neighbour. It is also a country in great need. This places Australian Christians in a fortuitous position to help, to show mercy – especially as PNG is a country dependent on the church community.

‘People in PNG associate with a church as much or more than they associate with the location they come from,’ said Daniel Norris, International Programs Coordinator for Baptist World Aid Australia. ‘Churches provide approximately 50 per cent of all the health care in the country and approximately 40 per cent of all education and schools.’

Baptist World Aid has been walking alongside PNG for decades, particularly through its relationship with Baptist Union PNG (BUPNG) which extends back to the post-World War II era.

Earlier in 2021, Baptist World Aid launched its PNG COVID Emergency appeal to support the people of PNG and specifically to prevent the closure of three Baptist-run hospitals in remote highland areas. It is that type of support that is welcomed by Joseph Lakai, the General Director of Baptist Union PNG (BUPNG).

‘I want to thank Baptist World Aid for launching the COVID-19 campaign in Australia, where BUPNG communities and the health facilities were so much supported through the funds raised. This is a massive work that Baptist World Aid has done, and we are very much thankful of it,’ Lakai said.

PNG’s needs differ between urban and rural areas, but it is PNG’s remote landscape that is of interest to BUPNG and Baptist World Aid – and what makes the provision of care difficult and essential.

‘Our partner’s areas are the highlands of PNG,’ said Norris. ‘Given the mountainous terrain, many of these areas have no roads in. This means supplies such as books and medical supplies and personnel have to be flown in or walked in from the nearest road access, which takes many days. This makes programming expensive, and it takes longer in these areas, but it is also exactly the remoteness that makes them priority areas.’

Joseph Lakai mentions WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene), gender equality, gender-based violence, agriculture, carpentry, and COVID-19 awareness, as issues that all need attention. But one interesting issue has stood out during COVID.

‘Adult literacy training,’ Lakai said. ‘Many don’t know how to read and write so they don’t understand what is happening around their country and the world. Today many stories are floating around on the COVID-19 vaccination roll out and many don’t want to be vaccinated. Without adult literacy, people are misinformed, and they do the wrong thing.’

BUPNG has been working to provide Baptist communities with the facts around COVID: what it is, how it is transmitted, and how to stop it being transmitted.

Norris expands on Lakai’s concerns.

‘There is a reluctance to accept the science around COVID. Some groups have promoted the idea that so long as you pray and follow God’s teaching you won’t contract COVID. Or the extreme: that getting vaccinated is likened to receiving the “mark of the beast”. BUPNG is providing Baptist Communities with the facts around COVID: what it is, how it is transmitted, and how to stop it being transmitted.’

While cases have stabilised, COVID remains a constant threat in PNG and, with cases in every province, there is fear that another surge is imminent. BUPNG and Baptist World Aid will remain vigilant.

‘We continue to look for opportunities to “do good” together. We seek to support BUPNG in the opportunities they identify while also suggesting ways we can work together when we recognise them,’ Norris said.

Joseph Lakai is grateful for the partnership. ‘Baptists in PNG have always enjoyed the partnership with Baptist World Aid. They truly value that.’

Loving God and loving our neighbour. There is no commandment greater than these.

How you have helped

The overwhelming generosity of Baptist World Aid’s supporters prevented the closure of three Baptist-run hospitals in PNG during a peak period of COVID transmission in April. Tinsley Rural Hospital, Telefomin District Hospital, and Kompiam Rural Hospital, which serve many thousands of people in rural and remote PNG highland communities, were set to close due to a lack of available personal protection equipment (PPE) and other operational factors. But their doors are still open!

Funds from the PNG COVID Emergency Appeal prompted immediate PPE delivery to the three hospitals and continue to support them and 30 smaller health clinics in surrounding areas. The funds are being used to:

  • Buy fuel to run hospital generators and mobile clinics.
  • Purchase medicine and medical supplies.
  • Pay utility bills.
  • Purchase cleaning equipment and stationery for administration purposes.
  • Support the BUPNG office in Mt Hagen to manage this ongoing project.

Safe childbirth is one of the most important patient care services provided by the church-run health providers. The hospitals and clinics provide essential patient care services, especially for mothers and girls who are disadvantaged by security and other issues.

Maternal and child health services include:

  • Immunisation for pregnant mothers and children under five.
  • Nutrition monitoring.
  • Antenatal clinics.
  • Well and sick baby clinics.
  • Family planning.
  • Counselling.