Papua New Guinea Christians restore forest
25 July 2003:
In 2001 the Evangelical Alliance of Papua New Guinea decided to become more active in social issues, including the environment. This is an extremely exciting breakthrough; according to the 2000 census of the 5.1 million people in Papua New Guinea, 4.9 million (or 96 per cent) are active Christians, and the Evangelical Alliance works across all major Protestant denominations. So it has a tremendous impact.
Together with ARC and the World Bank it developed a series of practical and theological schemes to encourage environmental stewardship.
The first project was to build a forest retreat centre in the Highlands. The Hogave Conservation and Retreat Centre is situated in an important nature reserve, and was built by three Christian clans who decided to unite their forest-holdings to protect them. The centre is intended to train both pastors and lay people in forest management. It also has the benefit of providing the space for the (often urban) church leaders and teachers to return to the forest for a quiet retreat, and be reminded of the central role the forest has in their tradition and culture.
It is hoped that the centre’s activities will continue with sponsorship from TEAR Australia, which is also sponsoring projects on the theme of environmental ethical consumerism, with particular attention to forest products.
The Evangelical Alliance has also sponsored a Bible-based theological study of Creation and of humanity’s role within it. The study is a collaboration between the country’s four Protestant Theological Colleges – representing Lutherans, Anglicans, Evangelical Alliance, and Baptists – helped by Dr G Swinger of Australia. When it is completed, the report will provide a theological basis for the Forest Retreat Centre as well as a practical one.
So far the first major meeting of church leaders, educationalists and others at the centre resulted in the Goroka Declaration, issued by all the country’s major Protestatant churches to support work on conservation.
This is an important project for ARC and the World Bank, not only for its impact in Papua New Guinea, but because it is a model that can be applied to any Christian group taking Bible studies seriously.
ARC is currently supporting the issuing of handbooks for Papua New Guinea churches and schools as well as developing a model based on the experience for use by Christian communities in Micronesia and Polynesia.
Papua New Guinea shares the world’s second largest island with Papua. It is the most linguistically diverse country in the world, with more than 700 distinct languages, and most people live in poor rural areas.