Friday, October 26, 2018

Mick Vertigan toured the region in Moral Re-Armament’s Song of Asia musical in the 1970s. After many years, he reconnected with a Papua New Guinean friend from this time.

I had been considering visiting an old mate, Gele Bonarua, from the Song of Asia program for a while. In late 2016, an email came from two of our friends, telling of their visit to Milne Bay in Papua New Guinea. Their trip sparked my interest in the possibility of organizing screenings of the new Frank Buchman film, and perhaps of other films too, in the surrounding villages. I also had a projector, unused, in my home office!

Church Council in AlotauWith help from IofC Australia, on 24 September 2018, I arrived in Alotau, the main centre of Milne Bay province. After meeting with the local support team, I was thrust into a program of meeting people, starting with the pastor of the church group at the Koeabule (KB) Kwato mission and many of his co-leaders. Many of these individuals had been to Armagh for leadership training so we shared our stories of deep change. For me, it was to retell the story of a split between the PNG cohort of the Song of Asia cast and the Australians.

In ‘73, PNG was still under colonial rule by Australia and I reacted badly to being criticised by one of their delegation. In a time of quiet, I felt clearly my reaction was based on race and I needed to apologise. On the apology, my colleague from PNG shook my hand and said, "Now we are brothers." It was an act of grace that I still feel deeply. Our friends at KB were intrigued by this incident and some shared their own stories of change.

Dainesi and Gele To meet up with Gele, I travelled an hour and a half across open ocean in a small dinghy to Samarie island. Gele and wife Dainesi have been on the island over 40 years, since Gele's return from Song Of Asia. With much laughter and jogging of memories, we spent a day together with Sioni (Gaeleko) and Dumodi Walaka, my support team from the mainland.

On return, a half-hour with Charles Abel, Deputy PM of PNG, was arranged. Our conversation ranged widely, from the upcoming Panchgani conference to relationships with our Indigenous brothers and sisters and our government’s refusal to countenance any referendum regarding a treaty. He invited any visitors to PNG with IofC in the future to come and meet with him.

I am left with the conviction that those of us with an experience of personal change, and willing to share it, would be most welcome to visit this former colony. There is an expectation of change and a willingness to sacrifice personal advancement to help see it happen. I believe we should stand with them in any way we can.

Mick Vertigan (C) with with L-R Sioni, Dumodi, Elaine and Tau
Mick Vertigan (C) with with L-R Sioni, Dumodi, Elaine and Tau

Photographs courtesy of Mick Vertigan.