A public evangelism campaign in the South Pacific nation of Papua New Guinea (PNG) ended with the baptism of at least 4,500 new members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Attendance on the final night in Port Moresby, the largest city and the national capital, was over 100,000, according to reports supplied to Adventist Today by the Adventist Review news staff. This is a number equal to half the population of the city. Organizers say this is the largest public audience to hear the Adventist messages preached in English in the history of the denomination.
The campaign was led by John Carter, a veteran evangelist from Australia currently based in California. It was by far the largest audience he has addressed in his 50 years as an evangelist. The crowd was so large it could not fit in the giant Sir John Guise Stadium, a soccer venue. Thousands listened to the public address system standing outside or sitting in their cars. Another 5,000 sat on the grass listening in the dark at a second soccer field down the road. The local conference hastily erected a giant screen so this crowd could see the visuals.
The baptism ceremony itself was a huge operation. There are 60 Adventist churches in the city of Port Moresby. The night before, pastors mingled with those who answered an altar call. The pastors directed each new convert to a specific congregation. At the Sabbath morning baptism the candidates stood with their congregation.
Because of the large number of people to be baptized, ordained ministers from other conferences were called in to help. The event was held at a shallow ocean beach and 50 pastors stood in waist-deep water about 200 feet offshore as lines of candidates walked out to them. The pastors each baptized about 100 people.
The final session of the campaign was held six hours later. At that meeting another 3,000 people requested baptism and will be baptized later. If all of them follow through, the campaign will have added about 8,000 new church members. On August 18 the Adventist churches in Port Moresby were all crowded. “We had a wonderful, blessed Sabbath,” said Cameron Wari, coordinator of follow-up activities. “All the newly baptized members were welcomed by the churches as part of a big family. Most of the church leaders realized that there was not going to be enough room in their churches to accommodate the influx.”
The membership of the Adventist Church in PNG was about 260,000 according to official reports. There are more than 3,500 local congregations in the country. The denomination grew at rapid rates (six to twelve percent per year) in the 1980s and then slowed to an average annual growth rate of five percent in the 1990s. Over the last decade the growth rate in PNG has been about the same as it was in North America, around two percent per year.
The government census reports nearly three times as many people who identified themselves as Adventists. In fact 10 percent of the population says they are Adventists. That is 25 times the percentage of Americans who identify themselves in national surveys as Adventists. This makes the Adventist faith the fourth largest religion in PNG, very close in size to the United Church (a mainline Protestant merger), about half the size of the Lutheran Church and a third the number of Catholics.
Pacific Adventist University began as a college in 1983 and was given a university charter by the government in 1997. It has 1,100 students on four campuses with a faculty of about 100. Two years ago it launched an FM radio station that can be heard throughout the national capital region. The denomination also operates three secondary schools and six medical clinics in the country. The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in PNG has a staff of 56 and an annual budget of a little over $1 million, according to its most recent annual report. It is involved with HIV-AIDS prevention, construction of village water systems, adult literacy education and other projects. The Adventist Church also sponsors the Flying Doctor Service that brings mobile clinics to isolated rural areas.
PNG is among the poorest nations on the globe with a third of its population living on a dollar a day or less. The Adventist Church’s investment in education and health care has been significant to the progress this country is making, and ADRA is in the forefront of community development. The result is that a significant portion of the emerging middle class in PNG has an Adventist family connection even if they are not active members.
Last fall Adventist Today reported on a constitutional crisis in PNG in which Adventists held key positions on both sides. Two men claimed the office of prime minister at the same time. The deputy of one candidate and the chief of staff of the other candidate were both members of the Adventist Church, as are a number of members of parliament.
The report on the evangelism campaign and the accompanying pictures were supplied to Adventist Today by the Adventist Review.
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