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Commemoration of the PNG Martyrs

Ordinary Sunday 23, 7 September, 2003
Canon Donald Johnston

"Greater love hath no one than this ...". Today we commemorate twelve brave Martyrs of PNG. As your magnificent Napier Waller window in the North Transept boldly proclaims: "They, knowing full well the risk, elected to stay with their flock". Also we find written Jesus' words: "The Good Shepherd giveth his life for the sheep". In 1942 the Japanese invasion threatened all the sacrificial work of our missionaries to establish the Church that country.

Despite the threat, Bp Philip Strong radioed to the Mission Stations: "We cannot leave. . . . Many already think us fools and mad. . . If we are fools, we are fools for Christ's sake". Christ's fools!

Ten sermons would not be sufficient to tell the stories of these Martyrs, so I tell of just two. First, May Hayman from Adelaide, trained as a nurse in Melbourne and Canberra. There in the left hand light of your beautiful window, you see a nursing sister at her work of healing, in the second panel from the bottom. May went to PNG and was nursing the patients at the Mission Station at Gona. This station had only been established in 1929, thirteen years before. Three missionaries were at Gona as the tensions of war increased – Fr James Benson, Sister May and the newly arrived teacher, Mavis Parkinson. You can see her in the window in the panel above her friend May, teaching in the school. The first thought of these young women was for their newly converted brothers and sisters, still tender in their faith. How could they possibly leave their charges! Sr May thought of her patients. She said to her Bishop: "What will the sick do if I move from here?" Mavis Parkinson said: "What will happen to my pupils." So they stayed, until the very moment the bullets and shells fell and the Japanese soldiers landed on their beach.

Together with the villagers, they forced their way inland through almost impenetrable bush. You see them there in the window at the bottom left. They found temporary refuge in a Christian village, keeping up their spirits by writing letters home – letters of amazing spirit and courage and wit which, miraculously, survived to be delivered. More to save the people who sheltered them than for any other reason, they attempted to get through the Japanese patrols and achieve what was almost impossible, to make their way over the mountains to Port Moresby. They were betrayed and handed over to the enemy. The two young women were kept for a night in a coffee hut. They were taunted and proffered food which was then withdrawn. In the morning they were blindfolded, led to a plantation where shallow graves had been dug and there they were bayoneted. In the window, at the bottom right, you see the martrydom of women, though this time it is other martyrs, being killed at nearly Buna. The artist could as well have depicted the martyrdom of May and Mavis at Gona.

Not long before this, Sr May had become engaged to a young English priest, Fr Vivian Redlich, described by Bishop Strong as "happy, youthful, gifted – a gallant soul". May and Vivian were jubilant. That was the last they saw of each other, for Vivian had returned to his people at Sangara, there to wait till the Japanese patrols were upon him. It was a Sunday. He refused to go until he had said Mass. That could be him at the top of the right hand light in your window offering the sacrificial host. Two days later, away deep in the bush, he wrote a short note to his father in England: "No news of May, and I'm cut off from contacting her . . . I'm trying to stick, whatever happens. If I don't come out of it, just rest content that I've tried to do my job faithfully".

Ten years ago I managed to have a small and beautiful little chapel built at Martyrs' Memorial School – a chapel specially dedicated to the Martyrs. We arranged twelve bronze plaques above the altar, the plaque for May Hayman being placed beside that for Fr Vivian, as a symbol. Having been betrothed, they never met again on earth. It is our Christian hope that they are united in heaven.

Recently, in The Solomons, we have heard of similar Martyrdoms. Our Anglican Melanesian Brothers (young men) have been in the forefront, bringing peace between the warring parties. An eye-witness account tells us of Br Francis Tofi, going to negotiate for the release of a kidnapped boy. "He stepped forward and brought the two enemy groups together in a prayer. He radiated something so good and true and bigger than the moment, and the tension was washed from the afternoon and the men with anger and guns were made humble . . . the boy's life was saved."

Later, this same Brother Francis was one of those six who went out to search for Br Nathaniel. Br Nathaniel was missing, having gone in peace to the warlord Harold Keke. The six searched for him. Only a month ago, the Australian authorities interviewed Keke, being told of the murder of all these seven, for Br Nathaniel had already been killed before the other six brave men went out in search of him.

The Chaplain of the Brothers, Fr Richard Carter, has written that these seven will live on in the hearts and minds of their community, as is the way with Martyrs: "Each of these young men believed in peace and in goodness. They knew that there was a better way. They were prepared to oppose violence and to risk much. At the end of the day they stand against all acts of brutality which are at present disfiguring our world and bravely, boldly, and with love, lived what most of us proclaim only from the safety of a Church."

From the safety of a Church! Do we seek safety in knowledge of the past, in the support we have previously given? In the past we have given much. For over 100 years, since Annie Kerr went from this parish to Papua, this church of St Peter has a wonderful history of involvement in Mission. Canon Maynard, a close friend of Bishop Phillip Strong, went to Dogura for the Consecration of the beautiful Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul – you see this depicted in Napier Waller's window, for which Canon Maynard was responsible. Today's Festival of the Papua New Guinea Martyrs received its first celebration here in your church, fifty-five years ago and has been celebrated here faithfully ever since.

We do not have the look far into the past. A present parishioner, Jean Henderson, established St Margaret's Hospital on the North Coast of Papua and served there and elsewhere in PNG for 30 years. (It used to be said that one Bp Sparks of Ely had put so many of his relatives as priests in the churches of his diocese that by night you could light your way from Cambridge to the coast by the sparks amidst the stubble!) Today, though I am not sure about sparks, you can travel from Kokoda to the coasts of Milne Bay by asking your way from all the Jeans you meet, most of whom have been babies delivered by our own Jean Henderson!

Yes, we can be proud of the past. But what of the present? Do we just clap and say: "Well done!" Then do we forget and turn our backs? I have to tell you that as an Australian Church we have been quite good at turning our backs. There used to be many white doctors, teachers, nurses and priests in PNG. Twenty years ago there were 28. Now there are 2. Just two! And two more wives.

What has gone wrong? Independence? There has been independence both for the Nation and also for the Church. With this developed a feeling that we should let them īget on with it themselves. A movement called "MRI" (Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ) started early in the 1960s. Bishop Stephen Bayne of Toronto wrote good things when launching this – ideas such as that the "daughter" churches had grown up and needed to stand on their own feet. Like all good things, in my opinion, MRI has been taken too far. Yes, younger churches need to be independent but, also they still value, in fact they still need contact with us – for fellowship, for moral support.

My wife and I have been back to PNG for five short visits in the last decade. Each time we are overwhelmed by the joy of people at our return. Why, someone at last knows they are there! Someone cares! But where are the others?

Independence affects them. It also affects our Australian Church. We used to experience the excitement of having Jean Henderson, with all those others, together up there. It focussed our thinking, our praying and our giving. "The ABM Review" told us their story, month by month, much like the radio serials "Blue Hills" or "The Archers". It is true that ABM now publishes "Partners" several times a year, a beautifully produced, coloured paper, but without much which is consecutive. About one-third is about PNG and Melanesia and a great deal is about other parts of the World Church which are not so close to us. I believe the balance is wrong. PNG is our former colony, the place where our soldiers fought and died and, above all, to which we sent out Father Albert MacLaren and Father Copland King, together with many others, to found a Church, to face untold hardships and often to die of sickness and, later, in Martyrdom. Our Prime Ministers go there. Our young people want to walk to Kokoda. We know only too well the needs of Africa, of Myanmar, of The Philippines. But if we in Australia do not care for those to our near north, few others will. There, our brothers and sisters look to us and they pray to God for our help.

For some time now our Anglican Board of Mission has advertised for a lecturer in Biblical Studies at Newton Theological College, for three doctors for three different stations, for teachers at each of the three High Schools (of which Martyrs' Memorial School is but one), and above all for a Diocesan Secretary for Popondota Diocese.

Elin and I know that Diocese well, just as we know well the newly consecrated, young Bishop Roger Jupp. We met him in London some three years ago. Though diffident about going to teach at Newton College, still he went. With little help, he made the best of his time there as Principal. Then the diocese fell apart and he found himself, much to his amazement, elected bishop. This is the largest diocese in PNG. It is the one where unity is least to be found. It is troubled with sects (I believe, like Heinz products, there must be 57 varieties of American Pentecostal sects in PNG – all preaching that Anglicans are, quite literally, going to hell. Among simple folk, this is unsettling.) Before Roger got there, trouble had plagued the diocesan office. Things were put right with the wonderful support of Laraine Earle, an English widow, who was pulling herself together after the shock of having her husband murdered in China. But, as planned long before, Laraine has returned home to England. Bishop Roger is alone and desperate.

I wonder whom you or I might know who might be able to go for a while to help the Church in PNG? They could find so many ways of helping – often in ways they were never trained for. Most often the support is psychological and as simple as knowing how to take messages and work a fax machine. Ability to add and subtract can help! There is also need to give Christian comfort and support to lonely expatriates like Bishop Jupp. People who go, love it! Ask Jean! Don't be worried by the media reports – oh, yes, things go wrong in the towns, where we have to be careful. You have to be careful in Melbourne at times. The local Christians are desperate for help and so, so wonderful. Can't you think of anyone? Safety? Is that a problem? Well, I'm not very brave. I think my wife is braver than I am when she visits, but she knows she is safe staying in the villages amongst friends. Rotarians go up there, having a whale of a time. So do schoolchildren. My former colleague, Fr Roger Williams as Chaplain of Mentone Grammar, takes two groups of 25 or 30 sixteen year olds up there each year. They all come back, thrilled with their experience. Can we not tell our friends of this? Can we not seek people to go and help?

And whatever, let us pray that the Churches in PNG and in The Solomons will gain more support. The Martyrs have given their lives for the work of Christ. Many others have given years and years as missionaries and helpers. We must all give something: prayer, and at the very least money. This for Christ who, in Martyrdom, gave us his all.

From the beginning īthe blood of the Martyrs has been the seed of the Church. "I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." These are the words of our Saviour, Christ, the first Martyr.

For the Martyrs of PNG and of The Solomons, thanks be to God. Amen.


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