The Papua New Guinea Mission Society (PNGMS) is just over twenty years old this year (2022), and yet it has a history deep in the heart of God and in the heart of the highlands of Papua New Guinea (PNG) among the Enga people and the Lutheran missionaries who served there beginning in 1948.
It was in 1948 that early Australian and American Lutherans first arrived with Papua New Guinean evangelists from the coast of PNG to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the stone age Enga. Since then hundreds of missionaries from several countries, including pastors, teachers, doctors, nurses, administrative personnel, agriculturalists and others have served among the Enga, and thousands of Engans have come to know the message of salvation, giving birth to the Gutnius Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea (GLCPNG).
In the mid 1990s, several former Lutheran missionaries, then living in Wisconsin and Minnesota, began to wonder if the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (the church body which had sponsored many of the Lutheran missionaries to the Enga) had plans to celebrate in 1998 the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of the mission work among the Enga in 1948. Discovering that there were no formal plans for such a celebration, they began to plan one of their own. Rev. Dr. Robert Holst, former missionary to PNG and also at the time President of Concordia University in St. Paul, MN (CSP) remembers,
“When we learned they had no plans, we decided to try to have a former missionaries’ reunion. We met in my CSP office from time to time sharing ideas. We did not talk about, plan or even dream of something like PNGMS. We talked of having a former PNG missionaries’ reunion but did not do a feasibility or interest test. I think that we started with the idea that we’d meet here in the Twin Cities area. We were not certain if anyone living at a distance would be able to come. “We” were Bill and Elinor Burce and Carrie Koehn; Ed, Phyllis and Jeanne Dicke; Harvey, Norita and Rachel Kath; Lynne and I.”
The result of these informal meetings was a 50th Anniversary gathering of almost two hundred missionaries held at the Catholic Retreat Center in St. Louis, a gathering which also involved the collaboration of Ron and Mary Anne Rall and Earl and Phyllis Bracewell. In addition, a simultaneous gathering of former missionaries to the Enga from the Australian Lutheran Church met in Adelaide to celebrate the anniversary, and the two groups were able to communicate via telephone. Later in August of 1998 a group of some eighteen former missionaries and some of their children traveled to the Enga Province for a reunion celebration on the field with Gutnius Lutheran Church leaders and members.
The overwhelming response to the celebration in St. Louis was, “We should do this again.” And the response of many of the Enga people to both celebrations was, “We thought the missionaries had forgotten us. Now we know they haven’t.” And so, many of the same individuals who planned the 50th anniversary celebrations began to meet and explore ways that the missionaries who had served in PNG and who were now living in the US or Australia could continue their support of the GLCPNG, the young National church that had grown from earlier mission efforts.
Three years later in 2001, PNGMS was registered as a corporation in Minnesota, and then in 2002 it was granted non-profit status by the Internal Revenue Service. On June 22-23, 2001 the first official biennial “bung” (gathering) of the PNGMS was held at Woodbury Lutheran Church in Woodbury Minnesota, beginning a sequence of gatherings which have been held every two years since then.
In addition, multiple support projects have been developed in collaboration with the GLCPNG leadership, and many trips by missionaries back to PNG have been sponsored by PNGMS in continuing support of the GLC. Those trips include ventures by Steve and Mary Kosberg in 2000, Ian Klienig in 2002, Bill Burce in 2002, Ron and Mary Anne Rall in 2004, Jerry and Simon Burce in 2004, Harvey and Norita Kath in 2005, and then multiuple additional trips in the years since 2005 by Ron and Mary Anne Rall, Harvey and Norita Kath, Roy and Judy Schache and Todd and Jan Luedtke. Most of these trips, especially those recently have focused on theological leadership in-service and training, infrastructure renewal at Timothy Lutheran Seminary, Birip, Christian religious education and medical services facilitation. Several of these ventures are detailed in the Project section of this website.
The four documents included below are (1) an article written by Ed Dicke called “What is…Who is PNGMS,” (2) a copy of the PNGMS Articles of Incorporation signed on March 15, 2001 and filed on April 5, 2001, (3) a copy of the official Certificate of Incorporation from the state of Minnesota and (4) the PNGMS Constitution and By Laws as revised in 2013.