We were not sure what to expect from a nationally prescribed day for repentance. The link between national identity and the Christian faith is strong in Papua New Guinea, yet many readily admit that the personal, individual commitment to godly living often does not accompany the profession of being a Christian. There were over 1000 people at the event, but that represents a small proportion of the entire Lae community.
Yet it is that very issue that lies at the heart of Repentance Day (August 26). It is as much for Christians to lament the spiritual state of their PNG brothers and sisters as it is for a personal expression of grief over sin.
Crowds assembled in groups according to region – highlands, lowlands, and the islands – and specific community groups such as leaders in the church and society, and students of schools and universities, were brought to the front at times for covering in communal prayer.
The nationalistic approach to repentance should not seem that strange a concept to us. It is a recurring event in the days of Israel under various kings. Hezekiah’s spiritual reforms in Israel followed the rule of his idolatrous father, King Ahaz, who offered his children as sacrifices and permanently shut the doors of the Lord’s temple.
Hezekiah sent word to all Israel and Judah and also wrote letters to Ephraim and Manasseh, inviting them to come to the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem and celebrate the Passover to the Lord, the God of Israel. 2 Chronicles 30:1
The people destroyed the idolatrous altars, and rejoiced greatly as the Passover offerings were made “And the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people.” (2 Chron. 30:20)
Our Australian culture tends toward a more private and personal expression of spirituality in general, particularly in the area of repentance. Yet the PNG way is to live in community, and the process of grieving over sin is no exception.
They feel deeply the circumstances of many of their people – struggling without a job or suitable housing; trapped in alchohol and drug abuse; families under strain – and understand the spiritual issue that underlies these problems.
Like Hezekiah, the Lae Christian community gathered this day to seek the Lord’s healing for their people, knowing that their prayers will be heard by the One who promises “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
Please pray …
- that the PNG church would be a strong voice in the community, and an even stronger witness as they walk with the Lord daily.
- thank God for the general openness to spiritual matters in PNG culture, including a Government who acknowledges the place of Christianity in society.
- for the hundreds of young people who came forward to receive the prayers of the community, adding their “Amen” to the plea for God to work among the next generation.