Papua New Guinea celebrates 70 years of Lutheran missions

Mission outreach during early missions to the Enga region of Papua New Guinea.
Sand art commemorating the arrival of LCMS missionaries to Yaramanda in 1948.

PAPUA NEW GUINEA – Lutherans in Papua New Guinea are celebrating 70 years since the arrival of Lutheran missionaries in the Enga province of Papua New Guinea, an event which led in time to the founding of the Gutnius Lutheran Church (GLC). A celebration was held October 31 to November 3, 2018 in Yaramanda, the site where missionaries to the region first arrived.

The event featured several guest speakers highlighting both the history of the Lutheran missions to the Enga region, missions to the Siassi Island, and the 501st anniversary of the Reformation. The GLC also presented representatives of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) with sand art portraying a missionary giving the Bible to an Enga man, symbolizing the coming of the LCMS missionaries to Yaramanda on November 2, 1948.

The history of the GLC dates to 1947, when the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Australia requested The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) assist with mission outreach in unreached parts of Papua New Guinea. The LCMS responded positively, sending Rev. Dr. Willard Burce and Rev. Dr. Otto Hintze as missionaries in 1948, and cooperating with missionaries Rev. Harold Freund and Patrick Kleinig from Australia.

Along with 230 builders and cargo carriers, Drs. Burce and Hintze travelled 60 miles by foot from Ogelbeng to Yaramanda, where a local leader had invited missionaries to come visit. That site would serve as the staging grounds for Lutheran missionary outreach in the nearby Enga territory. They first entered the Enga area on November 3, 1948. Five days later, on November 7, they held their first worship service in the Enga region, with about 40 local men in attendance.

Lutheran missionaries Willard Burce, Harold Freund, Patrick Kleinig, and Otto Hintze.

The first baptisms in the Lutheran community took pace in January 1957, when 79 people were baptized. The church organized to become the Wabag Lutheran Church in 1961, eventually changing its name to the Gutnius Lutheran Church in 1978. Today the GLC has about 125,000 members. In addition to mission and congregational ministry, the church also runs a hospital, schools, and seminaries.

Dr. Burce, now into his nineties, recently returned to Papua New Guinea in 2017, to serve as guest speaker for the GLC’s commemorations of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Between one and two thousand people gathered in Irelya for the historic event.

GLC Deputy Bishop Rasak Polyo and General Secretary Ezekiel David Peter, were present for the ILC’s 2018 World Conference in Antwerp, Belgium.

The GLC is a member of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies worldwide.

In recent years, the GLC has struggled with leadership disputes. The ILC recognizes Bishop Nicodemus Aiyene as the legitimate, duly elected head of the GLC.

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