Anywhere but New Guinea

Lessons from the mission field.

Kerrie Long (nee Tolhurst) writes to us from Newcastle, Australia. Her husband, Warrick Long, is the Associate Secretary-Treasurer for the North New South Wales Conference.

Warrick and I married in December 1986. We both worked in Sydney, Warrick at the Division and I at the San­itarium Health Food Company's Chatswood Office. Just nine months later we got "the call." I was visiting Wahroonga at the time, and due to a prior agree­ment, Warrick accepted the call, then rang to tell me where we were going. When "volunteering" to go to the mission field, we had stipulated "anywhere but New Guinea." So you can guess where we were headed.

After being encouraged about our destination at Mission Institute, we arrived in Lae in January 1988. I have to be honest and say I was totally unprepared for the reality that awaited us. I lay awake that first night in a foreign land, with foreign noises, heat, etc, and wondered if we had made a dreadful mistake. The humidity of Lae took a bit of getting used to. I used to stick my face in the freezer to get a nose full of cool air!

It is amazing how a person adapts to a totally different environment and the steps people take to make an enjoyable life for themselves.

I must say that the settling in process was greatly aided by the arrival of our own personal effects. With each move, we sent our goods ahead of us by at least a month so we were able to settle in with our things almost as soon as we arrived instead of camping in transit flats.

There is far greater contentment on the home-front if the husband is able to settle the family with their own things before getting caught up in his work.

We spent two years in Lae, then received a call to transfer to Suva, Fiji. We spent nearly two years there as well, before having to return to Australia a little earlier than planned because of a tumor in my foot. We had two little girls while we lived in the islands, although I travelled back to the Sidney Adventist Hospital to give birth. I also had to bring the older one back there for an operation when she was just 10 weeks old. So we do know well the procedures for medical leave. In both places, we found excellent doctors—some European, some nationals.

A little over three years have passed since we arrived back in Australia, and we do think with nostalgia of our time overseas. Many images come to mind when I think of those years:

  • Many incredibly fun times were had with other expatriates. We have never had a more social time, any excuse was made for a party. We even had a party in Lae during a curfew—about eight families stayed in one house all night and played Pictionary at 2 a.m. (We have noticed people tend to stick to themselves more in Australia.) In the mission field, people need to be able to depend on each other. In the absence of the closeness of relatives, fellow missionaries almost become surro­gate families.
  • The friendships with the local people were wonderful and enlightening. It really is so eye-opening and refreshing to learn to appreciate others with all their different back­grounds and views and to understand their simple faith.

  • It was very interesting to observe another society at work. I am a self-confessed people watcher. I can sit and watch people for hours and I found it fascinating to learn about another culture.

  • We were given the opportunity to do some good for others. I think about the ladies craft group we set up in Suva. We invited community ladies to join us to learn or demonstrate crafts.

  • I fondly remember the challenges of being a missionary's wife, not the least of which was having an hour's notice to cook lunch for 12 men! That happened more than once, but was immensely gratifying when they were so appreciative.

  • I cherished the unexpected pleasure of having a house-girl to take the edge off the chores. I was not going to have one, but soon realized I was helping a needy lady by giving her work. For about $10 a day, she and I both benefited. I really do miss this aspect of the islands!

  • I laugh when I recall the humorous moments when "civilization" crept into local life. It was fun to see a group of local lads crowd around the first escalator in Lae. They dared each other to try it, and occasionally pushed one hapless individual onto the steps so he had no choice but to grimly hang on and leap off at the top end. (There was only one escalator, and it went up. To come down, you had to use the stairs.)

  • I admired the self-sufficiency of the wives while the husbands were away. Sometimes not enough credit is given to the wives who hold down the fort while the husbands do their travelling and spend many long hours away from home. I still vividly remember being left home with two tots while Warrick had to endure visiting Tahiti—twice! I won't hold it against him forever, just for the next 20 years!

  • I cannot say that mission service is financially lucrative. We found it rather difficult to keep up a Sydney lifestyle, but that is not the idea of mission service anyway. We had to sell all our new "stuff" one year after getting married, and then start from scratch when we came back to Australia, but what price do you put on the experience we had?

  • We found that we had to stick to a simple diet. Warrick suffered some rather gruelling tummy bugs from little nasties in non-purified water and some raw vegetables. But he did quite enjoy travelling through the islands in the Pacific and tasting their freshly caught fish.

  • Probably the biggest area of learning for us was in the area of the things that matter most in life. The island people have such a simple faith and an enjoyment of each other. They do not have all the distractions of our computerized society—they remember how to talk to and enjoy each other. They also know how to really put their hearts into worship and believe in God rather than just theorize about religion. We can all learn lessons from these folk and that is the thing I would like to remember most about our mission experience.