Wewak District


The Wewak District of the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) is entering its second century of service to the church of Wewak and to the people of the East Sepik Province. Fr Eberhard Limbrock SVD founded the Wewak Mission on the Windjammer seashore in 1912. Thanks to the courage, the dedication and the outright hard work of those who went before us, the first great work has been most successfully accomplished. They came to virgin jungle, to people who had been isolated from the rest of the world since early migrations, and they built schools and clinics, roads and development projects. Most of all, they brought the Word of God and proclaimed God's Kingdom.

The seed of the Word fell on fertile ground and today the East Sepik Province is completely Christian. The Church they planted is today adult and thriving and has already given forty men to the priesthood and a hundred or more men and women to the religious life. People in many parishes work closely with their priests to continue building up hope in the Kingdom by their leadership and service, and many hundreds of teachers have dedicated themselves to every level of education, from pre-school to university. Everywhere, in large hospitals and on lonely bush patrols, nurses and health professionals of the mission tend to the sick and the new-born.

Those SVD pioneers paid heavily for today's successes! In the earliest days they lived the loneliest of lives and one has to believe that it was only their love of God and of the people that sustained them through poverty, isolation, the ravages of malaria and the turmoil of war. With the Japanese invasion of the East Sepik in 1942 came death and destruction beyond what anyone could expect. The bishop, Joseph Loerks, and more than half of his missionaries were killed in war. A few escaped by trudging through swamps and scaling the great mountains of the Highlands, but some of those who survived the first executions were imprisoned in most intolerable conditions. As the war drew to its close, ironically some more of them were accidentally killed.

Christians believe that the blood of martyrs is the seed of faith. Even while the war was still raging, a new generation of missionaries was preparing to join the handful of survivors to rebuild what was destroyed and lost. As soon as hostilities ceased they began work. The church infrastructure was devastated, but faithful Christians gathered around the missionaries and within a very few years the church of Wewak was thriving.

A young bishop, Leo Arkfeld, was given the leadership of the mission and his vision of what God wanted for the Sepik inspired priests and people alike to work tirelessly towards that dream.

Today confreres assigned to the Wewak District live and serve in parish based communities at Timbunke and Kunjingini. Sometimes we are invited to new places. Here is the account by Fr. Joseph Roszynski (now Bishop of Wewak) of a visit to Nyaurange and Kandinge two large villages on the Middle Sepik.

“On arrival at the village the people were waiting for me with flowers and songs. After a short rest I went to the church area for a meeting with the candidates for First Holy Communion for which it was necessary to hold some kind of exam. There was a lady who was a teacher who had taken charge of preparing the children in their Catechism. We sat under a coconut tree and the exam started. At night we watched some of the religious movies in the open in the company of millions of mosquitoes. The people remember very well former missionaries like Fr Rudi Breyer. For the night I was put up in a very large house. The night was peaceful. In the morning some people came to the church with flowers, others with instruments. During the very lively liturgy of the Mass, four girls were baptized, and twelve girls and boys received First Holy Communion. After the Mass as the tradition demands, we had a meal together in front of the church on a nicely cut lawn. On the menu was fish, chicken and very tasty crocodile meat, all done in coconut milk. After the meal the young people, newly enriched by the sacraments, presented some songs and dramas. I enjoyed enormously my visit to this remote community.”

What happens now? The Divine Word Missionaries long ago handed over the church they planted to the people of the church. Where do we go now? For the present some of us are still needed to care for parishes, for support work, and for a few specialist tasks. Should we leave soon? Should we go to the most isolated parts of the country - or to other countries - where the church is still struggling? We have no answers. But we have a willingness to follow wherever the Spirit leads, and we have a strong belief in the mission of the whole church, and not just of our congregation, to proclaim the Kingdom to the entire world.

The Divine Word Missionary is a mature Christian who, urged on by the love of Christ, has both a readiness and a capacity to leave his own culture as a lifetime member of an international community in order to build up the Church, the universal sacrament of salvation. Young men from the Sepik have also answered this call to be a Divine Word Missionary and are working and studying throughout Papua New Guinea and the world. We can do no better than to listen to their young voices as they lead us to a new Church and a new world.