The Church on the Beach
by Major Leanne Ruthven
IN late December 2004 the world’s attention turned to the Indian Ocean when a tsunami devastated large areas of south-east Asia. But that month, not far away, another relief operation took place, with the entire population of Manam Island – 16 kilometres off the north-east coast of Papua New Guinea – being forced to leave their homes.
|Potsdam Salvation Army hall|
|Manam Island, seen from mainland PNG|
|Alexia with one of her children |
|Major Sere Kala (Divisional Commander, North Coastal Division) with former residents of Manam Island|
|Major Kala speaks with some of the locals|
|Potsdam home league members including Alexia (centre) and Captain Nancy Nena (in uniform towards the right)|
Manam Island is a volcano, 10 kilometres in diameter, which had been home to almost 10,000 people. Since the early 1600s the volcano has erupted at least 30 times and in October 2004 new activity was noticed. In November and December major eruptions occurred, badly affecting homes, crops and water supplies. The island’s inhabitants had to be evacuated to the mainland, where they were housed in three temporary care centres on the coast.
The care centre at Potsdam was assigned to The Salvation Army, which had sent a team to the area under the leadership of Major Sere Kala, Divisional Commander of PNG’s North Coastal Division.
A young woman named Alexia was one of the 2,500 evacuees sent to Potsdam and Major Kala was the first Salvationist she had ever met. The Army supplied her and her five children with shelter, food and tools to enable them to start a new life.
Alexia was understandably sorry to have to leave her home on Manam Island but soon adapted to life on the mainland. And when a group of displaced islanders commenced worshipping with The Salvation Army, she was among them.
At first they met under a mango tree, then they decided to build a hall on the beach. Soon more than 100 people were attending meetings, with 60 children going to Sunday school. In 2005 some of the young people from what was now known as Potsdam Fellowship attended Salvation Army youth councils in Lae, the main town on the north coast of PNG.
Potsdam’s first officers, Captains John and Nancy Nena, were appointed in March 2007 and moved into a house the congregation had built two years beforehand – in anticipation of the day the Army would send them leaders. Now soldiers have been enrolled and local officers appointed.
Alexia is one of those soldiers and today she runs the home league women’s group at Potsdam Fellowship. In 2007 she and 10 other women from the fellowship attended a Salvation Army Women’s Bible Convention in Lae.
Salvationists in Papua New Guinea thank God that Alexia and others like her met The Salvation Army – even if it was through unfortunate circumstances. Through the tragedy of a volcanic eruption that forced thousands from their homes a new church has been established – and is still growing.
Already the little church on the beach is too small.
Major Leanne Ruthven is Projects Secretary, Literary Secretary and Editor of Tokaut in The Salvation Army’s Papua New Guinea Territory