Ever since I started to contemplate doing mission work in Papua New Guinea, I have found that a sermon at church, a Christian song or a bible verse I picked at random, has had something to say about mission work and what an integral part of Christian life it really is. I must say though, […]
Ever since I started to contemplate doing mission work in Papua New Guinea, I have found that a sermon at church, a Christian song or a bible verse I picked at random, has had something to say about mission work and what an integral part of Christian life it really is. I must say though, I did not always see the urgency of that call.
I remember that when I learned about mission work in primary school, I thought there could not possibly be anything less fitting for me to do once I grew up. At that stage, I thought it more worthwhile to do stuff rather than talk about doing (or not doing) stuff. I clearly remember watching a documentary on Albert Schweitzer. ‘Cool guy’, I thought, but if you live in the jungle, you might as well be an Indiana Jones, doing stuff, right?
Personally, I have found that God really must have a funny sense of humour. How else could it be that a good 30 years down the track, I still remember the Albert Schweitzer documentary and my thoughts about it, and yet feel strongly called to serve as a medical doctor in a bush clinic in a remote part of the world, as part of a Christian mission program? Now that we are preparing for our own mission, I realise that it is a lot of doing stuff, that mission thing!
My wife Anke, a physiotherapist, and I, a General Practitioner, were born and grew up in Germany, and completed our respective studies there. Towards the end of my studies, we decided to complete my last medical elective in Papua New Guinea (PNG). At the time it seemed to be an itch for adventure, but ultimately it has turned out to be God’s calling for us. Little did we know, when we left Germany for 40 days, that those days would serve as a primer for our adventure in mission work. When we returned to Germany after those 40 days, we had no doubt that now we had a mission and that there was a life plan for us. In hindsight, we can see where God had more than his little finger in the action, guiding and protecting us.
Some 13 years have passed which we filled with completing our studies, moving to Australia, completing specialist training in our respective fields and starting our family. The time is now right for us to step out in faith to return to PNG and provide medical care to locals and missionaries alike. We have never quite lost sight of our plan that returning to Papua New Guinea was the thing to do, but how and with which organisation? Over the years, we have kept our eyes peeled for opportunities to serve in Papua New Guinea, but there always seemed to be one thing or another that didn’t quite fit, either for us personally or for the mission organisation.
One day I rang Glenice Hartwich from the Lutheran Church of Australia. We had talked in the past about our desire to serve in Papua New Guinea, but this phone call was essentially me just wishing to share how frustrated I was that we seemed to be getting nowhere. Mrs Hartwich said, “Have you thought about serving with Wycliffe?” Actually, no, we had not. But we should have! We had met many, many missionaries in our time in Papua New Guinea back in 2005, who were serving with the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL – the overseas branch of Wycliffe Bible Translators) and, in many ways, it had been those missionaries who ignited our desire to someday return to Papua New Guinea and get into mission work ourselves. We had not seen the forest for all the trees!
To be honest, one of the reasons why Wycliffe Bible Translators may not have been foremost in our mind, was that we did not feel ‘Christian enough’ to serve with them. If my mother had written this article, she would probably have used the word ‘pious’ in this setting. But we did not feel like we were the right material for the job. What if we did not believe strongly enough? What if we did not have sound enough theology to make the grade? What if we were not the perfect fit? But here’s the deal: if the answer to “are you ready for mission and service?” is, “yes”, then you are all those things. If you believe in God as a Christian, then you will have the tools for whatever job He calls you for.
We found this out on the amazing journey that we have now been on for the last year. We received great support from Wycliffe members in our transition to membership and also had the most amazing cultural and linguistic training at Wycliffe’s base at Kangaroo Ground, Victoria, earlier this year. We are now in the process of developing partnerships with churches and individuals to get our support team together and are currently working on getting ready for deployment to SILs centre of operations at Ukarumpa in Papua New Guinea’s Eastern Highlands. Ukarumpa is a place where many Bible translators come to check their work, liaise with others for mutual support, participate in professional development, or to take a break from living in remote areas. In order for Bible translator advisors to do their work, other professionals and support workers are needed, such as teachers for missionary kids, IT personnel, pilots, but also medical personnel like us. Ukarumpa has a medical clinic where Anke and I will be treating expatriates, as well as local people from the surrounding villages.
We will also be going on health patrols to villages that otherwise would not receive medical care. Medical retrievals of critically ill patients back to Australia are also necessary on a regular basis, sometimes as often as monthly, and it will be part of my job to accompany those flights every once in a while.
Many areas in Papua New Guinea are incredibly remote. It takes a very long time to get from one place to another. Often there are no roads to gain access to wherever you need to go, and many places will be reached on foot. If one is lucky, there may be a serviceable airstrip, a fuelled-up airplane and a pilot skilled enough to take you to your destination. It goes without saying that many of the commodities that we are used to, here in Australia, will be but a memory to us once we live in Ukarumpa. Nonetheless, Ukarumpa has some great facilities, including a well-stocked general store, its own airfield and even a school. The Ukarumpa International School is based on the American school system and has classes from reception to year 12, which is lucky for our children and us.
Our next steps will be to build supportive partnerships with anyone who feels our project deserves a hand. Support can be in the form of prayer, as well as practical and financial support. Wycliffe members are not on a salary and our entire mission will be donation-funded. Your donations will be passed on directly to us and used to enable us to do our medical work in Papua New Guinea. At this stage, the intention is for us to serve around two years in Ukarumpa, but we are open to extending our stay for a few more years beyond that, God willing. To help us dive deeper into the spiritual challenges of our mission and to bolster up our professional skills, we have signed up for a part-time course at Tabor College for International Health and Development (a course on medical care in a development world setting). If all goes well, we hope to head off to Papua New Guinea in early 2019.
Like me, you may feel that there is no way you would ever be called on to serve. There is a large mission field right at your doorstep, here in Australia, that deserves our attention. But what do you know? You might find yourself doing the most amazing things out there for others, talking about what knowing God has changed for you!
If you would like to consider the opportunity to donate to Patrick and Anke Sprau, who are serving as medical personnel in Papua New Guinea, you are invited to go to https://wycliffe.org.au/member/patrick-anke/
For more information about the Sprau family, go to https://lcamission.org.au/about-us/who-we-are/countries/papua-new-guinea/papua-new-guinea-anke-and-patrick-sprau/