David Sode, adopted by Danish Brethren missionaries in Papua New Guinea, returns to his home in Ialibu where a spiritual revival yields transformation to a dying church and the surrounding community
Story and Photos by LuAnne Cadd.
The church rocks. Music beats. Voices sing with conviction and power. Hands are raised to a life-changing God. It’s a Sunday morning but this is no ordinary church in Papua New Guinea. It has no pastor or elders and claims no denomination, yet this church has risen from the dead, and the people here have been transformed.
A Baby and a Murder
In a way, the story begins with a baby and a murder, too many years ago for most people in Ialibu to remember. But for David Sode, who was adopted by Danish missionaries after his Papua New Guinean father killed his mother, the event altered his life forever. Although raised at the Brethren mission station, attending the church a short walk down the road, David never really committed to following his adopted parent’s faith until many years later as an adult at university when he gave his life to Christ.
David’s parents retired and moved back to Denmark with no one taking their place at the Ialibu mission. David chose to remain in PNG based in the capital of Port Moresby. He completed his degree at the University, got married and worked in senior roles in the Public Service, then ending up managing a large development focused company. As he travelled more widely in this role, he became aware of the deteriorating house, school and church that was once home, forsaken and overgrown, a two-hour drive from Mount Hagen in the neighboring Southern Highlands Province.
“So I came back to honor my parents, to take all the bush out and restructure the buildings – the physical infrastructure – so they would know that their work hadn’t collapsed,” David remembers, flying up to Mt Hagen then driving to Ialibu on weekends or extended periods to work on the property. “But I was not one bit interested in the spiritual side because that’s a calling from God.”
Yet as David restored the physical buildings over a number of years, he saw how the church had dissolved into ruin, splitting multiple times, until finally one day in early 2015, following a year of serious infighting, the youth angrily locked the doors of the church in an act of defiance of the squabbling leadership.
See What God Can Do
The leaders decided to hand the church over to the reluctant David after weighing several options. “I prayed about it and said, ‘OK, let’s see what God can do, not what I can do.’”
For a year, David flew from Port Moresby to Mt Hagen nearly every Friday and back Monday morning, setting up a sound system for music, and waiting on God for a message to preach.
“Then the Lord asked me to introduce Bible Study back, saying that if the Word of God can get in, it will do the job,” David remembers. “You don’t need missionaries, teachers and evangelists.” To attract a younger group and non-believers, David began discussing current events as well, connecting it to the Bible. People came. “I would call on someone and he’d say, ‘I’m not a Christian, but this is what it meant to me,’” David describes. “They took the simple Bible Study home, and you know the power of God started to save them in their homes. They didn’t even need to come to church to be saved. It’s what the Lord had promised me that his Word would do it.”
When David couldn’t make it, he would call MAF’s Program Manager at the time, Godfrey Sim, to either fill the gap or arrange for someone to come. One of the volunteers, Kalado Pokuk, MAF’s Finance Manager, later joined the tag team, making the two-hour journey to Ialibu regularly to preach.
The first Sunday he preached was discouraging, Kalado remembers. “There was almost nobody – just a few women, some old folks – the church was nearly empty like I was speaking to the wall. There was no music, no musicians, nothing. But I stood up in front of them, and it was like I was prophesying, saying God is going to bring back the leadership, direction, and vision to this church.”
Troublemakers and Drug Addicts
Christmas of 2015 was a key turning point. David planned a retreat at a YWAM camp outside Mt. Hagen for 20 men and women, most of them new Christians. There were 35 seats on the bus, and 15 ‘boys’, as David calls them, showed up to fill the spots, all known troublemakers and drug addicts in the community. It wasn’t exactly what he had planned.
One of the 15, Aiye Unde, was a self-described alcoholic, drug-addict, rough guy in his village, and a general nuisance to the community, often chased by the police when they found him selling drugs in the town. But he began coming to church occasionally, sitting in the back row, listening to David, Kalado, or one of the other volunteers from MAF speak. When David announced the camp trip, Aiye mistakenly thought David would be taking them to a party, as did most of the other 15.
“We brought our cigarettes, drugs and everything,” Aiye confessed. “At the camp, we hid behind the building and started rolling our drugs in the paper and smoking.”
“The presence of the Lord was in that camp,” James Lugu remembers, another man from the rogue group. “We were going through some Bible Studies, but still hiding and smoking. On that last Sunday of December, we went in for a Bible Study and I was sitting on my seat and suddenly I felt the presence of the Lord, and tears were just running down my eyes, and I stood up and went to the front and I said, ‘I want to give my life to Jesus.’”
Before the camp ended, nearly three-quarters of the group had committed their lives to Christ.
The transformations took on many forms. Aiye describes how his quick temper vanished along with his craving for drugs and withdrawal symptoms.
“I just stopped everything,” James says. “I felt strong not to touch those things again. I made a promise already. The Word of the Lord was in me and changed me. If I had changed by myself, then I think I’d be doing those things still. I thank God for changing my life.”
The radical soul transformation of the boys touched everything in their lives from spouses and family relationships to the larger community.
“They were doing things they’d never done,” David describes. “They didn’t think about their wife before. They were just out doing drugs, would come back and demand their food and then go out again. That was their life. So to come back home crying and embracing their family and their children, apologizing for all that had happened, it was just astounding. There was crying in the village because they never expected these guys to change. The whole community was transformed.”
Wives, parents, brothers, and sisters started attending church and many have come to know Christ through the radically changed men.
In God’s Hands
Before the sermon on this day in November, nearly one year since the camp, a group of about 20 men and women fill the front of the church, holding a banner that reads, “Thank you MAF Ministries for bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ…” They sing a song of thanks to MAF and praise to God, eyes closed and faces turned upward. A few give their testimony. It’s a moving gesture of gratitude, especially for Kalado who would soon be leaving MAF.
“I’ve seen this church at its rock-bottom lowest to what it is now,” he says. “It’s been an exciting journey. I can truly say that this is God’s hand in all of these things. I told them, ‘When God says my time is over with you, my time will also be over with MAF, because I believe that God brought me to MAF for you guys.”
In addition to Godfrey Sim and Kalado, the face of MAF to this community includes other volunteers from various departments such as Pastor Albert, Alwin from Avionics, Jonathan from Stores, Gordon Bland, Property Maintenance Vehicle Manager, Nevan Tei (Ialibu driver) and aircraft painter, and many more.
“When we became Christians here, our church was going through problems,” James Lugu remembers, “so MAF voluntarily came in to have fellowship with us, to strengthen us in our spiritual life. Our wives and brothers and sisters have come to know Jesus by the Word that MAF brought in. It’s my one-year of following Jesus now. I want to be in the presence of the Lord all my life.”
David reflects on his long relationship with MAF. “MAF flew my parents here when they started, and we are still traveling together. If it had been a physical thing like MAF dropping cargo off here, we wouldn’t be having this today. It’s not a physical partnership anymore. This church is a testimony to exactly that. The relevance of MAF spiritually is what these guys understand. We don’t know where we’re going. Do we care? No. As long as the Lord is in the house, we’re happy.”David Sode is a member of the MAF–PNG Board of Directors.