Last month this timely and highly relevant note came out on the Ethnos360 weekly prayer bulletin from our mission headquarters in Sanford Florida:

How does this process of discipleship work? Not quickly. It requires years of patient modeling and mentoring. Thriving Churches Need Disciplers – What does it mean to have a ‘thriving church’? According to Ian Fallis, strategist for the Advancement Team of Ethnos360, a thriving church is simply ‘a body of disciples making disciples.’ But to have disciples means there must be teaching, mentoring, well … discipling. Someone has to be the teacher, the mentor, the discipler.

Philippians 4:9 shows us Paul’s method: ‘The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things.’ In II Timothy 2:2, Paul enjoins Timothy that ‘the things you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

The May River Iwam Christians were certainly well taught, mentored and discipled from 1972 thru to 2000 while New Tribes (Ethnos360 is still known as New Tribes Mission in Papua New Guinea) missionaries lived among them. Since the year 2000, the church in Iwam land has been standing on its own, with local men serving as their Bible teachers and in church leadership. Recently John Hutteman (son of my former co-workers John & Debbie Hutteman) made a 5 day trip up to our old May River stomping grounds to check on and encourage the Iwam churches.

Just like John’s parents had discipled May River Iwam Christians to bring them to a level of maturity in their faith that they could oversee the work of their local churches, so “young” John and his wife Christina helped finish a tribal work in Malaumanda, another language group in our province of PNG. Now John Jr. is stepping into a much needed ministry of liaison work with the NTM churches in about a dozen different people groups throughout our Sepik region who have been functioning these past years on their own. Though many of the churches have continued to faithfully meet together, they still benefit from intermittent missionary visits to listen to their church reports and concerns, and to further mentor them in their responsibilities in leading their local churches. Such visits are also aimed to help connect them with mature believers in other PNG Bible churches, and to encourage them in their abilities to dig into the meat of God’s Word to further help them grow in their love and understanding of our Savior and Lord.

Having lived among the May River Iwam from 1980-2000 it was good to hear John’s report that at least a few of the Christian men we knew “way back when” are indeed still actively following the Lord today. At our home village of Aumi (now called Waumo) Peter Thomas and Joseph Naiti, who were discipled by John Hutteman Sr. back in the late 1990s and ordained as elders before we left Iwam land in the year 2000, are still involved in church leadership. Peter’s younger brother David attended a Bible school course with another mission and been designated by them as the head pastor. Other men (Sotias & Josua Maum, Akus Hwuni, Prensen and Linus) who were just teenagers when we were there also attended the Bible school and have been a part of church leadership.

In the congregation at the upriver village of Aiwanu Mark Mampu, who was a part of the original late 1990’s discipleship group, helps with Bible teaching along with two younger fellows – Makis Andrew and Pensen Neprin who were discipled by a former Iwam church leader Thomas Sout.

The church at Aiwanu includes only a faithful few, mostly women, as many have been drawn away by a cultish group that thrives in that area. For years now reports have come back to us on a large group meeting together for Sunday services downriver in the Aumi / Waumo village. At present however, their church building is in need of repairs. Those among the downriver congregation who are interested in attending a Sunday service have been paddling upriver for an hour to meet together with the believers at Aiwanu village. Since the relationship between these 2 Iwam churches at Aumi / Waumo and Aiwanu has sadly previously never been overly strong, this is the “silver lining” to the downriver church’s lack of a meeting place. It is a good testimony too, to the Christian men upriver that church isn’t only for the women! Perhaps now a much needed bond will form between these 2 sister churches!

Several of the Iwam ladies who began as Bible teacher trainees during our final years among the Iwam are continuing to hold ladies’ fellowship meetings on Wednesdays. Helen, Linda, Owi and Katrina have been mentioned in the past as heading up the Women’s ministries. They have also drawn in other younger gals to be a part of the group.

The Iwam were happy to share their hopes and dreams for their area with John Hutteman as he spent time among them:

  • The Iwam have been promised a large sum of money from the government to reopen the May River airstrip.
  • They also want to apply to for government funding to reinstate their Iwam literacy program.

Some prayer requests for the Iwam:

  • for the church leaders to grow in their ability to study, learn and teach from the meat of God’s Word
  • that plans can come together (later this year or early 2019) for a discipleship workshop to connect the Iwam elders and pastors with mature church leaders from other NTM works around the country
  • that a deep Christian bond would be established between the churches at Aumi / Waumo and Aiwanu villages
  • that the church leaders would see Iwam literacy as a ministry God has committed to their hands
  • for “backsliders” among our Iwam brothers and sisters in Christ to repent and return to the Lord, and that the local churches would receive them back into their fellowship. Even those who have gotten their hearts right with the Lord have not felt welcomed back into the church family and have subsequently again drifted away. (While with the Iwam John had the opportunity to share on Jesus restoring Peter after his denial of Christ, and to exhort the Iwam Church to seek out and help restore the “backslidden” Christians. John was able to encourage them to remember that God’s desire is for his family to ALL be working together as one family in Christ, working to spread the GOOD NEWS and bringing honor to His Name.)
  • for individual Iwam who formerly were never interested in the truths of God’s Word, to see their need of Jesus as their only hope of salvation and have a hunger to know Him as their Savior and Lord

I am sincerely grateful to each of you who are a part of God’s ongoing work here inPapua New Guinea. Having you standing together with us on behalf of God’s people here is a tremendous blessing and encouragement. For those of you in particular who have long been tracking what God is doing among the May River Iwam – your prayers and financial gifts helped to make John’s visit possible. Thank you!
Co-laboring to bring back Christ as King!
Hope Sharp