The church in Papua New Guinea has been enriched by martyrdom twice in the twentieth century. James Chalmers, Oliver Tomkins and some companions were sent to New Guinea by the London Missionary Society. They met their death by martyrdom in 1901. Forty years later, during the Second World War, New Guinea was occupied by the Imperial Japanese Army and Christians were severely persecuted. Among those who died for the faith were two English priests, Vivian Redlich and John Barge, who remained with their people after the invasion of 1942 but were betrayed and beheaded, together with seven Australians and two Papuan evangelists, Leslie Gariadi and Lucian Tapiedi.
Romans 8. 35–39
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Only someone who has been through extremely testing times could write such words. Here is confidence borne of experience. To me these powerful verses from Paul’s letter to the Romans convey two messages for today: comfort and challenge.
COMFORT The truth behind these words can be of great encouragement and comfort to us in our own times of suffering, grief or lost-ness. These verses are worth memorising. They are cosmic in their scope and deeply personal in their application. Nothing that you or I have to face can come between us and the love of Christ.
CHALLENGE Armed with this assurance we are challenged to go forward, not to be afraid. Such were the men named at the top of this devotion by our editor. Chalmers a veteran pioneer missionary of great charisma, still highly revered in Papua New Guinea. Tomkins a new, young London Missionary Society recruit who insisted on joining Chalmers and his team in facing a deadly situation. Redlich, Barge, Gariadi, Tapiedi and many others who stuck to their posts in 1942 and paid the ultimate price. Every one of them driven by their God-given love for the people.
I would like to add to the list a friend who was a Missionary Aviation Pilot (MAF), Paul Summerfield. Paul died in 1985 when his plane hit a mountain in bad weather in the treacherous flying country of Papua New Guinea’s mountain ranges. How moving it was to see a poster at that time, in another MAF pilot’s home, saying “A ship is safe in harbour, but that is not what a ship is for.”
It is when we embrace risk and danger in response to God’s call to practice costly love that we too grow in confidence that nothing, NOTHING, can separate us from the love of Christ. I suspect that there is no other way to gain such confidence. There is no short cut.
Thank you, Lord God, for the firm grip of your love. Thank you for courageous witnesses to the reach of your love in hard places. When we are in stormy waters turn us from fear to faith, we pray. Amen
The Rev’d Dr Gwen Collins is a retired minister and member of Avenue St Andrews URC in Southampton.