Historic Groundbreaking for Papua New Guinea Meetinghouse
"The Gospel gives us the life that we want to live, and that we want our children and their children to live. I can feel the spirit of our forefathers celebrating this day with us, and endorsing our decision to be members of the only true and living Church."
Bilu is a small village in the Jiwaka Province of the Papua New Guinea Highlands. On 3 December it was the site of a much celebrated and unprecedented event. 350 people gathered to witness the groundbreaking of the first Latter-day Saint meetinghouse in the area.
Local tribal chiefs, community leaders and Latter-day Saints from the surrounding areas were in attendance.
Church pioneers shed tears as they witnessed the ceremony. Most thought they would never see a chapel in this vast area.
President Michael Emp of the Bilu Branch stated, “This is the day that we have longed for. We have worshipped under trees, canvasses, and thatched roofs, but now the Lord has recognized the faith of our people and is blessing us with a chapel.”
President Emp's sister told how he borrowed bus fare from her every Sunday to go to Minj. If there was no money, he walked the long way there.
The Highlands are a place where disputes between tribes and clans are typically resolved by fighting. Those who have joined the Church, however, testify that the Gospel has changed that—making them more like the Savior and bringing peace to them and their families.
Said President Emp, “The Gospel gives us the life that we want to live, and that we want our children and their children to live. I can feel the spirit of our forefathers celebrating this day with us, and endorsing our decision to be members of the only true and living Church.”
President Emp was the first Elder ordained in Bilu as the Branch was created in 2004. He is the sole landowner of the site that the chapel will be built on.
“This will not be the last of these chapels you will see,” said District President Charles Tuigamala in his address to the large audience seated in the shade of tarpaulins.
“This work has just begun. Beautiful chapels of the Church will be in every town, every village, and along this vast Highlands Highway. They will add to the beauty of this land. This work will roll forth, and change the hearts of many who will come unto Christ through your faith and example.”
Below is a short history of the Church in the Western Highlands:
In 1999 the PNG Port Moresby Mission President, President Naeata, sent his first councilor, Charles Tuigamala, to Minj to meet Brother Pa Trip who had been baptized in Port Moresby. After that visit, missionaries were sent to the village on special assignment. Their labors bore much fruit, and the Minj Branch was organized the same year.
By 2005 membership in Minj had risen to 600. Among the converts was Philip Kamen, who currently serves on the Minj District High Council. Five of his children have served missions, and two attend BYU Hawaii.
In 2008, employment took Charles Tuigamala and his wife and son to Mt. Hagen, the capital of the Western Highlands Province. There was no Church Unit in Mt. Hagen at the time, so the family drove 80km to Minj every week. One Sunday they were threatened by criminals in the area, so Brother and Sister Tuigamala sought approval from Mission President Funaki for a unit in Mt. Hagen. The Mt. Hagen Branch was organized in September 2008. At the time, Mt. Hagen, Minj, Banz, Bilu, and Chimbu, were all a part of the Goroka District of the Church, and all five branches grew rapidly.
In May 2010, the Minj Hagen District was created by Pacific Area President, Elder Tad R. Callister. Charles Tuigamala was called as District President, with David Tuan as first counselor, and Raphael Kunangel as second councilor.
The new meetinghouse will stand as a monument to the faith of these early Saints in this land—and a testimony of the great and noble restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.