Bilong Niu Gini

Mi no harim tok bilong yu” (I don’t understand you) is not a phrase that Phil and Jill Tait are likely to need. After a total of 11 years’ missionary work in Papua New Guinea — where Jill also grew up until the age of six — both have very good understanding of Tok Pisin.

For six years in the Nineties, and since 2015, their home has been the 400-acre campus of Christian Leaders’ Training College (CLTC) near the town of Banz in the Central Highlands, at a pleasantly cool altitude of 1600 metres. The surrounding area has coffee plantations and traditional villages with subsistence farming. Cities in Papua New Guinea can be dangerous but the Taits feel safe in their rural home area. Very rarely inter-tribal conflicts will still flare up, usually isolated to the tribes concerned. “Relationships are vital,” says Phil. “People are very open to the Gospel, and we are very much accepted as members of the community.”

FIGHTING A DENTAL PLAGUE: Jill, a qualified nurse, now focuses on developing dental care where previously there was none. Needs are great, with rampant tooth decay caused by the recent uptake of foreign sugary foods. However a new dental clinic is taking shape. Currently the clinic has two dental chairs, suction equipment, sterilising equipment and instruments. Because of the limited facilities and expertise (so far) and with many patients only turning up when tooth decay is well advanced, extractions tend to dominate. “God is doing what originally seemed impossible” says Jill.

“The clinic provides many opportunities to share the gospel with patients, and we offer prayer before treatments.” When they are able to return, she is determined to expand both treatment and preventative education. Jill is also hoping and praying for someone with dental training to run the clinic in her absence.

A COLLEGE FOR THE PACIFIC: Phil, a town planner with a doctoral degree in Education and Missions, has since 2015 been fully involved in his new role of Vice Principal at CLTC.

Fifty percent of his work involves teaching classes and mentoring students, particularly in the area of leadership. The College provides essential theological training to students from different language groups. Phil reports that “many churches in Melanesia have pastors with no theological training. False teaching continues to be a problem.”

The College offers diplomas, degrees and master’s degrees in theology, ministry and community transformation. The aim is to develop students’ theological thinking based around their own cultural values and heritage. Ideas and practices based on the teaching and examples of Christ become more meaningful when seen in Melanesian contexts. With around 300 full-time and 600 part-time and distance students, it is the main interdenominational theological college in the country, serving students from as far afield as the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Tonga and Samoa.

Phil finds his teaching and administration work very fulfilling. “It’s wonderfully rewarding to see the lights come on when a student suddenly reaches a new understanding or a new perspective on life.” The people of PNG have a background of traditional animist beliefs, “but the gospel has had an impact on the whole country.” Phil and Jill have served widely as missionaries, including in Nigeria from 2000 to 2009; for five of those years Phil was the SIM country director. Their three daughters undertook much of their schooling in Africa but are now settled back in New Zealand.

A SEASON OF CHANGE:  The Taits returned to New Zealand from PNG in March 2020, just before lockdown began, and are uncertain when they will be able to return to PNG. But through the new realities of 2020, they say, “God has given opportunities and has done abundantly more than we expected.” Despite some Covid-19 restrictions, the College has kept operating, with the students remaining on campus.

Over the past two years, Phil helped set up an online learning system at the College which has been a Godsend this year; it has been surprisingly effective. Phil says, “Our ministry in PNG has continued but with online teaching instead of classroom teaching, and giving more leadership responsibility to the Papua New Guineans. We have grieved the loss of face-to-face connection with many and have cried with our Papua New Guinean brothers and sisters as they have faced many struggles greater than ours. But we have seen God’s leading and we are thankful that we can continue to help and build into their lives from a distance.”

— David Blaker

Pray: The online teaching that Phil has done from NZ has been surprisingly effective — pray for the mentoring of staff and leadership decisions which are more difficult to do remotely.  Pray for guidance about when to return to PNG, and for volunteers with expertise in dental work to assist at the new clinic.