Thousands of lives in Papua New Guinea have been changed by the medical care and the love of Jesus they find from teams ministering out of YWAM Ships Kona’s vessel, the m/v Pacific Link.
John Mark Wheeler and his wife Caitlyn, interim managers of the Pacific Link (PL), are no strangers to the physical and spiritual needs in PNG. After completing his DTS in San Pedro, Belize in 2013, God used John Mark’s passion for and training in the medical field during his time as the medical director for the PL in 2015-2016.
Caitlyn led outreach teams from the PL in 2016, where she and John Mark met and fell in love. They married in January of 2017 and were invited back to serve as managers on the ship for two months beginning in September.
During the medical outreaches John Mark supervised, he would tell patients that all the volunteer staff and medical personnel came “here on their own dime” to give out free medical care because the people of PNG are worth it.
“Why would Jesus die for them on the cross? Because they are worth it. Every patient I saw wasn’t just someone to give medicine to but was somebody to share Christ with. An antibiotic can cure an infection but Jesus is the only cure for the heart.”
Jesus does just that for the people of PNG. During one outreach, John Mark noticed handfuls of people walking away from the long line waiting for eyeglasses. When asked why they were doing this when they’d come so far for help, they answered, “This girl came along and prayed for us and our eyes were healed.”
Medical care and the evangelism that goes with it have long been hallmarks of the Pacific Link’s ministry. Yet John Mark and Caitlyn emphasize, “Jesus told us to not just preach the gospel but to make disciples.”
The true effectiveness of the gospel in PNG boils down to how much time outreach teams put into relationships with the goal of discipleship—a crucial component of ongoing ministry in the country.
“People here are very receptive to the gospel,” says Caitlyn. “Most have a basic understanding of God but have no background or understanding of the Scripture since they have little or no access to the Bible in their own tongue.”
This results in a Christianity contaminated with other spiritual beliefs and practices, including animism and a lack of knowledge about how Christ asks his followers to conduct their lives.
Caitlyn explains that, “People in PNG need teaching on what a healthy family looks like. There is a deeply ingrained cultural misunderstanding of how husbands should treat [their] wives. It’s considered normal for a man to beat his wife. There is still [lots] of tribal conflict going on—revenge, retaliation… “
Knowledge of the Bible could change much of this. Sharing Bible stories, teaching what it means to live for Jesus, are just a few of the tools outreach teams can use to help people in PNG root their faith in what is often very fertile soil. Interaction needs to involve talking with someone rather than talking at them.
When someone feels loved and seen as an individual, when they know someone has taken the time to really hear their story, they feel valued. They will then be ready to hear whatever you have to say and they’ll be hungry to know more.
Once the people of PNG know more, once they come to understand God’s love for them, they can learn to share that love with their families and neighbors. And when they do, their culture and their nation will experience transformation.
By Cheryl Weber
YWAM Ships Kona Volunteer