Image: Lynnette Wintergerst in her house in Yangoru, East Sepik in 1967. (photo credit: Lynnette Wintergerst)
At a tender age of 21, Lynnette Wintergerst came to Papua New Guinea to serve as a missionary following what she describes as her divine call.
Meaning, one who is sent on a mission, especially one sent to do religious or charitable work in a territory or foreign country, the word missionary also means one who attempts to persuade or convert others to a particular program, doctrine, or set of principles.
History records the arrival of missionaries in PNG to be as far back as 1847 and 1886.
To many Papua New Guineans, missionaries are mostly men or couples with children. Young woman missionaries is something unusual.
EMTV Online has recently caught up with a woman missionary who served in one of the locations in PNG 48 years ago.
Wintergerst, now in her 70s, began her story: “When I was eight, I knew that God was sending me to a country of dark skinned people – I thought it was Africa then. But later, in my early teens, I became infatuated with PNG.”
“Our church had a mission field in the East Sepik district and so I began to study to make myself available to serve these people. I was already working from 13 years of age so I studied at night school,” she continued.
Her dream of serving dark skinned people has eventually paid off when she was sent to Yangoru where she served as a primary school teacher in the AOG Mission School for two years.
“I was 21 and 22 at the time. At the end of my assigned 2 years I knew my work was done for that time. It was life changing for me. I learnt to hear from God for myself without any Pastor or church elder to direct or coach me.”
Wintergerst said they had no telephone or internet then and they were using SKED, which was only for emergencies and to schedule MAF supply runs, but this was not a problem to her.
Experiences as a Missionary
From her many experiences, she said she would visit local people in different villages with her interpreter whom she call Hongien. They would sleep in a haus kiap (house in the village for visitors), climb mountains like Mt. Turu, sleep on bamboo floors and had many adventures.
“If you mean incidents? I have enough to fill a book. Suffice to say we had a wonderful, fun filled time,” Wintergerst replied when asked if she had any accidents with the local people.
“The Holy Spirit became my teacher and guide where and when I had no help.”
While teaching there, Wintergerst was actually in charge of 156 kids and she says she had great adventures with the small children.
According to her, 22 of the boys lived with her in a dormitory as they were from a long way up river.
“Some were from as far away as the May and Fly Rivers,” she said.
“God is so faithful. He plants seeds of imagination in our hearts and when we embrace them He never leaves us without instruction or help. He taught me the things I needed – through observation of the world around me, through the voices of my children (her students), through the Word, and through direct communication with me.”
Achievements during Her stay in PNG as a missionary
Speaking of achievements, she told EMTV Online her story of her class winning a soccer game competition, which was a game she never had any clue about.
“My school was offered the opportunity to join an inter-school Soccer season. I was from Melbourne, the home of Aussie Rules football and I had never seen a soccer ball. I looked it up in the Encyclopaedia, no internet in those days.”
“And we learnt to play by drawing it out on the blackboard. Then the children got out with their sarips (grassknives) and we cleared a soccer field.”
A proud Wintergerst said in that first year, her class took out the big silver cup as Premiers.
“Our little ragtag boys had spirit and fantastic solidarity even if we didn’t have uniforms like all the other schools. We were unbeatable,” she said, adding they were also studying David and Goliath that year and so their faith was high.
After the Completion of Mission
After her first mission in PNG was complete, she returned to Australia in 1969, by then she was only 24 years old and was still considered capable for another assignment.
“When I came home my wonderful Pastor asked me whether I wanted to go back for another assignment. I said I was finished for the time. He told me not to look back but to entrust all to God.”
Her reply to the pastor was Jesus said He would build His church and her work in the area would prosper because He never fails.
“That dear Pastor laid hands on me, gave me a priestly blessing, prophesied over my life, and died seven days later in a motor accident,” Wintergerst said.
She recalled that time flies and that was 48 years ago. According to her, her life has been full of assignments, but PNG and the children God gave her have never left her heart.
“I carry those children and the country (PNG) in my heart everywhere I go. When I lived in London, Copenhagen, Stuttgart, an album of my children’s art came with me. It was through their Standard 3 art in 1967 and 1968 that they remained alive to me. I smile with every memory of each of them.”
When asked whether she is still in touch with her students, she said she received a message through Facebook in October last year which she flew to Sydney to meet up with one of her female students from 1967 who was leaving Australia the next day, adding since then her husband and her have hosted some of those now grown men and women in their home.
“We have heard stories of what happened after I left. I was astounded. I ran to my Pastor and said, “Wait till you hear what God has been doing while I wasn’t looking!”
She said she learnt three important lessons in those two years at Yangoru.
- Engage all stakeholders in any decisions that affect their future;
- Bring out the best in people in all of your relationships;
- God loves to laugh!
Wintergerst said she feels so blessed that God has given her a glimpse of what happened to the seed she sewed back then.
“I knew He would be faithful and that it would not come to nothing, but I expected to hear about that when we all get to heaven. What a blessing to be permitted to embrace PNG in a physical space again!”
Wintergerst is currently the Foresight and Strategy Practitioner at Facilitating Foresight in Australia and being a professional futurist, she is also involved with policy decisions for government and private organisations. Some of her publications can be found here.