Papua New Guinea 2012 Highlights

January 2012. Eight years ago this month was the first ministry trip that I led to Papua New Guinea. It was meant to be straight forward. Travel to Mt Hagen, the capital city of the Western Highlands province by plane from the nations capital; Port Moresby. We would stay at the local YWAM base and outreach into Mt Hagen town. I had never been to PNG before and along with my amazing dad Mike, I also took another two friends with me; Todd and Aaron.

What we didn’t know was that God had other plans that would take us all way out of our comfort zone and put us in the midst of what would become an incredible outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

It all started the day we flew into Mt Hagen airport in the midst of a storm. We were greeted at the airport by a local missionary, a Papua New Guinean brother by the name of Simon. I didn’t have any prior correspondence with Simon before nor had I even seen a photo of him to identify him in the crowd. I had been told in an email by the local YWAM base leader that Simon would be waiting for us at the airport and he would escort us to the Mt Hagen YWAM base.

When Simon found us in the small regional airport, it was clear he was in a rush, “quickly we must hurry,” he told us, “we have a long way to go if we want to make it to the village before the river floods,” he said as he picked up my bag and rushed us out to the open tray truck waiting for us outside.

“The village?” I asked, a little puzzled by the situation.

“There’s been a change of plans. I’m taking you to a remote village where we will stay and minister. It’s a long drive and then we will walk through the bush and we have to cross the river before it floods and we are stuck,” he explained.

“What do you mean? We’re meant to be staying at the YWAM base here in Mt Hagen,” I pointed out, puzzled by the prospect of being whisked away to some remote village by someone I had only just met and in a remote part of a country I had never been to before.

Josh and team trekking to the village.

But the noise of the rain, the hum of the engine and the hustle and bustle of Hagen town drown me out as we drove away. I turned to my dad to see the look of unease on his face as well. I was planning on putting my foot down and insist that we stick to the plan but then I took a deep breath and listened to the Holy Ghost as intently as I could. Despite everything in my human understanding telling me that it was a bad idea, I felt that we should go with Simon and take a blind leap of faith into the deep end and trust that God had a greater plan in motion.

So without further protest we began the long, wet and bumpy ride to the end of a muddy bush road, hours out of town. From there we disembarked and walked the rest of the way. We picked up our bags and following Simon, we trekked through bush and down local trails until we reached the river. But we now time was running out, it had already started to flood. The village we were travelled to was on the opposite side of the river and there was no bridge or safe passage across for as far as the eye could see. Only rushing water that increased in depth and speed as the rain continued to fall.

“We must hurry because the river can flash flood,” Simon told us. My team and I chuckled in nervous laughter as we prepared to cross this flooded river in the middle of Papua New Guinea.

Suddenly, villagers emerged from the trees on the opposite side of the river. They made a human chain and began to scramble across the river toward us. Working together we slowly crossed the flooded river clinging on to one another so we wouldn’t be swept away. The rapids pulled and tugged at us and sent rocks of all sizes crashing against our bodies.

The river we had to cross.

Finally we made it to the other side of the river as daylight faded. Waterlogged and exhausted we trudged to the village and were shown to the hut were we would stay as the sun began to set. My team and I laid there that night shaking our heads in disbelief and laughing in relief at what had been a crazy turn of events.

Where on earth were we and what were we doing here? No beds, toilets or warm showers to greet us as we had anticipated. Nothing that I had told my team to expect had gone according to plan and we hadn’t even been there a day. What I didn’t know was that this trip would mark me for the rest of my life. What I was about to experience would skyrocket my life in Christ like nothing I had known before.

The next morning we woke to find that the most of the village had gathered outside to see us; we were told that we were the first white people to ever stay in their village. As we stepped outside we were greeted with beautiful smiles and also some frightened children, some of whom burst into tears when they laid eyes on us, having never seen a white person before.

The chief of the tribe had also come from another village over the mountains to meet us. His English was great and he had many questions for us, about our mission there and he also told us about the village, their land and their tribe.

While we talked, a young boy in the crowd caught my attention because he had makeshift crutches that he clung to. I asked about the boy and what had happened to him. The boys name was John and from memory he was about 11 years old. The story goes that he had been climbing a nearby mountain with some friends and there was a rockslide and the rocks fell and crushed his left leg. Being so far from any medical help and with his family more than likely not having the finances to get him medical help, they tried to set his bones and wrap him up the best they could.

The boy John.

By now I could see that John was feeling very self conscious because I had made him the centre of attention. I asked if it would be ok if I could pray for him. Simon called out to the boy, and although he certainly was nervous he agreed to let me pray for his leg. He limped over and now I could see the full extent of his disability. Like most children in the village he got around without any shoes and so when I asked him to sit down on an outdoor bench in the meeting ground we were gathered in, I had him extend his legs and he set his bare feet on my hands. Everyone began to crowd around to see what was happening. Looking at John’s legs it was clear that his left leg had set an inch or two shorter than his right leg and was also twisted outward as well.

Like I had done many times at home in Australia, I spoke to his leg as Jesus taught us and commanded it to grow out to match his right leg. We all watched as his leg began to shake and in their local dialect John began to cry out “it’s moving, it’s moving!”.

Simon translated as I prayed and everyone pressing about us watched as John’s leg twisted back to into place and grew out to match the length of his other leg.

He was healed.

The villagers gasped and talked amongst themselves when the chief stood and with a loud voice declared, “God is here! God is here! Go and tell everyone from all the surrounding villages to come here to this place”.

And that was how it started. The word got out. And over the course of the next few days hundreds of people came from far and wide hungry and desperate to encounter the living God.

Josh teaching John how to minister to the sick.

So hungry that we preached and taught all day and night, every day we were there. Nobody wanted us to stop! We taught about the kingdom of God for hours at a time. Over the week we saw hardened men, men that were known to beat their wives and children, repent with tears, hundreds of miraculous healings from bone damage to tuberculosis healed. Deaf ears opened, creative miracles left right and centre. We would worship all night, dancing and celebrating Jesus with them.

This photo is from one such night. My dad Mike and I dancing by light of a kerosene lamp, dust and straw filled the air.

Exhausted after preaching all day and night, dancing in the dark, we would try to make an escape back to our hut to sleep, but person after person would intercept us pleading with us to pray for yet another loved one, another friend. Miracle after miracle happened, souls were saved, lives and families were transformed.

After crawling into our sleeping bags we would fall asleep each night to the sound of continued praise and worship as all those who travelled from other villages had nowhere to sleep but outside or crowded together in the bigger church hut where we had most of our meetings.

I remember late one night after falling asleep to the sound of everyone still worshipping, I woke up in the middle of the night to hear prayers and tears of intercession and repentance echo through the village. Then when I woke later in the morning I could still hear the cries of people praying. 

When our time was over and we were preparing to leave, many women from the tribe had come to us and given us their choice handcrafted handbags, woven from grasses or their best dresses to give to our wives in thanks. Now leaving the village crossing the river was different experience altogether. There was no rain or flooding. The sun ws shining and the sky was blue and some of the men who had repented that week were so moved that they insisted on carrying us across the river on their shoulders.

As much as we tried to decline their offer, we realised that this was their way to thank us. It was the fruit of repentance. Wow. They carried us on their shoulders across the river and then without asking for our permission they washed our feet when we got down on the other side.

Crowd gathering by the river.
Baptism in the rapids.

We had a large group of about one hundred or more follow us across the river, through the fields and the bush, all the way back to the start of the dirt road where we were met by a small flat bed truck waiting to drive us back to Mt Hagen.

The whole day was filled with tears as we were embraced and loved on like never before. When I turned back to get on the truck it was already full of our new friends from the tribe. It was standing room only on the back of the flat bed truck and I had to stand on top of my own bag even! Even a nursing mother and her baby had crowded on the back of the truck with us.

There are many other amazing testimonies I could share just from this one trip that I may at some other time in greater detail but won’t now for times sake, but I’ll finished with this;

We were only there for a week or two, but when I arrived back in australia, late at night, I was dropped at my front door. I knocked and called out to Elise and our boys. I looked through the glass side pane to see all three of them rushing to greet me, I burst into tears for the first time the whole trip despite all the wonderful things I had witnessed. For some reason it felt like I hadn’t laid eyes on them for years. I think that was the extent of the work that the Lord has done in me that trip.

They opened the front door and my eldest Harry who was then 5 years old went to jump into my arms but paused as he looked at my hands in shock. He looked up at me and with the sincerest face asked, “Dad? What happened to your hands? They are on fire.”

That was it, I cried even harder. All glory to King Jesus.

Love & Fire

Josh Wood

Group photo with some new friends as we were leaving Mt Hagen. Our team (in the PNG beanies), from left to right; Aaron Damianopolous, Todd Firth, Josh Wood and Mike Wood.