ADRA/UK Team Robbed at Gunpoint in Papua New Guinea

Source: —British Union Conference Communication Department/Adventist Review

[March 19, 2007] ADRA/UK Director Bert Smit, program officer Pansi Katenga, and three other ADRA team members were held at gunpoint by armed robbers on March 1 while on a visit to monitor adult literacy education in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea (PNG).

The robbers ambushed the ADRA minibus the group was travelling in, following a visit to the Jesus Centre Halfway House training centre. The driver of the minibus was dragged out and forced to lie on the ground. The rest of the team was then forced out of the van and robbed of video and camera equipment, a laptop computer, credit cards, and money. The robbers also took Katenga’s Malawian passport, which contained her United Kingdom work permit.

The team members immediately reported the incident to the police, who said that often such attacks are linked to gang rape and revenge attacks for HIV and AIDS. They told the team they had been “lucky.”

The group was particularly concerned about Katenga’s stolen passport, so church members and leaders immediately put the “wantok” system into action. Wantok (meaning one talk in Tok Pisin) links people to their native language and tribe. A person’s wantoks are people they treat like brothers and sisters if called upon to help them. Today the system goes beyond just language and tribe barriers to include both geographical and religious relationships. So wantok pressure was put on the community to act because this incident affected the Adventist Church as a whole entity.

Adventist churches met to pray. Community leaders spread the word that all the group wanted back was the passport. Within 24 hours the credit cards were returned. Within 48 hours Katenga’s passport was also returned. No other items have turned up as yet, but the team members said they praised God for making it possible to travel again.

The ADRA group later learned that some of the men involved in the ambush had formerly attended an Adventist church and felt badly for having mistreated their wantok. The police told the team that if the minivan in which they had been driving, had visibly carried the ADRA logo, the robbery probably wouldn’t have occurred because of the agency’s good reputation in the region.

Although they admit to being shaken by the event, Smit and Katenga say they are still very positive about the work ADRA-UK is doing in PNG. This particular visit was to monitor an adult literacy project first organized in June, 2006. The project strives to empower local civil society organizations to offer literacy and income-generation training. Currently, the project has spawned some 16 literacy programs and trained hundreds of teachers who have taught approximately 26,000 adults to read and write.

Although the team left PNG earlier than planned, they say they are still positive about the ADRA-supported projects. “While this experience has been a shock, I am not put off,” Katenga said. “Someday I will be back.”