In 1971, Australian Church Women (ACW) suggested projects to be assisted by grants from the Fellowship of the Least Coin (FLC): the Institute for Aboriginal Development in Alice Springs*, and the training for the wives of ministers-in-training at two theological colleges in Papua New Guinea (PNG) – Rarongo Theological College of the United Church at Kerovat, near Rabaul, and the Lutheran Seminary in Lae.
The Rarongo project was accepted, and it was announced in the July 1971 ACW newsletter that a cheque for the grant had arrived from Geneva. [*The project for the Institute for Aboriginal Development in Alice Springs was funded in 1972.] It just so happened that Eileen Dingle, Second Vice-President of the ACW National Committee and editor of the newsletter, would be in Rabaul for holidays during that July, and she was entrusted to personally deliver the cheque.
Whilst in PNG, Eileen experienced the first of two very powerful earthquakes, the worst in 65 years, and subsequent ‘tidal waves’ that struck the northeast area. And she witnessed the widespread devastation it caused. Many of you may recall this event. It was a miracle that only two or three people unfortunately lost their life.
This is Eileen's account of her experience in Papua New Guinea:
‘FELLOWSHIP OF THE LEAST COIN GRANT – As a representative of Australian Church Women I visited Rarongo Theological College when I was In New Britain, to present the cheque from the Fellowship of the Least Coin, which is to be used in the training of the theological students' wives. I attended the Women's Fellowship meeting of the 40 wives now in residence and presented the cheque to the president. I met Miss Norma Graves, a New Zealander, who Is the Dean of Women studies at the College. The main damage they had suffered during the first quake, two days prior to my visit, was the cutting off of their water supply – storage tanks were down and the pump had been shaken from its foundations and had been submerged for several hours causing considerable damage. The gift brought encouragement, especially at that particular time.
‘WOMEN'S MEETINGS – In Rabaul I joined with a group of United Church Women at their regular prayer meeting. Following Bible study they reviewed the various activities of the Church and brought special concerns before God in prayer. It was a privilege to be with them and to share with them Australian Church Women news. They have asked to be added to our correspondents' list.
‘Another Interesting experience was to attend a women's fellowship meeting at Pila Pila village Church. More than 60 women were present – and as many children, ranging in age from a few months to about 5 years, and they were incredibly well behaved! The singing was inspiring. They had a Bible reading and an exposition, some testimonies, and I was welcomed. The whole proceedings were in the Kuanua language, and I only understood those parts which were translated for my benefit. At one stage I was asked to stand at the door and the women all filed out, shaking my hand and making some small gift – an egg, piece of fruit, bead necklace, etc. Then they came back into the Church by another door and the meeting proceeded! Later they assembled on the verandahs for handcrafts and sewing instruction.
‘A "MOVING EXPERIENCE" – In New Guinea I had some unique experiences – notably the earthquake (14th July), tidal waves, tropical downpours and innumerable earth tremors. It is difficult to describe one's feelings when the earth is rocking beneath one's feet, hillsides are breaking away and covering the roadways, and trees are crashing down. To say the least it is frightening! I know nothing more menacing than to see the waters surge toward the land and relentlessly advance across roadways into shops and dwellings. In some areas the tidal waves wiped out villages, coming in half a mile from the shore!
‘Three quarters of an hour after I left Rabaul on July 26 an even more severe earthquake shook New Britain, New Ireland and other islands. From July 14 until the end of the month the whole area experienced more than 1000 earth tremors or "gurias", two of which registered over 8 on the Richter scale and at least three over 6. There haven't been such strong shocks since 1906.
‘The damage caused by an earthquake has to be seen to be believed. At Gaulim Teachers' TrainIng College (a United Church project) not one staff house or dormitory is now habitable. Some blocks of buildings were completely demolished, others were broken-backed and off their stumps, and every tank was ruined. (Replacements after the first quake were burst asunder in the second.) Great cracks appeared in the ground. On the night of the first quake the missionaries and students slept on mats in an open area of ground which quivered and shuddered at intervals throughout the hours of darkness. It is not to be wondered at that one family flew home to Melbourne after the second big 'quake. Praise is due to those who remain, trying to continue the work under improvised conditions. They need our prayers, and our sacrificial financial support. What took years to build up was destroyed in less than a minute!'
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