As #Doulos sailed towards the #PapuaNewGuinean island of Bougainville in September 1999, her crewmembers felt undercurrents of trepidation for a place where a ceasefire had only recently been declared after a decade-long civil war.
Destruction was widespread with burnt-out villages swallowed by jungle and previously-thriving businesses now rubble. Issues that led the Bougainville Revolutionary Army to fight for independence had not been fully resolved, but there was a delicate peace, a governing structure, and an invitation for #OMShips Ministry to return.
Captain Graeme Bird charted his course warily. The harbour was a minefield of hazards. No international vessel had moored in the port of Kieta since Doulos departed nine and a half years earlier. Every navigation light was broken. The wharf had not been serviced and the water had become a dumping ground for all manner of debris, including vehicles.
The ship had been there as the conflict began. In January 1990, a day before Doulos was due alongside, permission for all ministry activities was revoked as violence escalated. An exceptional solution was found, with the vessel’s lifeboats acting as water taxis to ferry Bougainvilleans to the ship at anchor. Many people gave their lives to Christ as they heard the gospel on board.
David Short, a Ship Ministry stalwart who’d previously worked in Papua New Guinea, was helping the advance preparation team. In a café in Kieta, he noticed a smart-looking gentleman eating his evening meal. When David told the diner about Doulos, the man introduced himself as Joseph Kabui, president of the Bougainville People’s Congress and interim leader of the island. He invited the ship’s representatives to his office the following morning.
The next day, President Kabui presented two requests. First, would Doulos hold a seminar on prayer for Bougainville’s new leaders; and second, could its politicians have training in good governing principles? “I couldn’t believe it!” recalls David. “Of course, this has happened many times—meeting the right person at the right time. God was very much guiding and directing…a leader doesn’t normally ask those sorts of questions!”