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New leaders finally set foot in Papua New Guinea

New leaders finally set foot in Papua New Guinea

New leaders finally set foot in Papua New Guinea

Masked missionaries ... attending their first Sunday worship service in their new roles as Territorial Commanders of The Salvation Army Papua New Guinea Solomon Islands Territory, Colonels Garth and Patti Neimand masked to observed COVID-19 pandemic social-distancing and social-isolation protocols.

By Darryl Whitecross

COVID-19 has had an effect in so many areas around The Salvation Army world and not more felt than when officers move to take up new appointments.

Saying farewell is emotional in the best of circumstances but when situations such as created by the pandemic where people cannot gather to say those farewells, emotions of a different kind are experienced. That was the experience for incoming territorial commanders of the Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands territory, South African-born Colonels Garth and Patti Niemand.

Garth said that was the situation when leaving their previous appointment as leaders of the Singapore, Malaysia and Myanmar Territory after having spent five years in that appointment.

Colonels Patti and Garth Niemand, the new Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands Territorial Commanders.

He said there was no option of a public farewell due to the pandemic social-distancing restrictions.

“We had little pockets of virtual farewells over a period of weeks,” Garth said. “Usually, the territory would arrange a grand send-off at the airport but, due to COVID-19 restrictions, there was an intimate group of only four people. However, our departure was not any less memorable or significant for us.”

On the flight from Singapore – which was “uneventful but remarkable in many ways”, the Niemands were the only two passengers on the plane – along with three pilots and about six cabin crew. “We were not offered seats in the business class section and stayed in our allocated seats for the duration of the flight, despite an empty plane,” Garth said.

The couple were required to take their own snacks for the 6.5-hour flight to Port Moresby as there was no in-flight service, which arrived 30 minutes ahead of schedule and in the early hours of the morning. “We had to wait in the two-person queue for the immigration officials to arrive,” Garth said.

From Port Moresby airport, the hotel shuttle vehicle immediately whisked away the couple to their hotel – ironically a two-minute walk from their new quarters. After the two weeks’ quarantine in the hotel, the Niemands were allowed ‘out’.

After having officially started their appointment on 1 May, the couple was able to physically step into the role at the end of July. In the interim, retired Commissioner Andrew Kalai was the acting territorial commander. “He was able to give leadership and perform the public duties of the TC with his usual charisma backed by years of experience and corporate knowledge,” Garth said.

While in quarantine, Garth said Patti ensured they followed a strict exercise regime and meals routine along with spending time reviewing the hand-over material provided by the Australian officers, Colonels Kelvin and Julie Alley, who have retired to the Gold Coast.

“While sitting on the balcony and watching the people and buses pass by, I reflected on the reality of being in Papua New Guinea but not being able to participate physically. There was a sense of frustration perhaps,” Garth said. “I felt that we were in the right place, at the right time but the pandemic restricted us to being mere spectators rather than participants.”

Room with a view ... the scene from the balcony of the hotel room where the Niemands spent their 14 days of quarantine in PNG.

On the morning of their discharge from quarantine, they took a ‘selfie’ on the balcony and prepared to leave ... but then another delay – the health officials were late arriving to give them the all-clear.

They eventually were greeted by in the hotel foyer by Lieut-Colonels Tilitah and Chris Goa, Chief Secretary and Assistant Chief Secretary respectively.

One of the first engagements for the new territorial commanders was to share worship with the comrades of Koki Corps on the first Sunday post quarantine. “This first Sunday was also significant for us since we had not been able to share in physical worship since about March when restrictions were imposed in Singapore and the rest of the territory,” Garth said.

He said that, although many parts of the globe had experienced the reality of infections, PNG went into lockdown early and only in recent weeks had community transmissions become a reality. “When we arrived in Port Moresby in mid-July the total infections were single digits. By mid-August the recorded infections were over 300,” Garth said.

The Salvation Army in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands is growing with new corps being opened regularly across the territory and a strong interest in full-time officership. “The worship is vibrant and the cultural context is overwhelmingly Christian in many ways,” Garth said.

Garth said the region was grateful to territories such as Australia that have worked alongside Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands for decades giving finance and practical support. “There is much work to do here both in terms of our mission and in terms of our methods - structures and processes,” he said.

After arriving, Garth said he issued a silent prayer that God would “bless me in every place I set my foot and that I may be a blessing to others”. 

“Patti and I count it a privilege to serve alongside the officers at THQ and the greater territory. We hope to contribute in some small way and give the expected level of leadership that God requires of us, while also learning new things along the way,” Garth said.

The Niemands have two sons, Wade, 28, who is married to Waydene, and Dylan, 25, who plans to marry his fiance Felicity after the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. All four live in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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