PNG pastors cross the 'tech gap'

PNG pastors cross the 'tech gap'

MAF Technology Services (CRMF in Papua New Guinea) provides basic computer training for pastors and church leaders.

Sixty-three year old Thomas Makinta looks intently at the laptop computer screen in front of him as he hits a few keys, appears a bit perplexed then looks up and scans the room for help. Twenty other adult students sit at long tables around him in the back corner of the Papua New Guinea Christian Fellowship church, all concentrating on finishing their final project for the class – a PowerPoint presentation. Trainers Caine and Lina are doing their best to give one-on-one assistance to anyone who needs it on this final day of class.

Thomas Makinsa, an elder at the church and the oldest student at 63 years old, gets personal assistance from Lina Tomagau at the computer training class

God has called me to serve Him, and these computer skills will help me.

Thomas Makinta

These students are all pastors, elders, or leaders in various churches from the Mt Hagen area. Most have never touched a computer prior to this training, including Thomas. Even though Thomas, a church elder, is the oldest of the group, he’s perhaps the most enthusiastic. 'I was the first person to register with the trainers,' he says confidently with a bright smile and adds, 'I’m on the same learning level as the rest.'

Caught in the fast lane

MAF Technology Services (known as CRMF in Papua New Guinea) provides this Basic Computer Training (BCT) year-round for pastors and church staff around the country. PNG has been thrown into the technological world at an accelerated rate and adults are often left far behind. It’s an intense two-week course for the group who is mostly proficient at using mobile phones but find computers to be a significant leap forward.

'The ever-changing world of technology is driving so fast,' says Bryan Matthew, Deputy General Manager of CRMF. 'It’s at the peak, and Papua New Guineans are caught in the fast lane. We are teaching church leaders how to do PowerPoint presentations, how to use a Tablet and mobile phones for reading the Bible. We need to change our methods in how to reach people because it’s not the same as in the early days.' 

Learning Technologies PNG, a branch of CRMF (Christian Radio Missionary Fellowship), holds a computer training workshop for pastors and church workers at the Papua New Guinea Christian Fellowship

From the practical to the spiritual

When Pastor Amos Mek heard about the Basic Computer Training conducted by CRMF, he excitedly contacted several churches around the Mount Hagen area to see if there was enough interest to request a training, quickly receiving positive confirmation to fill a class: 21 participants – 17 male and four female.

'The pastors were very excited about attending the BCT,' Pastor Amos says. One pastor wrote to Amos saying, 'Times have changed and people are using technology to move forward. An opportunity such as this comes only once in a while, and we must all attend the BCT!'

Caine Ruruk gives individual assistance to the students of the computer class as they make PowerPoint presentations

The participants all have ideas on how they can use the new knowledge, once they become more proficient, and it includes both practical and spiritual benefits that most people in developed countries take for granted.

Pastor Amos (pictured, below left) hopes to organise financial reports and other documents related to church administrative duties, keeping all information on a computer. 'Now that I have learnt how to use a computer, I can type my work like church programmes and invitation cards, etc. at home instead of standing in long queues in Mt. Hagen at business houses that provides typing services.'

Alois Aiya (pictured, below middle), pastor of the church where the training is being held, also sees a simplification of his life and work. 'I usually write out on paper my sermon and other church work. I have too many papers, notebooks and the Bible to carry around in my bag, which is a burden. If I have a computer, it would enable me to prepare both my sermons and church work well, and I can save my sermons in the computer.'

Many participants were particularly excited to discover that different Bible translations, dictionaries and commentaries can be downloaded to a computer and their mobile phones – a real help to pastors.

Christina Francis (pictured, below right) is part of the leadership team for a Widows and Orphans Ministry and sees the computer as being useful for making ministry programmes, and for widows to write job applications and other letters requesting assistance.

Left to right: Pastor Amos Mek, Pastor Alois Aiya, Christina Francis

The bare basics

Teaching adults who have never touched a computer means starting with such basics as how to turn on a computer and use a track-pad, and progress to basic Microsoft Office software for creating church programmes, bookkeeping, and making PowerPoint presentations. Trainers Caine Ruruk and Lina Tomagau say it takes patience and a sense of humour. Caine can’t stop laughing as he describes one of his first training sessions five years ago when they used desktop computers and the confusion over how a mouse works.

'They worked at these big tables but ran out of space for the mouse. They were going like this,' Caine says, reaching his arm out as far as he can to demonstrate. 'They were saying, "where did the curser go? I can’t find it!" It was so funny for us.' Now Caine tells this story to the new classes, saying they are lucky to use laptops and have only this small track pad to work with.

CRMF receives so many requests for the two-week Basic Computer Training that Caine and Lina taught 21 courses in 2016, nearly two per month. It’s exhausting but rewarding, they say.

I loved this two-week course because it has lit up my eyes! I thank God for CRMF and MAF for making it possible for us to attend such trainings

Pastor Alois

'It’s very exciting seeing them pick it up and learn,' Lina explains. 'We hear a lot of their testimonies, and it makes us happy to do our job and teach others.'

Because of the Papua New Guinean culture, Lina found it difficult at first standing up in front of a room full of men. 'I still get nervous with every training,' she admits. But now CRMF makes sure that women are included in each course.

'We had one course that was all ladies, so I was nervous,' Caine laughs. 'For me the joy that I have is I want God’s Word out there. I see the basic computer training as a vessel where it can help a pastor prepare his sermons and programs so he can continue to spread the gospel. Yes, I’m exhausted, but I enjoy it because it’s for a good cause.'

Left: Trainer Caine Ruruk, Right: Trainer Lina Tomagau

The dark side

The rapid introduction of computers and Internet into a society, however, has brought with it the dark side with very little introspection or caution of the dangers – Internet gambling, pornography, and time-wasting social media.

'Technology has come in like a flood,' Caine describes, 'and the church was not prepared to address the issues. Even now we have not heard of any church that is tackling it head on.'

For this reason, CRMF conducts a session for pastors they call ‘Technology Talk’ where both the positive and negative sides of technology are discussed.

'We teach them based on the Bible what’s morally right and wrong,' Bryan Matthews says. 'We use scripture and try to show them that not everything is bad. You can use it for God’s glory too as a means of communicating the gospel through technology.'

The grateful beginners

It’s clear on ‘graduation’ day just how grateful many of the students are as several get up to speak and their eyes fill with tears as they thank CRMF and MAF for providing this opportunity for them.

Graduation after completing the course:The group consisted of 21 participants: 17 men and four women

Pastor Alois declares, 'I loved this two-week course because it has lit up my eyes! I thank God for CRMF and MAF for making it possible for us to attend such trainings.'

And Thomas, never too old to learn something new, beams through the entire ‘graduation’ program. 'God has called me to serve Him, and these computer skills will help me.'

Thomas Makinsa, an elder at the church and the oldest student at 63 years old, receives his certificate of participation from MAF's Emma McGeorge