On 24th October, 2009 I celebrated Foundation Day in London with my friends and members of the Queensbury Methodist Church (QMC) as part of their World Mission Week events.
Unless you are from Kwato Island, Milne Bay Province of Papua New Guinea, you are likely not to have heard of or know what Foundation Day is about. This is a special event that celebrates the life of the Founding Father of the Kwato Church and the Kwato Mission in the Milne Bay Province – the Rev. Charles William Abel.
Simply put, Foundation Day is the celebration of the birthday of Rev. Charles William Abel within the Kwato Church community. It is a time to gather and reflect on how far the Church has developed from a core of dedicated and committed adherents of the Kwato Church’s congregationalist ways of worship to a fully-fledged Church established by law in PNG.
The Kwato Church grew from humble beginnings through the outreach work of Rev. Charles Abel who came to Milne Bay as a missionary from the LMS (London Missionary Society). The celebrations almost always has a re-enactment of the arrival of Misiebo, as he was referred to by the local people then – a mispronounciation of ‘Mr Abel’.
Choirs are also a major feature of this celebration as the Abels were credited with the introduction of choir singing and the tonic sol-fa music system to Papua New Guinea through the Kwato Mission. This is one of the most striking legacies of Abel’s work in Papua – the other being domestic science, nursing and midwifery, boat-building and the trades and of course the teaching, learning and speaking of the English language.
The Foundation Day is usually a time when we feel proud of this part of our heritage as we sing the Kwato anthem: ‘Father The Light’. The opening lines go something like this: “Father, the light has come to us we have known. Thy wondrous power that can transform us and make. Anew our lives blot out past evil sown. And give us the victory for our Lord Jesu’ sake. O hear us as now we bring our country to Thee. For bound other people Thou dost wait to set free…”. I remember learning this song in Grade 5 with the late Aunty S. Mark who was our choir teacher then. We had to learn the song through the tonic sol-fa method before we can even dare to sing the words. Kapole…those were the days at Koeabule (KB) Mission Primary School near Alotau town, in the Milne Bay Province.
The name of the Church is the Kwato Church – its name taken from the idyllic little island called Kwato surrounded by four equally beautiful islands of Logea, Samarai, Bonaruahilihili and Ebuma – Logea being the largest and Ebuma being the smalles of the cluster of five islands. Samarai, east of Kwato was the district headquarters of the Milne Bay District then up to 1966/67 thereabouts. Kwato Island is boomerang-shaped and has a plateau on which the Church stands. The Church building on Kwato Island is one of the two stone churches in Papua New Guinea – the other one is in Rabaul, East New Britain Province. The Kwato Church was built by some of the best local stone masons in the area, and with local labour and completed in or about 1937.
This time last year, I was delighted and honoured that the QMC Council accepted my suggestion for this celebration and diarised it in the Church programme for the latter part of the year.
Prior to the gathering that evening, a few friends and I arranged the Morcombe Taylor Hall and I took some of my PNG artifacts, baskets and books to put on display. This was partly, a good opportunity to share something about PNG to my QMC family here in London, and partly to create an appropriate atmosphere for the celebration.
Of course the cooking began the evening before with the preparation of the mumu. This is because it takes hours in either an electric or gas oven. Thanks to sis CK and other wantoks who helped with shopping and peeling of veggies. Without their help and support we would not have had any PNG food to add to the celebrations. We had two big mumu dishes which were a hit. To accompany out delish mumu kaikai we also had barbequed pork and chicken curry. I had a special cake made for the ocassion by a local cake maker which had an imprint of one of my photos on the cake – that gave it that special touch. Of course there was also icecream for dessert.
On the night I was blessed to have over 50 QMC members join me. The gathering of the QMC family was further graced by the Minister of the Church, and Superintendent of the Methodist Church Circuit for Barnet and Queensbury.
I gave a PowerPoint presentation on the Kwato Church – it’s history, work and legacy which received excellent feedback from the audience. I praised God for His many blessings that enabled me to bring the Kwato Church back to England in this way – through the celebration of Foundation Day.
It was a great gathering and a good time was had by all – from what I gathered at the Chruch service on Sunday (25 October, 2009).