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Pastor Buka Paul: A New Guinea jewel


Kambubu Adventist Secondary SchoolAROUND 1938, A 16-YEAR OLD BUKA YOUTH, Paul, and a friend sailed from their island of Bougainville to big New Guinea with Seventh Day Adventist missionary A J Campbell to begin the adventure of their young lives.

Landing at Salamaua, they walked with a team of village-recruited carriers to the newly formed mission post of Kainantu in the Eastern Highlands where they were to serve as general helpers for the newly appointed European workers.

Buka Paul proved to be a faithful employee and felt called to become a missionary himself After attending classes at Putput (later to become Kambubu Adventist Academy), chanting arithmetic tables and absorbing Bible stories to Grade 3 level, he was sent to a village near Omarau to teach under the direction of a senior Mussau Islander.

Because Paul was single and did not speak the local language, he failed to impress the older people. But the children loved him dearly and gained an appreciation of the gospel story.

Kamito, the village sorcerer, scolded the children and threatened to poison Paul's food, claiming no one could survive such strong poison. Paul assured Kamito that God would preserve his life and there was nothing to fear.

The work of God expanded rapidly and a new mission station was established at Bena Bena west of Kainantu when Sakimau, another worker from Mussau was attacked and died on the track while bringing supplies from Madang. Then Kuka, also from Mussau, disappeared mysteriously after accidentally killing a pig. Later it was discovered he had been murdered.

In 1942 the Japanese invaded PNG and all European missionaries were evacuated to Australia. Buka Paul was commandeered as an army cook.

Then a drought lasting 18 months set in, storage water ran out and creeks dried up. The military doctor asked Paul if he and his worshippers ever prayed for rain. Paul replied that they could, and if God saw fit to send rain He would.

So the doctor requested prayer. This was Friday, the sun was still shining but as it neared the west, the church bell rang for opening Sabbath worship on Saturday. Four boys and several mothers and children filed into Kainantu SDA Church sang some hymns, read a scripture and prayed earnestly for rain.

Soon after, dark clouds rolled up the Ramu gorge and rain began to fall, continuing all through Sabbath until the tanks were full and overflowing. From then on many soldiers attended church receiving messages from natives who had previously been in darkness.

By this time Paul and his companion were 20 years old and felt they could support a wife. Obliging parents gave each a daughter. The only problem was the girls didn't speak Pidgin and the boys didn't know the local dialect so a third party had to translate for them.

By 1945 the Japanese were being forced to retreat and the Australian government needed help to restore normal village life, so a few experienced missionaries were invited to return to PNG.

Pastor C Mitchell went to Port Moresby, Pastor C Pascoe to Omarau and my father, Pastor F Boehm, went to Bisiatabu in the foothills of the Owen Stanleys.

Buka Paul was nowhere to be found, so word was sent out amongst the villagers for him to come to the mission station. An extremely broken man turned up. Pastor Pascoe then conducted an official wedding service for Paul and Narto and baptised them both .

God blessed their union with six talented children: Ernie Robert, a building contractor; Ronga, a mission teacher; Heather, a bible worker; Ora, a high school teacher and businesswoman; John, a builder and mechanic; Jeffrey, a minister and local mission president; and Rhonda, an office worker.

In 1954, Paul and Narto moved to the Western Highlands to work with John Newman. (1963), Lou Grieve (1965 ) and Elwin Raethel where the mission provided Paul with a BSA Bantam motor bike to enable him to move into the Wahgi, Tari and Lai valleys.

At the North-East New Guinea camp meeting in 1952, Paul was ordained to the gospel ministry along with several other native workers who began to baptise large numbers of converts.

At Tetamanda, near Sopas Hospital, Paul and his associates baptised 27 new believers marking a new day for our work in PNG. But the baptism that remained most memorable in Paul's mind was one held in a mountain stream at Frank Aveling's sawmill at Tomba Pass. A bulldozer formed a rock pool at a height of 9,000ft where crusts of ice had formed on the still water

Paul was a devout family man and hated parting with his children as they grew older. During the late 1960s he was moved to the Sepik Mission to assist Pastors Les Parkinson and later Lionel Smith.

Work constantly took him away from home by small plane to the border territory with Irian Jaya and by river truck along the mighty Sepik.

Previously Paul had become a vegetarian but now on the coast fresh fruit and vegetables were hard to come by and he had to eat a lot of sago which adversely affected his health until he was hospitalised.

Fortunately doctors diagnosed his case and put him on a strict diet of mixed vegetables, nuts and fish and he regained his strength.

Thirty years after leaving Mussau, Paul returned to Bougainville in 1972 as assistant to Pastor Bob Donaldson. Two years later he became Personal Ministries and District Director of the Bougainville Mission, a position which he held until his retirement.

In this capacity he represented his people in Australia, accompanied by his beloved Narto. By this time several of his children held important positions in the church.

But trouble was brewing as civil war broke out in Bougainville. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s Paul and his fellow Adventists suffered greatly under the (Bougainville Revolutionary Army.

Peace eventually returned and Paul enjoyed his remaining years until 2003 when he fell asleep in Jesus while living with his daughters in Paghui village. Thus ended the life of Pastor Buka Paul who was one of God's jewels, precious jewels, His loved and His own.

Ken Boehm was born in Port Moresby of missionary parents in 1937. After completing Grade 10 in Gosford, NSW, he began an apprenticeship in carpentry and joinery in Rabaul. From 1966 he was a contractor in the private sector and also worked for the SDA church in Rabaul. He began 28 years of service for the church in the Sepik mission then worked as clerk of works, property manager and a college lecturer at Sonoma College and later at the Sopas hospital. He was involved in design and construction projects for the church's volunteer teams from Australia, PNG and New Zealand. He retired in 1997 and now lives on the Central Coast of NSW. He also wrote the story about Deni Mark which has previously featured in PNG Attitude.


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Terry Cowland OL PhD

In a life threatening emergency it was the SDA Mission that allowed my heavily pregnant PNG wife, my 18 month old daughter and I to stay at Sopas Hospital for 2 months during which time I part time taught at the School of Nursing.

My second daughter was born here under the watchful care of a nurse from Kiribat, named Snow White, in 1991.

Though not an SDA person, nevertheless committed Christians, we were shown unreserved Christian love and kindness. The Sabbath Day was especially a day where the holiness of God was profound.

Peter Kranz

Please indulge another family memory of the Lemkes and their relationship to the Kranzs. My Grandfather's family spent some fruitless years trying to run a farm at Wirrabra, SA - beyond the Goyder line (which marked the limit of productive farmland due to rainfall.)

During the depression there were many itinerant men roaming the countryside in search of food and shelter in return for a few days work.

One day my there was a knock on the door of my Grandfather's farm (he was just a young man at the time) and an dishevelled old German sailor appeared and said "Please - I have heard you a are a good German family. Can you give me some food and shelter in return for me helping on the farm?"

So they took him in, even though their lives were dirt poor at the time. He took an interest in my Grandfather, and when he left gave him an old Bible, saying "Read it son, you may find something in there to change your life."

Grandad did so, but soon forgot about the incident. However he was travelling on a train some years later and met a Pastor Minchin who started talking to him, and convinced him that he should train to be a Minister, even though he had little formal education. He said "try Avondale Missionary College - they need students like you."

Grandad hitch-hiked and walked his way there from SA (no mean feat). When he arrived he asked about starting Ministerial training, and was told he would first have to be interviewed by the Principal.

He was rather scared but boldly entered the Principal's office and explained his intent. The Principal took one look at him and said "Remember you and your family helped an out-of-work German sailor at Wirrabra some years ago? I am that man. You are most welcome here."

This was Ernest Lemke's father.

Peter Kranz

One of my Dad's best friends when they were students was Ernest Lemke - both lived in WA. Ernest was brought up in PNG and was the subject of a terrible family tragedy.

Ernest, a missionary, his wife Delys and sons were on a mission boat when there was an explosion in the engine room and all were thrown into the water.

Ernest was a strong swimmer, but the others were not. He swam to his wife Delys' side and tried to rescue her, but she pushed him away saying, "No save my boys first!"

He grabbed young Lester (only 2 years old) and swam with him to safety, then returned to try and rescue the rest of his family, but they were gone.

Delys, Adrian (7) and David (4) disappeared without a trace.

Lester is now Principal of O'Loughlin College, Darwin. Here's his story -

And here's a contemporary newspaper article abut the tragedy -

Peter Kranz

Leonard - I don't know about the incident you refer to, but there is an interesting book, "Beyond the Coral Sea: Travels in the Old Empires of the South-West Pacific", by Michael Moran which has lots of old tales about Bougainville and other places from 'taim bipo'.


Also a new book has just been published about SDA missionary history in PNG - "When God Calls, Expect Adventure" by Brad Watson and Lester Hawkes.


Mrs Barbara Short

Thanks Ken, for your story of Buka Paul.

I'm sure his family, over future years, will appreciate having a good record of his life.

Many Australians have a good understanding of the lives of many PNG people over the past century. Hopefully they will record their stories for posterity.

Leonard Roka

Boehm, you have a good record of actions of a few Bougainvilleans in history.

I read a history book in 2003 at UPNG, it tells a tale of two Bougainvilleans it called them as 'Buka Mutineers'. One maybe referred to as 'Rana' (?).

On a patrol in the late 1800s or 1900s in some parts of Papua, the two Bougainvilleans resisted the patrol officer, killed a few of their band and fled into the bush with weapons.

The Kiap then ordered the villagers that the two be killed and their heads brought as evidence to Port Moresby. This they did after the two ran out of ammunition.

I am interested in the two men, so if anyone has idea, please contact me on [email protected].

Interesting piece.

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