20 April 2006

Adding Pacific spice to church life in Lancashire

Rev Garo Kilagi and his wife and three children have traveled almost 9000 miles to Lancashire, but they aren't here for a holiday - they're here to serve people in Accrington and Haslingden. In September last year, Garo joined the World Church Partners in Britain programme, through which ministers from other countries have the chance to live and work as a Methodist minister in the UK for five years.

After his induction period, Garo went straight to work in the Accrington and Haslingden area of Lancashire, where he had been stationed by the Methodist Conference. He was given pastoral charge in two churches and may well end up looking after three.

Looking back on his first six months, he says a lot has happened and it took a while to settle in: "We were all very homesick at first and called home almost every night...until we got a huge phone bill! I felt so nervous at the first service I conducted - I really struggled with the language and I found it hard to find the right words. But everyone has been so patient and kind - we were overwhelmed by the number of cards we received at Christmas. The weather will certainly take a bit of getting used to!"

Ordained in 1992 into the United Church of Papua New Guinea, the land that Garo left behind is very different to the place that will be his home for the next five years. Situated along the Pacific "Ring of Fire", the country is subject to frequent earthquakes, mudslides and sometimes even tsunamis. It is a tropical, mountainous region, with more than 700 indigenous languages. Garo said, "Church life is very different too. My first placement was in a very remote area with lots of witchcraft, but here that is very rare and the church has so much more freedom and fewer difficulties".

Having initially struggled with conducting services, Garo and his family have tried to add a new flavour to local church worship, using traditional songs and dance from Papua New Guinea. He wants to encourage people to explore his culture as much as he is exploring theirs and has a passion for seeing young people more involved in the life of the Church; "In my circuit, we are slowly seeing the church being transformed as people of all ages take an interest in what's going on. We need to pay special attention to the younger generation because they will be our future church; otherwise there won't be anyone in the church in the next 20 to 30 years time. We need to show them that they are loved just as they are and give them opportunities to both learn from us and teach us new truths about God's work in the world. These challenges can often seem too big to take on, but God will take care of our worries."

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