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Kelvin Krieger,
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Evangelical Lutheran
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Winnipeg MB R3B 3H6

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Epiphany Sermon Series 2001

February 18, 2001 -- Epiphany 7

Luke 6:27-38

In Papua New Guinea , there is something called a wantok (pronounced as "one talk") system. A wantok is literally someone who speaks your language. Don't forget that in Papua New Guinea there are over 750 distinct language and ethnic groups!

But wantok is more precisely a term given to someone from the same area as you. It's not just your immediate family or relatives. It's not just the people who live in the same place. Surrounding villages can be included.

For example, when I lived in Bundun, I would consider almost anyone along the Lae-Bulolo road to be my wantok - that was the area where I lived, that was the area that I knew well, the villages along that road - Gabensis, Wampit, Timini, Gurakor, Patep, Zenag, Mumeng - were the ones that I was familiar with.

Bonnie Weppler

Bonnie Weppler
Lutheran Church College,
P.O. Box 30,
Banz, W.H.P. 283,
Papua New Guinea

Alternately, as a native English-speaker living in Papua New Guinea, every other native English-speaker that I meet here could be my wantok - whether from Canada, America, England, Australia, etc. But especially any other Canadian that I chance to find here is a "wantok tru tru" - a real wantok. When Pastor Barry and Alice Lang lived in PNG, I had no closer wantoks - because Barry and I even happen to have been born in the same small Ontario town, Hanover.

There are some very tangible benefits to the wantok system. Wantoks look after each other. I'll never forget when a mama died in childbirth in Bundun. The next day, the wantoks arrived. They lived with the grieving family and took care of all of the day-to-day tasks. A couple of wantoks stayed on long after the mama was buried; they stayed until the family could again function.

Another example of the care of wantoks. When a tsunamai, a great sea wave, devastated Aitape in 1998, many children became orphans. But in PNG, there is no such thing as an orphan. Immediately, a wantok would come for that child and care for it, as if the child were his/her own.

Unfortunately, there are negative sides to the wantok system, too. If a wantok asks you for something that you have, you must give it to him. A shirt. A cassette. A baseball cap. Money. And there is every likelihood that you are not going to see that possession again. It will end up getting passed on to another wantok. The wantok system also causes clear divisions and borders. Wantoks look after wantoks, without much thought to others. Often it seems that PNG isn't one united country, that people aren't interested in what's good for everyone in the country. People are interested in what's going to help them and their wantoks.

Relating to Canadian context:

  • Do we have a version of the wantok system?
  • Do we favour certain people over the whole society?
  • How do we care for enemies? The less fortunate? The sick? Orphans? Widows/widowers?
  • Do we show selfishness or selflessness?
This is a good-difficult-question immediately following Christmas! Did we overspend? Make a lavish production of Christmas instead of remembering the true meaning? Feel ripped off when we gave a gift to someone who didn't have something for us? Remember to make some charitable donations, help the food bank, visit the sick and shut-in?

--Bonnie Weppler
Papua New Guinea

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