franciscan - January 2004
© The Society of Saint Francis, 2003
PNG - UK: A Conversation
SSF Brothers Selwyn Suma and Anselm
Brother Selwyn Suma recently spent a year in the European Province, and towards the end of his visit was with the brothers in Birmingham. He very generously spent time with Anselm, told his story, and shared some impressions of life at home as compared and contrasted with his experiences among us. What follows springs from that conversation, and is printed with his consent.
Selwyn was born in 1970, the second of seven children - he has a brother in the PNG army, and a sister who teaches in a primary school. His grandfather left the village to work on a plantation and there met with missionaries, became a Christian, and returned with a group of friends to build a chapel. Later his father, newly married, was sent to St Francis' College at Haruro to train as a lay evangelist, and it was there that Selwyn was born, and baptised by Brother Brian. (He was not baptised Selwyn - he took that name as a friar.) The Suma family returned to the home village where Selwyn had his schooling and eventually became a helper with the youth work at the church, to which he became strongly committed. One day, a group of SSF brothers from Haruro Friary arrived - they were on a missionary journey, walking from village to village, staying for a week, working in the gardens and holding Bible study groups and healing services. At the end of the week, not having seen much of a very shy Selwyn, they wisely invited him to join the team for a month, after which he went home and thought things over. There followed a six month visit to the friary as an enquirer, and then a year back home so as to reach the minimum age for the postulancy. Then, with the support and approval of his parents, he left home to start the process of becoming a brother in SSF.
As a novice he was sent to Lae, and there taught Religious Education in primary school. Of the 800 languages spoken in PNG, Selwyn speaks three - sometimes when he is preaching in one of them the congregation helps him out with words he has lost!
On 19 May, 2002, and now as a life professed friar, he set out for England. The first leg of the journey was familiar - Popondetta and over the mountains to Port Moresby in a small aircraft, thence to Singapore where he had a first glimpse of the unfamiliar - the giant, towering Jumbo which was to take him across the world to London Heathrow. He slept not a wink, followed the passengers to passport control, and there (in private) had the medical examination which should have taken place earlier. He emerged to meet the next shock; the concourse which was very quiet when he left it had in the interval filled and was buzzing - so many people! Crowds like that are unknown at home. And then, his luggage had been left behind and only caught up that evening. So, without any reminder of home and in a crowd of strangers he found his way to the outside world which was cold and looked in vain for the brother who was to meet him. Then, a voice spoke -'Will Brother Selwyn Suma, passenger from Singapore, please go to the information desk where Brother Damian is waiting for him.' He had arrived!
What did he find in this strange place? All the things we know about which divide rich countries from poor countries - rich food, the pace of life, motor cars. Back home, he travels the 70 miles from the friary to his parents' home in the back of a truck along an unmade road; here, there are motorways, railways, airports, coaches, buses, trains - and all the rest of it.
How does the European Province differ from the PNG Region, Pacific Islands Province? There's so much that we have in common, but what did Selwyn find which was, to him, strange? The first thing to come to mind was that while here we have diaries, guest books, appointments, clear expectations which all add up to a predictable day with times fenced off for worship and prayer - at Haruro Friary, people just turn up without any warning and whatever is happening at the time takes second place to hospitality. That is, of course, in line with the Franciscan principles and the Christian gospel - but it deprives the Brothers of uninterrupted prayer times, and this security of time was what Selwyn most valued from his stay with us at Glasshampton, Alnmouth, Hilfield - and in smaller friaries.
Of course, hospitality is inextricably linked with diet. Whereas at Hilfield we hope for the sun to shine on an event, and provide cakes and tea for the maybe 100 guests - at Haruro you can count on the sun, or at any rate the temperature, 400 people may turn up, and pigs and chickens are killed and cooked on the premises. (The everyday diet of the Brothers is mainly home grown vegetables.)
Among the Brothers at Haruro Friary there is no priest - they rely on neighbouring clergy for perhaps two masses during the week and all go to church on Sunday. One day, Selwyn himself hopes to be ordained and has the support of his Provincial Chapter in that. He has the prayers of all of us as he returns to PNG, that God will bless him in his vocation - and, may some of his prayer times be uninterrupted! f
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