Three SVD Brothers walk the halls of Divine Word College this summer that have the shared experience of missionary service in Papua New Guinea, located on an island north of Australia. Bros. Kevin Diederich and Wayne Till retired after more than three decades on mission and now call DWC home. Bro. Larry Kieffer will return to his missionary work on the island in early August. Though each was involved in quite different kinds of work, the breadth of their service offers a glimpse into the scope of missionary service.
|SVD brothers Wayne Till, Larry Kieffer and Kevin Diederich
Bro. Kevin worked in the bush regions of the country building churches, schools, clinics and other structures. The scenic, often-mountainous terrain made it challenging. Getting materials to a site was a major part of every project. Yet, with the crew of local carpenters that he trained, he saw more than 150 buildings go up.
“We developed a real good relationship over the years,” he said. “We did lots of schools and teacher housing. Clinics were big later on. Education and health, that was mission work.”
Bro. Wayne saw his talents spread around. He spent his first ten years in Australia doing plant-nursery and agricultural work before moving to Papua New Guinea. There he performed a host of duties, from clerical and plantation work to serving as guest master at an SVD house in the highlands and working at a retreat center. But his first love was—and still is—mechanical work.
“I went to Wewack, worked with cars, trucks and tractors and I was out on the Sepik River, doing outboard motor repairs,” he said. “I never had any training. It was just that I liked it.”
Bro. Larry will return in early August to his work on coco and coconut plantations owned by the Archdiocese of Madang, located on the northern coast of Papua New Guinea. He first served as a manager and later a general manager overseeing plantation operations, from managing the workers and the pay roll to selling the produce at buying points.
“Work habits are different. You have to learn to slow down a little bit. It’s very hot over there and to work steady all the time is very difficult for the workers,” he said. By the same token, the laid-back approach to life has its upside, according to Bro. Kevin.
“They don’t get all riled up over things the way we do,” he said. “They have a great sense of humor. They can carry on.”
All three men have felt the impact of moving back to the States, where life is faster and adjusting to technological changes can be difficult. Think of how much has changed in the last 30 to 40 years? From self-service gas pumps and automatic door openers to cell phones and computers, it can take a while to adjust.
“It was harder for me to settle back here than it was to settle into Papua New Guinea. It was a simpler way of life over there,” Bro. Wayne said.
Bro. Larry will turn 75 later this year and could retire, but prefers going back to the place that has become home.
“I’m not ready to retire yet, as long as I can help out here and there,” he said. “It’s a slower-paced life and I think a more healthy life too.”