Breakfast by the Sea by Belinda Macartney
In May 2018 I was fortunate to go to Townsville to attend a fundraising breakfast for Youth With A Mission (YWAM). While I was pleased to see some faces and places I knew from the early 80s, I was over-whelmed with the scale and purpose of this group. Here is a short account of my visit and the work of YWAM (pron why-wham).
Situated downtown in the middle of Walker Street, above the entrance to the heritage-listed, red brick building of the old Townsville State High, sits a single word – YWAM. You’d be forgiven for not knowing how to pronounce it, and certainly for not knowing what it might mean. However, encouraged by old friends to take a flying visit up north, I soon found out about this remarkable group of people and their ships.
Youth With A Mission—simply known as YWAM—is a world-wide Christian movement operating in more than 180 countries since 1960. YWAM is decentralised in structure, and each centre is financially and legally autonomous, allowing locations to adapt and serve the specific needs of the community. YWAM Medical Ships is a charity actively developing communities by addressing health care and training needs of PNG in partnership with national and provincial government administrations. The program is guided by PNG’s National Health Plan providing the use of a training and medical ship and land-based teams deployed in rural PNG. All YWAM staff are volunteers with well-articulated aims to care, connect, serve, and build with communities. On any one voyage up to 25% of people aboard are Papuan New Guinean. Through collaborative efforts with PNG district health teams, over 28, 000 patients were engaged in 2017.
Through the ships YWAM brings health care to groups which currently struggle to receive basic services. Alongside the clinical work by dentists, optometrists and ophthalmologists, there are training sessions on generator and outboard motor maintenance and repair, as well as safe drinking water and solar projects. In fact, PNG youth play an important part of the outreach services with young medical and dental graduates closely involved. Clinics include primary healthcare, dental, optometry, ophthalmology clinics and a clinical laboratory focussing on identifying leprosy and TB. Also on board at any one time are journalists, photographers, deck and engine operators, housekeeping and galley services and community engagement workers.
The Hon Charles Able, Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer PNG, was inspirational in his address acknowledging his great grandfather who arrived in Milne Bay in 1890 with the London Missionary Society. Today his own family is closely involved serving through the YWAM outreach program. The Right Hon Sir Rabbie Namaliu PNG Patron also spoke of his country’s commitment to the project. According to Able, “it’s the best value for money investment we have made in health services in total with contributions from Provinces and Districts we have invested some K15m in YWAM since 2015, including the purchase of the MV YWAM to complement the smaller vessel MV Pacific Link”. The Hon. Mike Reynolds CBE Australian Patron was away collecting his Queen’s Birthday Honour and our congratulations go to him. And a Pacific nations’ student dance troupe, choir, and rap artist entertained bleary breakfast guests with no shortage of skill and enthusiasm so early in the day!
PNG young men and women join others from around the globe give their time and skills to YWAM. In particular, I spoke to ‘Jackson’ from Florida who had just finished a land-based outreach showing films about family violence and violence against women to isolated communities. The difficulty of the terrain was evident when he quoted “it took six weeks to visit 116 villages over only 270 km” and the pitfalls of using solar powered technology to assist their delivery were not insignificant either. However, when I asked what lay in store for him on returning home, he said that he had changed his mind.
Once an advanced IT student, with a lucrative career ahead, he was returning to take up architecture. Time with the YWAM and PNG community in the bush had given him time to reflect; it seemed that the lure of the dollar was less important now. From a child he’d always played with Lego and now he had a vision for helping to create sustainable dwellings and places that might serve rural communities such as he’d found in PNG.
The next day, three colleagues and I were invited to tour the ship, the MV YWAM. Once a passenger cruise ship in the Whitsunday Islands, the vessel had been completely re-fitted to accommodate medical clinics and 120 volunteer staff and crew for two week-long voyages around the coastal communities of PNG. A hospital environment, spotless galley and dining area, clean amenable share cabins each with its own bathroom, and a welcoming common room were all most impressive. In fact, delegates for an international YWAM conference in Townsville were being accommodated onboard while the ship was in for regular maintenance and repairs.
I’m sure his PNG experience will stand ‘Jackson’ in good stead as he returns home to pursue his passion to serve. While we read about the life-changing journeys of kiaps, teachers, and nurses in the time ‘bipor’ years, PNG still offers young people that same chance of a life time. I was truly inspired with the energy and commitment of those that I met at Breakfast by the Sea. Why? Wham! Twenty years ago, I’d be booking a berth!
For young people who might be seeking a short-term opportunity and wish to register for this amazing adventure…