I grew up in Efogi, a village on the Kokoda Track. I’m from the mountain Koiari people. Pastor Lock set up a mission in our village before World War II. The Adventists built an airstrip in our village in the 1920s, which provided the first real connection to the outside world besides trekking. That airstrip became a very strategic asset when the Kokoda Track became the centre of fighting between the Anzacs and the Japanese.
My father witnessed the fighting along the track, but was too young to be involved in any substantial way. However, many of my older family members were involved, assisting the Australians and Kiwis.
Our family viewed the Australians positively. There were a few reasons for this. Of course, there was our positive experience with the Lock family. Our first contact with Australians was through this godly family. We also felt an affinity to Australia, because we are neighbouring nations. And at that time, most of us were Christian.
Sadly, when the Japanese invaded they burnt down our Christian churches. People mourned when their churches were destroyed. The Japanese also destroyed our homes and robbed our gardens. So, though they claimed to be liberators, the way they acted told a different story.
The way my people view the war is that the Japanese lost it because they burned our churches! It was a huge mistake. If any of us had any sympathy for the Japanese cause, the burning of our churches took that away. In contrast, the Australian missionaries had brought us the story of Jesus and their military didn’t destroy our homes and churches.
Today, God is bringing people from all over the world to hike the Kokoda Track. Many of the people coming don’t know God. We once were blessed when people from overseas brought the gospel to us. Now we are passing that blessing back to overseas visitors.