They say it takes a village to raise a child, but sometimes a family can shape a whole nation. Foursquare’s vibrancy and vision for the future in Papua New Guinea (PNG) is due in no small measure to the investment made by three generations of one American family.
Though the small South Pacific island nation that was still in the Stone Age less than a century ago may be off most people’s radar, it has a significant place in the fulfilling of the Great Commission. Almost a third of the world’s languages—all to be heard in heaven, one day—are scattered among PNG’s many tribal communities. And in the past few decades, the country has been the location for modern-day Book of Acts-type events.
“There were a lot of miracles taking place,” says Frank Greer, an ordained Foursquare minister who helped lead Foursquare’s national work in PNG for 10 years. “Healings, people being raised from the dead—it was exciting. We never knew what was going to happen next.”
Although Foursquare grew tenfold during the decade he and his wife, Kathleen, were in PNG, like his parents-in-law and son who also served there, Frank Greer is quick to downplay his part.
“I spent a lot of time getting out of the way,” he recalls. Frank currently serves as an assisting minister at Northwest Church (Federal Way Foursquare Church) in Federal Way, Wash. Kathleen is also ordained and serves as an assisting minister.
But the scale of what they were part of in PNG can be illustrated vividly when one overlays the jungly South Pacific territory over the state in which Frank and Kathleen now make their home. While Washington and PNG are roughly the same size and population—around seven million—the state has a total of about 150 Foursquare churches, compared to PNG’s approximately 1,500.
The Power of Sacrifice
Beyond the numbers, though, the Greer family’s years in PNG are an example of the power of sacrifice, service and steadfast vision.
“They were just willing to humble themselves and serve the people,” says Ted Vail, associate director of Foursquare Missions International (FMI). “They didn’t go there to drive their own personal vision. They went to discover God’s vision in that area and to take what they were and what they had and help move it along.”
Indeed, though they came to love PNG deeply, and feel that parts of their hearts are still there two decades after leaving, Frank and Kathleen weren’t angling to go there. When they first learned they had been accepted for missionary service and were being invited to go to PNG, Frank’s response was: “Sure. Where is it?”
Looking back, Frank sees that openhandedness as being central to what was achieved.
“We had no sense of direct calling to PNG, but we were called to the mission field, and, by golly, we were going to go because we were going to obey God,” he recalls. “It was about their ministry, the New Guineans, not about our ministry.
“That’s where a lot of missionaries miss it,” he points out. “They are there to make a name for themselves and be famous, instead of going there to raise up others, to serve the true heroes of the faith who will be there long after the missionary is gone—it’s their country, after all.”
Frank and Kathleen had to live out that principle painfully when, during an extended furlough back in the U.S. to settle the oldest of their three children in school, they reluctantly came to believe that they would not be going back. Their time in PNG was over. It wasn’t easy to stay stateside; they missed their island friends and felt out of place and uncomfortable in suburban America.
In hindsight, they see God’s hand. Because the Greers did not return to PNG, the national leaders they had been raising up but who might not otherwise have come to the forefront (because of their cultural respect for elders) stepped forward to take on key positions and further the work.
As a result, the momentum spurred by the Greers continued, with Foursquare becoming one of the strongest church movements in the country. Not that there haven’t been challenges. And when national leaders were looking for help, the Greer family was available again.
The Next Generation
In 2007, Paul Greer returned to the country that had been his childhood home, with his own wife, Carina, and two children. During five years there, the ordained Foursquare minister helped develop leadership-training programs and encouraged churches to embrace youth ministry as a more central emphasis.
In a culture where ancestors and tribal loyalties are emphasized, young people can tend to be marginalized. Conducting a series of training events for youth leaders was “a huge opportunity to get them together and tell them that what they were doing mattered in the kingdom of God—eternity values it,” Paul says. He and his wife also led Bible studies at a local high school, drawing as many as 400 young people.
Then, almost in a repeat of his parents’ experience, Paul felt God telling him time was up and that he needed to return to the U.S. for some of his family’s needs. Again, it wasn’t an easy decision.
“I believe as a father that the best thing I can do for my kids is to follow God’s call on my life,” Paul says. “I have seen that play out in my own life. But, at the same time, I didn’t want to let ministry take away from the priority of being a father to my children.”
After months of prayer and fasting, Paul and Carina felt they had clarity—it was time to leave.
“We weren’t going to leave the mission field just because we were worried about our family,” Paul says. “We had to have a release from the Lord, a sense that the mission we had been given was done.”
A History of Service
If Paul and his parents were used instrumentally to affect change in PNG, their opportunity to do so came in part because of the persistence of Kathleen’s father. When he was 12, Lloyd Post had an angelic encounter that planted in him the unshakeable desire to become a missionary. But he had served as a pastor for more than 35 years before finally being appointed as a missionary, having twice been turned down because of ill health from which he was subsequently healed.
When the Posts finally went out as missionaries, “it was a dream come true,” their daughter says. “The thing he had always wanted.” And when Lloyd and his wife, Claire, were sent to PNG as national leaders 30 years ago, it was with Frank and Kathleen as their assistants. The four went to continue the Foursquare missions effort pioneered in the 1950s by legendary Foursquare Missionaries Mason and Virgene Hughes.
Lloyd’s arrival brought faith and hope to what Frank recalls was by then a disheartened church, beginning the growth and turnaround that would continue even after further sickness forced the Posts to leave. Having been in PNG for only a few years, the Posts turned things over to their daughter and son-in-law.
Though the Posts’ time in PNG was shorter than they had hoped—”he thought he would stay there forever, and die there,” says Frank—they made a huge impact, not only on the New Guineans, but also those who stayed to carry on the work. “He was the prime mentor in my life,” recalls Frank.
“To people in PNG, family is really important,” says Kathleen, who serves with her husband at Northwest Church, the pair also helping prepare new Foursquare missionaries. “They think tribal. So for us to go over there as a tribe, if you will, I think they could relate to that.”
For Frank, “it all started with my father-in-law.” Lloyd Post, who died in 2010, “was somebody who was always willing to go where God said to go. They transmitted that to us, and we have done our best to transmit that to our children.”
The third link in the PNG chain says, “It is humbling to think how the Lord has used my family to really touch a nation.” Swift to point to the contributions of other Foursquare missionaries from the U.S., Australia and the Philippines, Paul adds, “It wasn’t something that any of us ever really planned on, but shows how the Lord can use you if you are willing.”
Watch a video interview with the Greer family
By: Andy Butcher, a freelance writer in the Orlando, Fla., area