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An insight and tribute into the life of Beverly Lylie Jean Sundgren.
(11 December 1935 to 11 November 2013).


My name is Russell Thorp. I am currently the missions director of Global Connections in Mission. I was born in 1962 in Anguagnak PNG. That was the time that Beverly Sundgren worked alongside my mum and dad (Dennis and Barbara Thorp) in a rural village called Yebil, nestled in the hills of inland Sandaun province in the west of the Sepik area of PNG. Two of my other sisters (Jillian and Shirley were also born during that time so Bev was very much an aunty to us (Deb and Alan)and has been over the years. She has continued with this interest right to the last time we met with her.

To give you an insight into those early years I want to share an excerpt from one of her early letters (written to my grandmother Daphne Wylie, and passed on to my mother)about her life and ministry in Yebil.

 "Barbara and I have begun several activities in an endeavour to reach the women more effectively. Thursday nights we run a programme of games, devotions, reading classes, and a health talk. Up to 20 women and girls have been coming along to this. About 7.15 p m we "fight the bell" which is a chunk of old bomb hung from a post. Its got a beautiful ring to it!! Soon after this Barb and I wander down to unlock my dirt-floored school and hang up our two pressure lanterns. Soon we hear the laughter of girls as they wend their way down the track in the light of their bomboms (lighted coconut leaves firmly tied together and dipped in a type of tar.) After extinguishing their lights and hiding their 'smokes' (dried home-grown tobacco wrapped in a banana leaf!) they come inside and enthusiastically enter into the games. The noise is terrific, and their laughter contagious. Quite a few mothers with tiny babies, or great big ones slung in a laplap (a piece of cloth) from their shoulders join in too. It amazes us how the babies sleep through it all. About 8.30 pm we shift the desks back into their places and settle down for a singsong. Some choruses are in their own language. We repeat the message Dennis gave on Sunday. Repetition is necessary for them to retain anything. The talks are illustrated on a large blackboard with 3-4 sequence pictures which also help impress the story and truth. Next we divide into groups for reading. Barbara is teaching all the in-betweeners, and I teach learners. It will be grand when they can read the Scriptures for themselves. We find that the health talks at the end are already showing their results in cleaner women and children!

8.00 a.m. Friday mornings we've begun a Baby clinic. Most of the women with babies come along. We weight the babies (they scream very often...is it the scales or the white faces?) and chat with the mothers and coo over the babes. A health talk follows. Early in the piece Barb showed how to bath a baby and demonstrated on a couple of unknowing volunteers. The second baby turned the water black in no time!! It is against custom here to wash the baby's head as they think the fontanelle may be damaged. In fact they often plaster it's hair with dirt to protect it! Since then the babes have been turning up much cleaner. They're clean at least one hour of the week, anyway! Sunday's message is repeated here.

Every Friday afternoon Barb and I rigged in trekking clothes, spiked shoes, with a sturdy stick set out to one of the four villages we visit each month. Timeni, Twaite, Womwabe. The fourth Urutei, lies across the other side of a deep river valley and nestles on the top of the next ridge. We really enjoy these walks together through the bush and its even more fun when some orchids, begonias and other pretty things are growing along our route. One day we were 1/2 hour late dragging home four great big orchid plants that we'd dug out. They had large white, marone and gold flowers! The route to Urutei winds steeply down the mountain and then we wade along a bendy river for some distance, before climbing steeply up the other side. The river is good for swimming although can be treacherous because it rises very quickly after heavy tropical downpours. We have had some close calls to get home before being unable to cross the river safely. At each of the villages we chat with the folk for a while and then gather under a shelter for a singsong and message. The men don't want to be left out so we're happy for them to join in too. There are very few Christians in these villages and their knowledge is scant. Not all the villagers are keen to hear the message, so pray God will work.

My school now has 40 pupils up to Std. 3. I need a lot of patience and grace, and bounce to deal smoothly with each day." What an insight that was into missionary life in those days.

Bev in conjunction with Dad had two Pidgin Teacher Training Schools at Yebil. Dennis and Barbara reflected that Bev was a good friend and easy to get along with.

Later on Bev's involvement in education and literacy would take her to several key areas to teach and train others.
One of her pupils, Kos Umion would go on to be a key figure in MAF (Personnel Manager) and CBC (as the first national General Sectretary). Here is what he had to say about Bev.

"In her missionary work, she was more than a formal classroom teacher but work worked to develop materials for our church Adult Literacy Program that has now been widely used across the country. She was a missionary, friend, teacher, trainer, encourager and advisor and worked to help develop the administrative capacities of those whom she once taught but became teaching headmasters themselves. She was one who played the leading role for the establishment of our first Christian High School at Green River when she was Mission Education Secretary. Her involvement brought light into the minds and souls of many rural people who through the Adult Literacy Program became literate to be able to read the Bible in their own language or Pidgin English.

Personally for me as her former student, she was the only teacher who never caned me for misbehavior, she always spoke softly to me to correct me when I stepped out of line. I don't know why I was spared her cane but other teachers did not. We will miss her voice at our conferences when we sing songs she taught us or sing the chorus of thanks for the food."

In the 1990's Pearl, myself and our family visited Bev in Anguganak where with the withdrawal of other missionaries she had virtually become the station manager, trade store supervisor, building supervisor, radio/ telephone supervisor and so on. She was a remarkably versatile and courageous women who lived in trying conditions and patiently trained others to take over those many roles while at the same time was the CBC Education Secretary with all that that entailed.

In her transition out of PNG during 1999-2001 I was the Dean of Studies at CLTC and we invited 'auntie Bev' to come and help CLTC with their literacy training and English programme. It was an enormous move for 'Aunty Bev' to come to CLTC in the Highlands of PNG, yet I think it served her well in her transition back to life in NZ in 2001. One of our fond memories is of Bev riding her bike along the farm like roads of CLTC- she didn't find this easy but persisted regardless as it was better than walking and she had work to do. We shared meals and evenings together- that was the year that mum and dad came to work at CLTC. Bev helped us celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary with a 40 verse poem that seemed to go on and on- yet so cleverly put together. Auntie Bev was a wiz at that!

Auntie Bev's contribution to education and especially literacy training through the Kisim Save Pidgin literacy course has been a great blessing to many. Bev was 'auntie Bev' to many of those she taught and to many of the missionary children who grew up in PNG over the years.

We will remember a creative and adventurous woman who loved people and served her Lord with dedication and enthusiasm.

Russell Thorp
Missions Director
GC3.
November 2013.

Tags: Bev Sundgren | missionary | Papua New Guinea | Russell Thorp | Sandaun Province

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