For three days last week, the people of Lae, Morobe province and Papua New Guinea came together as one.
They – from different church denominations - put aside their differences, held each other, wept, and sang songs of praise to the Almighty.
It was, indeed, a time for healing and reconciliation.
It took the life of Evangelical Lutheran Church of PNG leader, Bishop Reverend Dr Wesley Kigasung, to bring us all together.
The funeral and burial of Dr Kigasung was something that has never been seen before in this country and will be talked about for many years to time.
In my 20 years in journalism, I have covered many, many funerals, and can vouch for that.
The body arrived at Nadzab airport from Madang last Friday after a week of mourning in which it traveled to Port Moresby, Mount Hagen, Madang, and then Lae before the final journey home to Dr Kigasung’s Aluki village in Bukawa, Morobe province.
The body of Dr Kigasung was given honours befitting royalty from the moment it arrived at Nadzab just after 11am from Madang.
Tears started falling from the moment the Missionary Aviation Fellowship Twin Otter touched down at Nadzab.
The body was met by Morobe provincial government and church officials, as well as members of the Wampar circuit of nearby Markham Valley villages.
The Wampar, once feared warriors before the Miti (Word of God) brought change to their land, welcomed Dr Kigasung with a traditional song of mourning normally reserved for great chiefs and warriors.
It was then taken by hearse, escorted by a long motorcade of vehicles, to Lae, to ELC-PNG schools and churches in the city, and finally to Ampo, headquarters of ELC-PNG, where it was officially handed over by the military to church officials.
The drive from Nadzab to Lae took three-and-a-half hours as thousands of people lined the 45km stretch to pay their final respects.
At Ampo, the body was taken to the old St Andrew’s Church at Ampo for a final service with all members of Dr Kigasung’s congregation before being taken to his official residence for a final night of mourning.
Last Saturday thousands of mourners – including inmates from Buimo Jail - turned up at the Sir Ignatius Kilage Stadium to bid farewell to a man they had come to love.
Representatives from the Lutheran World Federation in Germany, Lutheran Overseas Partner Churches in America, Australia and Germany were also present at the funeral.
Leaders from government, church and the private sector also attended the funeral.
The casket arrived just after 10am where it was received by chief mourner and Assistant Bishop Rev Zau Rapa and Morobe Governor Luther Wenge.
It was then carried by six PNG Defence Force pall-bearers who led the mourning party which consisted of his family, pastors and deacons representing the 17 ELC-PNG districts.
After a welcome address by master of ceremony Bami Sorokeinuc and an opening prayer by Anglican pastor Tennyson Boga, the Mass was celebrated by Reverends Kasek Kautil, Kaek and Boga.
The eulogy was read by Dr Kigasung’s eldest daughter Joanna who said her father always stressed the need to “think like God and not like man”.
After the eulogy, tributes were accorded to Dr Kigasung by Rev Rapa, Mr Wenge, representatives of the Lutheran World Federation and Overseas Partner Churches.
The service ended at 2pm to the song “He Leadeth Me” before the viewing of the body and laying of wreaths by thousands of people.
Dr Kigasung’s body departed at around 4pm on Saturday by road for his Aluki village.
Thousands of people from the Bukawa villages, Lae, Morobe province, Papua New Guinea and overseas flocked to Aluki to see Dr Kigasung buried in a concrete tomb just after 3pm last Sunday.
Heavy overnight rain last Saturday night and Sunday gave way to bright sunshine in time for the burial.
It ended a week of mourning in which Dr Kigasung’s body traveled to Port Moresby, Mount Hagen, Madang and Lae before the final journey home to Aluki.
Thousands of people lined the road from Lae to Aluki to bid farewell to Dr Kigasung as his motorcade drove past.
In emotional scenes, men, women and children wept, sang, waved banners, flags and threw flowers at the motorcade.
In one of the most-moving scenes, at Situm primary school, children sang a touching tribute to Dr Kigasung which brought tears to the eyes of those in the motorcade.
Many commented that the respect accorded to Dr Kigasung between Lae and Aluki, as well as that shown between Nadzab and Lae, and at the Sir Ignatius Kilage Stadium, had never been seen before in this country.
At Aluki, tears again flowed freely for its favorite son as local villagers, those from Lae, and others from Siassi Island – the place where Dr Kigasung was born and the last place he visited – sang traditional songs of mourning for the charismatic and much-loved leader of 1.2 million Lutherans in PNG.
As daylight came, I also broke down and wept, for this dear friend and brother of me and my late wife, Hula, who passed away so tragically on Easter Sunday this year.
The funeral service was delayed because of the non-arrival of Morobe Governor Luther Wenge as expected.
The burial was later delayed again because of the slow drying of cement in the concrete tomb because of the wet conditions.
VIPs present included Lae MP Bart Philemon, Tewai/Siassi MP Vincent Michaels, Bulolo MP Sam Basil, former judge Don Sawong and Kambang Holdings chairman Namon Mawason as well as a representative of the American Lutheran Church.
ELCPNG Jabem District president Reverend Gedisa Okamaisa said Dr Kigasung was a “humble” servant of God and the people.
“He left us at a time when we least expected,” Rev. Okamaisa said.
“His death is a call for us to take ownership of the church.”
I leave the last words to Dr Kigasung, who told me in a rare interview in 2006: “I believe with a new inspiration and motivation from the members of the church, the future of the church will be more exciting and challenging.
“But I believe the future will find a new empowerment as people reactivate their faith and are ready to share that faith and through that sharing, they will be able to put their resources together in building their church.
“The future of the church is in the guidance and direction of the Lord God.”