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PNG mission remembered

Rev Pat Jacobson with her newly completed book Ada Lucy Lee, Endali – about a missionary in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. PHOTO/GERALD FORD.

By Gerald Ford

A minister and teacher who retired to Masterton is to launch her first book this month – the story of a pioneer educator who, like herself, taught at an isolated Papua New Guinea school.

Rev Pat Jacobson has written the history of Ada Lee, founding head mistress of the District Girls School, Kihili, in Bougainville, PNG.

Ada had been a missionary in the Solomon Islands from 1934 to 1937, when she was transferred to Bougainville, PNG.

In 1956 she became principal of the new girls school, which she led until her return to New Zealand in 1966, and died in 1992.

Author Pat had worked with Ada at the school for four years from 1962, and she stayed on after Ada left, for a further six years.

The District Girls School was located at a place known by the PNG government as Kahili but by the church as Kihili, near Buin at the southern tip of Bougainville.

Like the Solomons mission, it was run by the Methodist Church, which became the Uniting Church of PNG and the Solomons.

It taught girls mostly aged from about 15 to their early 20s, from around Bougainville Island and the nearby Solomons islands to the east – whose fathers Ada had taught during her time there.

“Because she taught the men, she got the trust of the men that she would look after their girls,” Pat said.

The school’s location seemed to be “right at the end of the earth, and as far as the PNG government was concerned, it was the end of the earth,” Pat said.

To qualify, the girls needed to have a good understanding of English and two years or more at other missions schools.

For a high achiever, Ada was a quiet personality, Pat remembers.

“She was actually a very quietly spoken person and consequently managed to keep everyone under control. She had the ability to work with anybody, and find a way to get through to them even if they were difficult.”

A shrewd leader with a sense of humour, Ada used to tell amusing stories with herself as the subject of the joke, Pat said.

“Then often when you thought about them later you realised she was actually getting something across to you.”

Usefully for a pioneering role, Ada was also very practical.

“She was the first one to find the termites nest, and stop the building from getting eaten down.”

A hard worker, Ada inspired the same attitude to her students, one of whom recalled Ada saying, “Girls, don’t be lazy in doing good things for others.”

In 1981, Ada was awarded a QSM for services to education in the islands.



Pat’s own teaching career began at the Featherston Manual Centre in the late 1950s, where for two years she taught “homecraft” to pupils from rural South Wairarapa schools.

They were lovely little girls who are grandmothers now.”

From there she taught for two years in Tauranga, where she heard the call to overseas mission.

“I was looking for a Christian challenge,” Pat said.

“I was one of those deeply sincere, committed Christians challenged by (a preacher of the day).

“That’s when I committed myself to work for the church, really.”

When the opening came up for a teacher at the school, Pat said, “somebody looked at me and said, “You could do that job.”

The decision was made not so much out of a thirst for adventure as a response to the need.

“Their need was education.”

The school’s mission was about educating women and encouraging them to become involved in their communities, helping them “to take up leadership roles in the village”.

The only Europeans in the area were the teachers and ministers at the school, and local government employees including patrol officers.

Some of the teachers were Melanesians from the Solomons and PNG.

The students understood English and also spoke Pidgin.

“We had 18 different language groups within the school, which was interesting to say the least,” Pat said.

“Because if you’re laughing as you are walking past me and talking in your own language, I’m sure you’re laughing at me … it’s a very human response.”

Pat herself was not gifted with languages. She worked hard once at memorising and preaching a message in Pidgin, but was told by one of her hearers, “Reverend Pat, we understand your English better than your Pidgin.”

After returning to New Zealand, Pat herself studied for leadership, becoming a minister in the Methodist Church.

Now retired, she and her sister moved to Masterton 12 years ago.

The book has a longterm project for Pat. It features material from Ada’s own diaries, from Methodist archives and interviews with missionaries.

Pat also used the Masterton District Library in her wider research.

Pat will officially launch the book at the hall of Lansdowne Presbyterian Church (Crossway), on Saturday March 4, at 2pm. She has called the launch, “The Lighter Side of Missionary Life” – and it will include talks from Pat and others who have ministered overseas.


Book: Ada Lucy Lee (Endali)

Author: Pat Jacobson

Launch date: March 4

Time: 2pm-4pm

Place: Lansdowne Presbyterian Church, Totara St, Masterton

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