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Rufus Pech (21 June 1926 – 29 April 2016)

by Sharon Pech

A life of public service and love in action

Our father, Rufus Pech, was born at home on the family farm in Appila, SA on the 21st of June, 1926. He was the 11th child of Bertha and Johannes Pech and had 3 brothers and 7 sisters. As German was the language spoken at home, he started life being truly bilingual, and later added a few more languages to the mix.

As a 12 year-old he gained a scholarship to Immanuel College in Adelaide and at 16, started a Bachelor of Arts degree at Adelaide Uni – majoring in English and History. While studying for his degree he also began his Seminary studies, which until then had always been taught in German. Our father’s first real act of rebellion (along with a few other agitators) was to insist that their instruction be in English so that non-German-speaking students were not disadvantaged. I’m pleased to say they won that particular battle.

In 1950, on his 24th birthday, Rufus was one of four from his graduating seminary class to join other Lutheran missionaries from Germany and the USA in New Guinea. As preparation for this work, he had attended the first Australian Summer School of Linguistics in Victoria where he met a Methodist midwife called Margaret Howman – his future wife and our mother. We don’t know if it was ‘love at first sight’ for our parents, but we do know that in Margaret, Rufus met his intellectual and spiritual equal…and that he also had a motorbike!

Our parents both went to New Guinea as single missionaries – she with the Unevangelised Fields Mission (UFM) to Lake Murray, Papua, in a ‘first contact’ situation, and he with UELCA on the other side of the mainland at Amron, near Madang. Margaret must have made quite an impression on him because, as the story goes, our father sent love poems and a marriage proposal by letter. Mum accepted, and took a long boat trip to join him on the other side of the mainland – a real act of faith.

Mum and Dad were married at Finschhafen in 1952 and were sent to work on KarKar Island. Their first home was in an idyllic setting, but with very rudimentary living conditions, and transport around the island was by foot, bicycle or horse. Rufus’ roles in those early days included: becoming proficient in the Bel, Graged and ‘Tok Pisin’ languages; establishing sustainable organic gardens; building relationships with village elders; establishing a ‘tech’ school; and with our mother, running a circuit station at Narer……and becoming parents. Between 1954 and 1963, alongside their missionary work, our parents ‘bore fruit’ in the form of 7 children – Jocelyn, Bronwyn, Christopher, Denise, Cheryl, Miriam (deceased) and Sharon.

In 1964, our parents moved to the newly established Balob Teachers College near Lae, where Rufus served as Vice Principal, chaplain and lecturer for some years. He was also a part-time PNG Defence Force chaplain at the Igam Barracks.

From 1969-75, our father presided over a difficult transitional period during which key functions of Lutheran Missions New Guinea (LMNG) were steadily devolved to the Indigenous equivalent Evangelical Lutheran Church of PNG. He played an important pastoral role as counsellor and mediator through that process. After that, he returned to a teaching role as the first Principal at Martin Luther Seminary, where he worked for the next 8 years.

Our father was an adventurer whose ‘real world’ experience and considerable linguistic skills also yielded fruit. In 1978 he spent a sabbatical year in the US and Germany writing his Doctoral thesis ‘Myth, Dream and Drama: Shapers of a People’s Quest for Salvation’, and then in 1988, spent a year teaching theological students at Erlangen and Neundettelsau, Germany. He said of that time: “Worshipping in German was a real buzz; but preaching was a real challenge.”

Fittingly, Rufus’ career as a missionary ended in the same region of New Guinea where it had begun 38 years earlier, with a 3-year stint at Baitabag, near Madang. Here he tended his last terraced pineapple garden and edited locally produced Christian teaching booklets for Kristen Pres… and in his spare time, translated the writings of German pioneer missionaries in New Guinea.

In 1991, our parents officially ‘retired’ to Canberra where they became active members of this congregation, and were finally able to spend more time with their ever-expanding family. Our father’s familial legacy is 6 children, 16 grandchildren and 8 great-grandchildren; all of whom will miss his earthy sense of humour, occasional gaffs, encyclopaedic knowledge and never-ending stories.

Rufus’ CV

Click to Read the CV that Rufus wrote himself before ill-health really took its toll.