The Rev. Gary Teske's ministry has taken him to lots of interesting places over the years.
There was Indianapolis, Great Bend and now Lawrence and one can't forget the nine years spent living in the jungles and highlands of Papua New Guinea.
Teske, 54, began work June 1 as the new pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, 1015 N.H. Before that, he served for 15 years as pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Great Bend. And prior to that, he was assistant pastor for three years at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Indianapolis.
But, in the beginning of his ministry, Teske and his family were missionaries in Papua New Guinea from 1975 to 1984.
Toward the end of his time as a seminary student, he was approached by someone from Partners in Mission, an agency that took requests for resources from Lutheran churches on the island nation and tried to fill them.
"I'd not given much thought to missions work. He asked me if I'd consider a call to another country," Teske said.
The country: Papua New Guinea, a group of islands including the eastern half of New Guinea between the Coral Sea and the South Pacific Ocean, east of Indonesia.
"We thought about it and prayed about it for three weeks. This is going to sound kind of funny, but we decided we'd go because we couldn't think of any reasons not to."
So they went: Gary Teske; his wife, Linda; and their 14-month-old daughter, Kara. The couple's two other daughters, Tamara and Katrina, were born on the islands.
Kara Brauer, 28, is a registered nurse living in Chicago. Tamara Teske, 26, is a Kansas University graduate living in Aspen, Colo. And Katrina Teske will be a senior this fall at KU.
'Everything from scratch'
Gary Teske went to work for the Wabag Lutheran Church Wabag is the name of both a town and a region as a circuit missionary, serving an area of Papua New Guinea as part of a team of native pastors and evangelists.
Papua New Guinea has a population of about 5 million people, according to CIA The World Factbook.
About 16 percent of the nation's people are Lutheran. Thirty-four percent identify with traditional, indigenous beliefs that stress the importance of ancestors and spirits in the natural world.
The Wabag Lutheran Church encompasses roughly 80,000 people living in six to eight circuits within that region, Teske said.
When the Teskes arrived, Papua New Guinea had no written language. But residents worked with teams of translators to create a written language called Enga, which has been used to produce a native version of the Bible.
For five of their nine years in Papua New Guinea, the family lived in a mission station in the highlands. They had a simple but comfortable home with a hardwood floor, walls made of bamboo or woven grasses and a corrugated roof.
"We had a little generator for electricity in the evenings. No running hot water. A bucket shower," Teske said.
The family had a refrigerator powered by kerosene and a wood-burning cook stove, while their water supply came from rainwater collected on rooftops. The country gets about 150 inches of rain each year.
"There were no stores, no restaurants. You made everything from scratch. If you wanted to have lasagna, you had to make your own cottage cheese and your own noodles," he said.
Bridging the cultural gap
The lifestyle of the Teskes and other foreign missionaries was very basic, like the lives of Papua New Guineans.
"When the sun went down, everything quit. You accommodated yourself to the time of day and the seasons," Teske said.
"Health care was scary there were times when the kids would get sick and have a fever of 104 or 105, and all we could do was put them in a tub and pour cold water on them."
The Teskes almost always felt safe with a few notable exceptions.
"The one time when they used our car as a shield between two fighting tribes, that was probably the scariest. We were driving through the middle of a fight, with bows and arrows," Linda Teske recalled.
"We quickly rolled up the windows, and one (arrow) hit the glass. They were trying to kill each other. But we got out."
Missionaries in Papua New Guinea often received an interesting piece of advice.
"They always said if you hit a pig or a child (with your car), you would not want to stop, because the people would retaliate immediately," she said.
The years his family spent in Papua New Guinea made a strong impression on Gary Teske. They formed meaningful bonds with the people whom they had come to serve.
"You realize there can be human relationships across great cultural differences. My first few years I was so overwhelmed by how different they were from us," he said.
"My last few years, I was so amazed at how much the same we are."