‘Two Years in Paradise: Diary of a Missionary’ is a memoir written by a Polish priest, Christopher Kontek. It tells the story of his missionary work in a little parish in Papua New Guinea.
Christopher, a young clergyman from Poland, is sent to Papua New Guinea to serve as a parish priest in the capital of the Kagua district.
Even though the beautiful place and a warm welcome from the local community make a strong impression on the man, he quickly realizes that his mission in this Pacific country will be no easy task. Lack of basic amenities, socio-economic issues, and cultural differences prove to be a formidable obstacle for the determined-to-help-others priest. However, Christopher’s glass is never half empty but always half full – he tries to look on the bright side of life and see the positive even in the worst situations.
Although not a literary masterpiece, this is a very good book in terms of its focus on Papuan society and culture. Christopher Kontek turned out to be an extremely insightful observer. During his two-year-long stay on the island, which is – needless to say – one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world, he devoted his full attention to people and their traditional ways of life. Not only did he explore local customs and mores, but most of all, he had a chance to see how these had been influenced by so-called modernity. The memoir is filled to the brim with the author’s little discoveries. Fr. Kontek shares his new-found knowledge with readers, taking them on a fascinating journey to this truly unique corner of Melanesia. A guided cultural tour; that’s what it is. And you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your home to find yourself in this tropical paradise.
Another interesting feature of this book are Fr. Kontek’s comparisons between Papua New Guinea and Europe. Of course, as a priest, he concentrates predominantly on theological subject matter. He describes, quite vividly, various religious practices of the native inhabitants, contrasting them with the rituals observed on the Old Continent. His analysis of similarities and differences is a real pleasure to read; all the more so because it is written from a foreigner’s point of view.
There’s no denying that the author’s observations are filtered through his own cultural lenses. Nevertheless, he always speaks of the Islanders in a respectful manner. Even though he may not understand certain behaviours, he doesn’t criticize them. Such attitude teaches us an important lesson: no society can pass judgments on another society; there are no absolute truths that span the globe; what’s regarded as acceptable in one culture, may be frowned upon in another. How often do people forget about that?
Now, while the content of the book definitely captivates, the author’s literary style not so much. The memoir is structured as a conventional diary, with entries full of engaging yet poorly written stories. Some of the narratives feel incomplete, others are so short that they end before they really start. But, in spite of this apparent drawback, Christopher Kontek’s work captures attention. Quite honestly, it is simply an attractive publication.
If you want to get to know Papua New Guinea, if you are interested in its culture, this is a book you will truly enjoy. It’s an engaging and very informative account of a great missionary adventure in the land of the unexpected. I highly recommend it. It doesn’t disappoint.