When Merilyn Thomas heard the story of a small boy medevaced from remote Papua New Guinea (PNG) in 2008, she was shocked by the harsh realities of the famine unfolding on Australia’s doorstep. Dianne Jensen reports.
Merilyn Thomas is a member of Townsville Central City Mission, and the force behind a seed distribution program that has transformed the lives of people living in remote and disadvantaged communities across the world.
The image of a child, who had his hand chopped off for allegedly stealing a sweet potato, stayed in her mind.
“I realised that it’s closer from here to the PNG Highlands than from Townsville to Brisbane … what could I do to help? I couldn’t send them a sweet potato, but I could send them seeds!” recalls Merilyn.
With the encouragement of her church community, Merilyn began building a small distribution network through church contacts in PNG. She bought seeds, added a bookmark with 1 Corinthians 13, and sent the packages on their way.
“In the parable of the sower it’s said that the seed will be multiplied sometimes by 100, sometimes by 60, sometimes by 30—and that’s just what happens,” says Merilyn. “A couple of contacts will take the seeds hundreds of miles into the remote parts of the PNG Highlands—some will only distribute it in their family, some will take it and send it further, or they might take it to the local school and church.”
The tiny packets have literally saved lives, enabling communities to quickly replant lost crops, and providing new sources of nutrition when traditional food sources fail.
“On Daru Island in Torres Strait, I’d sent them to the Catholic Church, and the priest has reported that the children are no longer showing symptoms of malnourishment, which is fantastic. Another result is a village in the Highlands where parents now have enough money to pay for shoes and so the children can now go to school.”
Merilyn, now retired, brings 50 years of gardening experience plus a Bachelor of Science and postgraduate research in salinity to the project. The home-grown ministry now reaches at least 240 people in 40 countries, including Australian communities such as Doomadgee and Palm Island.
The program is supported by individual donations and since 2014 a small regular church contribution, but Merilyn generally depends on her own resources and ongoing prayer to meet the ever-increasing costs of postage and seeds.
“It’s a cost-effective and cheap form of foreign aid, and it’s a way of helping people in very remote areas who haven’t got a lot. And it’s value-added—God takes these seeds and then spreads them and then they do their work in other people’s hands.”
For more information visit centralcitymission.org or call 07 4771 2584.