Evan Jeremy Paki: Dialogue with the ambassador of Papua New Guinea to the United States, Canada, and Mexico

His Excellency Evan Jeremy Paki was formally accredited as Ambassador of Papua New Guinea to the United States on September 8, 2003. At 30 years of age, he is the youngest diplomat to serve as head of mission in the diplomatic service of his country. He is a lawyer, a scholar, and an active member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Mr. Paki comes from the Enga Province in the Highlands Region of Papua New Guinea. He studied at a Lutheran primary school, and after finishing high school received a scholarship from the government of Australia to study in Brisbane. Returning to his homeland, he earned a law degree from the University of Papua New Guinea and was admitted to the bar in 1996.

The following year Mr. Paki received a Fulbright Scholarship to study at Harvard Law School from which he received an L.L.M. (Master’s) degree in 1998. He worked at the World Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency in Washington, D.C., and then joined the international law firm of Baker and McKenzie in Sydney, Australia.

At the end of 2001, Mr. Paki returned to his homeland and in March 2003 was appointed Ambassador to the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

Dialogue interviewed Ambassador Evan Jeremy Paki at the Embassy of Papua New Guinea in Washington, D.C.

Ambassador, tell us how your faith has influenced you in your career.

When I reflect on how God has led my life in the past and how He continues to lead, I have assurance and my trust in Him grows. When everyone around you is frantic, you can remain confident in God. As ambassador for my country, I carry an enormous responsibility and believe that God works through circumstances.

For example, at meetings of heads of missions or at other high-level meetings, when I specify, “No wine, please,” I am asked questions as to why I don’t drink. This gives me opportunity to talk about my lifestyle and the reasons for it. I don’t want to be seen as a religious fanatic, but in the case of alcohol, there are plenty of health and safety issues that are very compelling. And one can start an interesting conversation on deeper issues from that perspective.

How do you describe your picture of God?

It’s a question of relationship. One hears movie stars and TV personalities talk about some divine force or power in the universe, and they have a right to their opinions. But for me, God is not some kind of impersonal force out there—He is a real Person and my relationship with Him is very important. God is a friend, partner, and counselor. He helps me find a sense of direction when faced with perplexing issues and policy decisions. God is always there to help, for the bigger the problem, the bigger the challenge.

Did you grow up in a religious family?

The members of my family were Lutherans, but my mother brought us into the Adventist Church when I was little. I am the second in a family of six boys. My older brother is an accountant, the third is an Adventist minister, the fourth is in medical school, the fifth is studying economics, and the youngest is studying in the United States. At first, my father objected to our becoming Seventh-day Adventists, but now he attends an Adventist congregation and plans to be baptized later this year.

Under what circumstances were you appointed ambassador?

The Papua New Guinea Parliament consists of 109 members, representing the 20 provinces of our country. In July, 1999, the members of parliament elected a new prime minister. Some of members whom I had been advising became members of the new government that came into power. Because of the previous contacts I had had with the United States and international agencies, as well as the skills and abilities they saw in me, I was appointed ambassador to the U.S. and its two neighboring countries.

What kind of work is involved in your assignment?

First, there is all the diplomatic work involved in representing my country’s interests in the United States, including all bilateral and multilateral dealings. Then, there are the negotiations with international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. We are also engaged with the U.S. business community to promote investment and trade opportunities in our country. As head of the Papua New Guinea mission in Washington, D.C., I also serve as ambassador to Canada and Mexico. Once we agree on a schedule with the respective governments, I will present my diplomatic credentials to the leaders of those countries.

Do you write your own speeches?

Yes, I do, and those of others, too! My role is to be aware of a given situation, to give the best advice, and in general to provide assistance to my ministers and the government. For example, in the last few months I traveled to Colombia with the deputy prime minister of my country for an international conference. I also went to Hawaii with the minister for foreign affairs for a meeting of Pacific Island leaders (which was also attended by the U.S. President) and accompanied him to the United Nations General Assembly. One needs to know the issues, do research, brief the visiting minister, and generally play an advisory role.

Do you have to deal with situations in which people consider you too young to hold such important responsibilities?

The issue of youth works both ways. Some may say I don’t have much diplomatic experience, but when they get to know me, they begin to see things differently. The fact that I have studied and worked in other countries has given me valuable experience. At the same time, some members of the Parliament in my country are fairly young, around my age. I don’t see my age as a handicap at all!

Why did you decide to accept this appointment?

It is a public service assignment. I don’t look at it as an opportunity to be financially rewarded, but to have the satisfaction of serving my country. I was earning more as a banking and finance lawyer in Sydney, working for an American law firm. But as long as I’m here, I will put all my effort to be a good ambassador for Papua New Guinea.

Would you encourage Adventist young people to consider a similar career?

I would tell young people, “Consider giving some years of your life to service.” It is an action-packed assignment, not a bureaucracy. It is an opportunity to accomplish something valuable, to reach a definite set of goals, and leave a legacy behind.

The principle of serving others is essential. I have received several visits of former U.S. Peace Corps volunteers who served in Papua New Guinea. Two or three years of service there have transformed their lives. I’ve also met church members who have been volunteers through Adventist Frontier Missions assignments in remote areas of my country and they also reported a rewarding experience. I encourage others to give such service.

How do you see our church relating to governments and international bodies—the United Nations, for example?

I believe we have to interact more with governments and international agencies. There are important needs in our world, and we can contribute much in areas such as education, health, and religious freedom. As Adventists, we are looking for a better world to come, but we are still in this world with all its needs that we can alleviate. By responding to those needs, we pave the way for presenting the gospel message.

You’re currently single. Are you considering marriage?

I haven’t seriously thought about it. In many ways, not being married makes my job easier. For example, if I’m needed somewhere, I can just pack up at a moment’s notice and leave for the airport, without having to worry about wife and kids. It is not that I would not like to be married; it’s just something I haven’t contemplated yet and haven’t taken active steps toward.

Any final thoughts you wish to share with our readers?

Yes. There are more than 230,000 baptized members in the Papua New Guinea Union Mission, and if one adds the children and friends, we have almost half a million in our Adventist circle. But the needs are many, both within the church and in society at large. I would like to hear from people with skills who are willing to contribute to the work of the church in my country, especially in education and health, as well as in evangelism. And also from professional people who would like to help in other ways. I can be contacted at epaki@pngembassy.org. Thank you!

Interview by Jonathan GallagherJonathan Gallagher (Ph.D., University of St. Andrews) is an associate director in the Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. He also serves as the church’s liaison with the United Nations. His mailing address: 12501 Old Columbia Pike; Silver Spring, Maryland 20904; U.S.A.