How God used a living example to change hearts and save lives
When Paul and Jeannie Burkhart arrived in Papua, Indonesia in 1968 as Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) missionaries, one thing was clear: Their work would be immensely more difficult without air transportation.
From the Burkharts’ first flight to their mission station, to an emergency medical flight, to flying building supplies and work teams to rebuild their house after it burned down in 2009, MAF has been there for this dedicated missionary family. It’s that kind of partnership that has helped the Gospel flourish in remote regions of this vast island nation.
Flying to more than 200 landing sites in Papua alone, MAF’s shared vision for reaching the most isolated with the Gospel has made it a mainstay for mission agencies and the indigenous church there.
Whether flying Bible translators, delivering pastors to a church conference, or taking supplies to missionaries working in isolated regions, MAF is helping the church grow. Meeting church requests is MAF’s top priority, second only to emergency medical flights.
There was only a handful of local believers when the Burkharts arrived to work with the Wolani people. Now there are hundreds, and 12 churches. The Burkharts are finishing a translation of the New Testament in the Wolani language, and hope to complete the Old Testament soon. Over the past 44 years they have planted churches, built airstrips, run clinics, and taught in a local Bible school.
Their presence there has had an impact in many ways, including one very surprising way that only God could have orchestrated. It started with an emergency call to MAF when Jeannie went into early labor in May of 1970. MAF pilot Melvin Isaac, now part of MAF’s IT department, recalls making the flight, “flying down the freeway” from Sentani to Ilu to pick up the mission doctor, Ilu to Mulia to get the doctor’s bag, to Tigi to pick up the Burkharts, and then back to Mulia. The couple arrived at the hospital at 5:50 p.m., and Jeannie gave birth to a son at 6:35 p.m. Paul commented that he was really small (2 lb. 14 oz., to be exact), and then the doctor announced, “Hey, wait a minute! There’s another one.” And so, to everyone’s surprise, a second boy was born eight minutes later (weighing 3 lb. 12 oz). Telegrams were sent home and word went out––literally around the world––to pray for these tiny boys.
But while twins were a surprise to everyone else, God knew. And He had a plan. Back then, superstitions prevailed, often with dire consequences. Within the three language groups that the Burkharts lived among, twins were not allowed to live; the smaller one was thought to be an evil spirit of the larger one.
“After the boys were born, the people used to come around and watch them for long periods of time,” says Jeannie. She remembers vividly the day she was called to a hut where a woman had just given birth to twins. With the help of a pastor, the father made the decision to allow both girls to live. “The hold of Satan was finally broken on that belief, and over the years we have seen more and more twins.”
In fact, another noticeable difference in those three areas is the overall presence of children … lots of children. A returning veteran missionary who was there in the ‘60s and ‘70s remarked to MAF pilot Nathan Fagerlie after landing at Bugalaga, that he was shocked to see so many kids running around––a stark contrast to earlier days, when the infant mortality rate (IMR) was so high. (According to the World Health Organization, the IMR for Indonesia as a whole declined from 128 per 1,000 live births in 1960 to 32 out of 1,000 in 2005.) But that’s one thing MAF service has changed by providing access to medical care, food supplies, and just a better quality of life for these people.
And the Burkharts were a big part of that change. They state that “without MAF we would never have been able to do what we have done. We could not have raised a family in the village, or sent our kids to school, had medical care, or daily radio communication. We could not have helped the people with medical emergencies or sent young people by plane to Bible school. If we had to wait for roads to be built, we would have missed the best opportunity to take the Gospel to the remote groups of Papua.”