Isolation Remains

An MAF writer visits remote villages by airplane and boat, and gains a renewed appreciation for the ministry.

Long Pujungan River in the heart of Borneo. Photo by Natalie Holsten.

 

By Natalie Holsten

This summer I had the opportunity to return to Kalimantan, Indonesia, where my husband David and I, along with our four kids, spent a decade serving with MAF.

After having lived in the U.S. again for four years, going back to the place that still felt like home in many ways was such a gift. My ten days in Kalimantan were jam-packed with gathering stories for MAF, connecting with old friends, and eating my weight in the sweetest pineapples in the world.

Natalie Holsten interviews a woman in Long Pujungan, Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by Lemuel Malabuyo.

During my visit, I made several trips into the interior with MAF pilot Tyler Schmidt. Our flights included transporting Bible school teachers and a discipleship team, as well as a medevac flight for a young cancer patient.

As I watched Tyler go about his tasks, I was reminded of how physically demanding the job of MAF pilot can be. All I had to do was sit in the plane and I was exhausted.

Meanwhile Tyler was flying around weather and landing on short airstrips and dealing with passengers and loading, all in a tropical climate where you can sweat buckets just sitting in the shade. I’m just amazed at what our MAF pilots do.

I was also reminded of how isolated the people interior are. I got to experience that isolation firsthand when Tyler took off in the MAF Kodiak, leaving me and MAF videographer Lem behind with the Hati MAF (heart of MAF) ministry team in the village of Long Pujungan. It was a worrying thought that we were utterly cut off from the outside world, with no quick or easy way out.

To add to that sense of isolation, our group planned to take a two-hour boat ride upriver to the small village of Long Belaka. I was nervous, as I knew how dangerous river travel could be.

MAF video producer Lemuel Malabuyo snaps a photo with Natalie Holsten in the background while on their river trip to Long Balaka.

But I needn’t have worried. We were handed lifejackets that looked brand new (“Because we never wear them!” joked our boat driver) and given conical Dayak hats to protect us from the sun, and then our very capable boat drivers got us safely through the river rapids.

As we traveled through the jungle, I had the overwhelming sense of seeing something precious, of experiencing something not many outsiders have before, like scenes out of a National Geographic documentary. I felt small and in awe of the vastness of the jungle, but also comforted knowing that this far-flung corner of the world is known and loved by the Creator God.

Arriving in Long Belaka, we were greeted by the head of the school and the pastor, who told us about the needs of the local people.

They are a traditionally nomadic tribe, who sometimes disappear for weeks at a time, disrupting their children’s education. Their kids marry young. The people often don’t grow enough rice to support themselves. They hold tightly to animistic beliefs.

This is why our group visited, so members of the Hati MAF team could assess the needs and see if there was a way to help the people there.

Natalie with one of the village kids in Long Balaka. Photo by Natalie Holsten.

When our group arrived back in Long Pujungan the next day, I experienced the joy of hearing the sweet, sweet sound of an approaching Kodiak that was coming to pick us up.

I imagined what it must feel like to be in a desperate situation, needing a medevac, and hearing the plane arrive, knowing it was going to carry you to better medical care.

Many people I spoke with in Long Pujungan and other villages had stories about how MAF had profoundly impacted them in some way, either through a medevac flight, or transporting them to school, or bringing much-needed supplies. People told me their stories with obvious gratitude and affection for the ministry of MAF.

My trip back to Kalimantan was a sobering reminder that isolation remains, and MAF continues to be a much-needed ministry in many places around the world.

 

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