‘Mystery’ Disease Reveals Changing Hearts

PAPUA – In December 2014, MAF staff in Nabire received word about a mystery illness afflicting remote villages in the area. Thirty people had already died as a result. MAF immediately began scheduling flights to bring medical care into the area.

MAF transports a medical team to the village of Pagamba in Papua, Indonesia.

MAF transports a medical team to the village of Pagamba in Papua, Indonesia. Story photos by Brian Marx.

The situation had not improved by January and the illness had spread to other areas. The villages of Zotadi, Pagamba, Pogapa, Hitadipa, Nabia, Daboto and Tomosiga were each seeing cases. Lois Belsey, with Christian and Missionary Alliance (CAMA), and others, suspected cerebral malaria—a serious condition which can result in death.

MAF staff worked in tandem with Association of Mission Aviation (AMA) and medical professionals in the area, including a team of North American medical professionals led by missionary John Cutts, to combat this outbreak.

John Cutts speaking with local village leaders asking what symptoms they were having, whether it behaved like malaria, or if it was like measles (hence rubbing his arms).

John Cutts speaking with local village leaders asking what symptoms they were having, whether it behaved like malaria, or if it was like measles (hence rubbing his arms).

“Paulus, an MAF employee, contacted a friend from church who works with the health department and was able to secure 61 doses of injectable malaria medicine,” said Brian Marx, an MAF pilot. “They were delivered to MAF and we immediately took them over to the AMA plane which was waiting to fly them up to Zotadi.”

By March, Cutts and other medical personnel determined the outbreak was not cerebral malaria, or even one disease. Rather, it was a rash of multiple diseases resulting from a prolonged absence of medical care. MAF flew another medical team to the area and, despite several deaths, were able to help many people.

The medical team giving prayerful thanks that it was not an epidemic of measles or cerebral malaria.

The medical team giving prayerful thanks that it was not an epidemic of measles or cerebral malaria.

These outbreaks, and others like them, highlighted a change had taken place in the hearts of the local believers. That change was evident to the missionaries serving the area.

“One team member, a friend of ours, was a former missionary in Daboto, and speaks the tribal language fluently,” said Pieter Van Dijk, another MAF pilot. “He was there when the Gospel came. He remembers times when people experienced similar health crises. In former times, they dealt with it according to their own culture: spirits, curses, etc. This time, it was clear to him that they responded in a totally different way.”

One of the older women in the village told the team members that she has hope and is not afraid to die. As tragic as this “mystery outbreak” was, it is clear that God is changing hearts in Papua and that the message of the Gospel has given real hope to the area.

From Left to Right: Indonesian military officer, 4 doctors, John Cutts, John’s sister Amy Cutts, John’s adopted sister Alice, John's daughter, John's granddaughter, and a Papuan child."

From Left to Right: Indonesian military officer, 4 doctors, John Cutts, John’s sister Amy Cutts, John’s adopted sister Alice, John’s daughter, John’s granddaughter, and a Papuan child.”

“I was very blessed to hear that God’s Word is powerful in that village, especially given the fact that the missionaries have not been there for a long amount of time,” said Van Dijk. “God is at work; therefore we give glory to Him!”


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