“I can still hear in my mind the hooting and chanting as they came along the path,” said centenarian John VanHouten, his hearing keen to pick up what his failing eyesight missed.
“That’s the tribe from the next mountain coming,” one of the villagers told him. “They keep time to their marching as they come along.” The sound was the last of three different Hupla-language groups who converged on the village of Soba in Papua, Indonesia, last December for a three-day celebration to receive the completed Bible in their own language.
The experience of witnessing the tribe’s excitement over God’s Word was the icing on the cake for John after having spent two years living in Papua with his family—which meant four generations were living there at one time!
John was much more than a visitor; he had a very active role in serving the Papuan people.
“I’m the type that doesn’t like to sit around and do nothing,” explains John who, according to immigration officials, at the age of 98 was the oldest man ever to visit Papua.
Not long after arriving, he was helping Papuan students at TITIP (Training Indonesians for Transition to Institutional Programs), which serves as an English/discipleship school. He would spend his weekdays there, listening to the students read and helping them improve their English.
“After a week or two, they were calling me ‘Grandpa,’ ” said John, and saying ‘good to see you. We love you.’ They had already graduated from high school and many had already graduated from college. It was just a wonderful experience to get together with those young people.”
This wasn’t John’s first exposure to Papua; he visited his daughter Joan Wiley and her husband Wally, who now serves as MAF chief advisor in Indonesia, four times at various points during their 32 years of service with MAF in Papua—making it a point to visit after the births of each of his grandchildren.
As far as being there with his family goes, John says it was “outstanding.”
“This was just a wonderful way to bind us together,” said John. “It’s one thing to say hello to a 4-year-old on the telephone, but it doesn’t mean much until you can actually pick them up and hug them and so forth.”
While John was saved at the age of 16 and since then has had a heart for foreign missions, including serving on the mission board of his church in Bloomfield, New Jersey, these two years in Papua were really his foray into overseas service.
John is grateful to have played an active role in the legacy that Joan and Wally and their kids will have in Indonesia. “I can do it with a real measure of thanksgiving. I am so glad that I had this opportunity and I’ve passed it on to my other children, the same idea, that they should get out into the field where the harvest is being made and take advantage of the opportunity we all have of serving and expressing our thanks to the Lord.”
When asked why it was important to keep serving the Lord all the days of his life, John had this beautiful response: “I think if anyone is in love with the Lord Jesus, they want to stay in close contact with Him. And the only way to do it is to be serving Him. And so, I think it is most important even for me at this age to want to continue to be of service for the Lord. I think that I owe it to Him because of the salvation which he granted to me.”