An MAF mother and daughter accompany a long-time missionary in Papua and witness what happens when lives are transformed by the gospel.
Anja van Dijk and her daughter, Janieke, MAF missionaries, could see meandering rivers, swamps, and tropical forest from the window of the MAF airplane as they soared over the Mamberamo region of Papua, Indonesia. They would soon be traversing some of those rivers in a dug-out canoe.
The plane lands in Iratoi, flown by husband and father, Pieter. Anja and Janieke hop off and are immediately greeted by a wet blanket of tropical heat. Undeterred, they share a look that says, “Finally, it’s happening!”
Being an MAF missionary has its perks, like being able to occasionally visit a remote village. The van Dijk family had talked about doing a lowlands mission trip with Christian & Missionary Alliance (C&MA) missionary, Lois Belsey, for quite some time now. Lois, who served in Papua for 43 years, made river trips twice a year to minister to the lowlands tribes and the evangelists who live among them.
The goal of Lois’ trips was to encourage and equip the evangelists to stay, so they could continue to bring Jesus to the lost people of this region.
Lois’ river trips required three MAF flights, a canoe with a motor and a local person to serve as a “pilot” to take her down two river systems. That’s four times in the boat, four different days, with one flight in between and one coming and going. Anja and Janieke were joining her in the middle for the last two legs of the river trips. In the morning they would load their belongings and the groceries and fresh bread Anja had brought, and travel to the next village. But on this first night, they met up with Lois and sat in on an evening church service.
At six in the evening a “bell” rings—calling people to the church. The “bell” consists of someone hitting an old, empty drum with a stick.
Everyone sits on the floor to hear Lois share a message from God’s Word, as another person translates into the local language. There’s no electricity, and the solar system isn’t working. Soon they are surrounded by darkness.
“As one person sings his story, the people repeat in a monotonous chorus,” adds Anja. “Despite the surrounding darkness, words of The Light are brought to the listeners.”
After an early night, they rise early to the sounds of the tropical forest—a cacophony of birds and insects. Anja and Janieke climb into the motorized dugout canoes. They float over a fast-flowing stream, surrounded by their luggage and supplies. Within a half hour, their way is blocked by a fallen tree.
But the pilot and guide are prepared with a machete and axe, and they are soon on their way again. In a few hours, they reach the next village, Jerei.
“Jerei is quite isolated, geographically,” explains Anja. “The tribe living here rarely has contact with others. The one responsible for preaching only has his Bible, no other literature and no one with whom to discuss things.”
Lois’ bi-yearly trips provide new insights and help the villagers grow in their walk with Christ.
The next morning, Lois sets up a portable clinic. As a nurse midwife, Lois teaches the people basic healthcare, and treats those in need.
“There’s lots of malaria, joint pains, unusually high-pitched crying babies. In these tribes, sorcery and witchcraft are still practiced,” explains Anja. “So, often it is difficult to distinguish between a pure medical root cause and a more spiritual one, says Anja.
Janieke and Anja distribute coloring pencils and coloring pages. Both children and adults enjoy this activity as they wait to be seen by Lois.
“For most of them, this is the first time in their life they can hold pencil and paper! In just a couple of minutes one can see they pick it up fast,” said Anja. “Can you imagine the change and excitement when you are exposed to this the first time?”
While the people build a traditional “cooking pit” and prepare a huge feast of dried pork, sweet potatoes, and other vegetables, Lois fits the local pastors and elders with reading glasses.
Then it’s time for dinner and another evening service. As Lois talks to people about how God cannot accept sin, Anja and Janieke have front row seats to see the gospel transform these people. Spiritual eyes and ears are opening as Lois tells the people “there’s no place in heaven for those who keep living in sin and don’t trust Jesus to pay their debt. But grace is freely given!”
“It is very quiet, and it is so good to witness this moment where people listen intently,” says Anja. “Especially the youth, they are eager to hear the message. And when the question is asked, ‘Who wants to follow Jesus?’ many raise their hand.”
The next morning, Anja and her daughter begin their last canoe ride of the trip. The current is fast, but the river is not very deep. The guide at the front of the boat uses a bamboo pole to test the water’s depth and calls out instructions to the pilot at the back.
As they speed along, Anja takes in the beauty of the lowlands, and reflects on how life revolves around the river for the indigenous people groups who live here.
“Whether it’s bathing, drinking, washing, doing laundry or cooling yourself from the intense tropical heat, the river is the place where that is done. If this river is so clearly important to them, how much more important it will be for them to know the Living Water!