By Kees Janse
His name is very applicable: Selamat. Which is an Indonesian word used as a greeting, but it also means “saved” or “rescued.” That indeed has happened in his life.
On Thursday, October 12, 2014 he was with his mother in the family’s hut in a small village in the highlands of Papua. That day tragedy struck as he fell into the fire and burned his face, right arm and the right side of most of his upper body. Selamat’s mother did not know what to do. No doctor/mantri around. No radio to call for a helicopter. Then she did whatever she could. She put her severely burned child in a net on her back and started the one and a half day hike to Ndundu.
“In Ndundu is an airstrip and there is a radio,” she thought. “That is our only chance.”
For more than a day she hiked up and down the steep mountainsides with the baby on her back in the noken. It was around 4 pm on Friday afternoon that she finally reached the top of the plateau on which the Ndundu airstrip is located. The mantri (local nurse) took her to the small clinic right away and was shocked by what he saw. There was not much he could do. He cleaned the wounds and wrapped some bandage around the boy to protect him from flies and dirt. After that, he went over to the agent Meki and told him: “Try to contact MAF somehow and ask for a medevac as soon as possible.”
That was easier said than done. It was Friday afternoon and the last radio sked was at 3 pm. Tomorrow morning he would have to see what he could do. On Saturday the amount of flights were usually limited, and as far as he knew, there was no plane flying from the Wamena base that Saturday.
The next morning from 7 am and on, Meki tried to call and call on his HF radio, initially without any results. Finally… he was able to contact Brian Marx, the MAF pilot flying a Caravan in the Nabire area. Brian asked the MAF flight follower to contact a pilot in Wamena by phone. This is when I first heard about the need to do a medevac to Ndundu.
It was now around 9 am on Saturday morning. I knew it was going to be difficult with the winds. Ndundu has a 9 am wind curfew. The weather was not great either. The Cessna 206 in our hangar was loaded with cargo for Gatini, which is 5 minutes away from Ndundu. I decided to give it a try. We called up local employees to get things ready as soon as we could. By 10 o’ clock we were in the air. Gatini was very windy, but doable. I dropped the cargo off and took off for Ndundu. Around 11 am I arrived overhead Ndundu. It was windy. I flew the first approach down to about 200 meters before the airstrip, but aborted the landing due to the winds and turbulence. On the second try I knew where the updrafts and downdrafts were, and I was able to land.
When I saw Selamat in his mother’s arms, my heart sunk. I have done many medevacs over the years, but rarely I have seen a child that was burned so severely. Selamat was quiet. He did not cry. His mother stood there, quiet as well. We quickly had all of them board the airplane and prayed to God for protection on the flight and strength for Selamat and his mother. Then we took off for Wamena. On the 30 minute flight we had to climb to 13.000 feet due to the deteriorating weather. Around noon we landed safely in Wamena. One of our employees was standing by with the red pickup truck that serves as our ‘ambulance,’ and drove Selamat and his mother directly to the emergency room of the Wamena hospital. By phone I contacted some people from Yasumat (an organization under the GIDI church that does a lot of education and medical work) to ask them to look after Selamat and his mother in the hospital.
The following days we continued to receive messages from the Yasumat folks about Selamat’s condition. He was stable, but they were unsure what could be done in this hospital. We even contacted the Bergstrazer family in Timika to see if there would be a way we could transfer Selamat to a better quality hospital in Timika. However, his mother did not want to go somewhere else. She wanted to stay in Wamena. Praying was all we could do. And we did.
Then it became quiet and life went on. Years went by. Until today, Thursday, April 13, 2017.
I am doing a training flight with Brock Larson in one of our Kodiaks. We have 700 kg of supplies on board for Ndundu. It is a beautiful day. After we offload the cargo in Ndundu, we have some time to walk around the village. At some point I wonder what happened to Selamat. I decide to ask. “Do you remember that little boy that was so severely burned a number of years ago? I picked him up on a Saturday with his mom. Did he survive?” One of the guys responds right away: “Oh, yes, he survived. Let’s see… there he is.” He points to one of the kids among the group that had gathered around the airplane. As I look at the boy, I am amazed. I can see the scars on his face, but he is running around as a happy kid! We quickly take a picture and in my heart I thank God for how He answered our prayers beyond my wildest expectations. As I talk to Selamat’s mom, I ask her about his right arm that is still wrapped up. “Those wounds still have not healed completely,” she says. “Have you done any follow-up with a doctor since you left the hospital 2 years ago?” I ask. “No we have not,” is her answer. I tell her that we can pay for her and Selamat to come out to Wamena next week to get follow-up care at the hospital. She agrees to that plan. I am thankful for the relationship we have with the department of health in Indonesia, that allows us to charge the travel expenses of patients to them. It is a wonderful way of connecting those in need with those that can help.
As for Selamat, his name means “rescued.” That is indeed what God did in his life. What a privilege it is as organization to be part of His work in this way! We are not done with Selamat yet. He needs more help, at least with his arm. We’ll continue to minister to him and pray for him. Beyond his physical needs, I pray that the second meaning of his name, “saved,” will be true for him as well. That he will know the almighty God as the Healer and Saviour of his body and soul.
He is just one of the many thousands of kids we serve with our aircraft. Let’s not grow weary in doing what God called us to do in this place!