An Indonesian boy and a Dutch missionary kid grow up and find that their lives—and ministries—intersect once again.
Lush, green mountaintops peek through an early morning mist in the highlands of Papua, Indonesia. The fog covers an unused airstrip in one community—Pass Valley. MAF’s services are no longer needed there as a road now leads to the village.
The grass airstrip remains untouched, empty, a monument of sorts. The villagers won’t build on it because that is how the gospel came to them back in the 1960s.
MAF had performed air drops before the airstrip was built, and brought in food, building materials, medicine, and other supplies so that missionaries with the Netherlands Reformed Congregation (NRC) could live there and share the love of Jesus—build a church, start primary schools, and reach neighboring villages with the gospel.
MAF flights were a lifeline to the community. Because Pass Valley was completely cut off, MAF visited multiple times a week, bringing rice, cooking items, and other essentials that the people didn’t have in their village.
It was here that Kees Janse (pronounced “Case Yans-a”) grew up as a missionary kid—his parents were NRC missionaries. It was here that Kees and his friend, Peres Nekwek, spent many hours together assembling Legos, flying kites at the airstrip, hiking, or playing in the river.
Kees came to know Jesus when he was 13 and felt he would either be a pastor or an MAF pilot one day.
Peres remembers playing “airplane” as a boy with Kees and other friends. He knew it was Kees’ dream to be a pilot—he always pretended to be one. Peres and other friends were the passengers or the co-pilot. They built carts, imaginary airplanes, which they “flew” down the steep airstrip.
Peres’ father was introduced to Christ as a young man by one of the early NRC missionaries. Because of this, Peres grew up in a Christian household, and attended the local mission school.
Peres was familiar with MAF as a child, but his first MAF flight wasn’t until after high school, when he went to Wamena to further his education and lived in a dorm for students who came from interior villages. The MAF missionaries in Wamena had a big influence on Peres’ life. Mike Meeuwse, a former helicopter pilot, and others like him, led devotions in the evenings. The guidance and encouragement Peres received had an impact on him—and God gave him the desire to become a pastor. He went to seminary and then on to Java to get his doctorate in theology.
In the meantime, Kees left Papua to pursue a degree in aeronautical engineering. Years later their lives would cross again.
It’s a Sunday morning in the city of Wamena and Kees and his wife, Elsbeth, and their four children are sitting on wooden pews in a packed church, listening to Pastor Peres’ sermon.
“He’s a very gifted Bible teacher,” says Kees. “There’s such a hunger out there for the Word, and such an enormous lack of good teachers … Peres is really focused on bringing the Word of God into people’s lives, and I’m thankful for that.”
The church is filled with young people, many of whom come out from the villages and stay in town, for education or work. So Pastor Peres continues to plant the seeds of faith that started in Pass Valley. And during the week he runs a seminary in town. So he’s training up future church leaders as well.
On a recent peace-keeping mission to Nipsan, a spiritually dark area with a long history of conflict, Kees flew in a group of pastors from surrounding villages of Bomela, Langda, and Pass Valley. Pastor Peres was part of the group, and he was in the co-pilot seat once again.
Today there are many isolated villages in the same position that Pass Valley was back in the ’60s, waiting for MAF service, or still in the grips of the enemy. Several new airstrips have opened in recent months, paving the way for new ministry opportunities.
“Change is happening in Papua—it’s not a static thing—and we’re growing with it,” said Kees. “We don’t need to be in Pass Valley anymore; I’m happy to pull out when I see that people like Pastor Peres are helping serve there. So, where can we go now?”
The story of how God is working in Papua is woven into the friendship of Peres and Kees. Their chapter begins with a wooden cart “airplane” on a grass airstrip in a remote village—it’s one thread in a bigger story that began long ago in a wooden manger in a remote town called Bethlehem.
Thank you for your part in this story through your support of MAF.
Story appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of FlightWatch.