The Bridge to Hope

To what lengths will a village go to find God?

 

By Jennifer Wolf

 

One day in 2012, a few men from Bina, a village in the highlands of Papua, Indonesia, started a two-day trek to traverse a huge valley. When they reached the rushing river in the middle, they stepped barefoot and sure-footedly on a narrow vine bridge to cross to the other side.

The bridge had been torn down years before due to tension between their tribe—the Dem—and the Wano people. They had recently rebuilt the bridge because they’d heard a group of missionaries were visiting the Wano people in Mokndoma and they hoped to bring them to Bina.

Vine bridge the Dem people rebuilt in Papua, Indonesia.

The bridge the Dem rebuilt to cross over to Mokndoma. Photo by Jay.

In Mokndoma that day, four men were helping a fellow missionary with a project. They were all expatriates from the same Christian organization.* As they were working, they got word that some men had come from Bina and wanted to talk with them. They put down their tools and met them at the local meeting area.

Dylan and Jared greet the Dem. Photo by Mike.

Through a translator, the Dem men shared how they felt like forgotten people; all the tribes around them already had missionaries come and translate the Bible in their language.

A Dem man explains how they are living in darkness. Photo by Mike.

“We know when Jesus comes back we’re going to die. We are in darkness,” said one of the Dem men, wiping tears from his eyes.

Although missionaries had passed through Bina around 50 years ago, they hadn’t stayed. They were on their way to bring the gospel to another tribe. But they told the Dem that if they were to build an airstrip in Bina, missionaries would be more likely to come. So they did, but no one came. And while a few Dem people had some brief Bible training, it wasn’t in their mother tongue. What little the people knew was mixed in with their animistic beliefs—the belief that spirits lived in inanimate objects. And they continued to live in fear of these spirits.

Dylan, one of the four men helping at the time, and his wife had been asking God to reveal where He wanted them to serve. They had committed to go to a people group who were asking for the gospel, which is how they came to be in Papua, Indonesia. The visit to Mokndoma was an unplanned, last-minute trip.

“I knew right away that this was the answer from God we had been waiting for. It couldn’t have been any clearer,” said Dylan.

Dylan told the Dem men, “If it was up to us we would grab our bags and come to the village to live with you.” But first, they needed to return to the city to finish tasks, check with their organization’s leaders, and talk it over with their families before they could come to Bina.

But they did come. Almost a year later, Dylan returned to build a home so his wife and three young children could come and live there. Near the end of Dylan’s visit, MAF officially opened the Bina airstrip and began serving Dylan’s family and the other three men who were with him that day—and their families—who followed shortly after.

A Dem mother with her children in Bina, Papua, Indonesia. Photo by Angie Hamstra.

Over the next seven-plus years, MAF airplanes landed in Bina often, bringing the families in and out; transporting zinc roofing for their homes, a literacy building, and a large gathering place; and delivering appliances, food, and other supplies needed to live in the remote village. MAF also did medical evacuation flights for the Dem people.

Together, the missionary families learned the culture and the language of the Dem. They taught literacy classes so the people could one day read God’s Word. And, eventually, they were able to translate and prepare a series of 79 Bible lessons covering Creation to Christ—“God’s Talk.”

The Hamstras’ Path to Papua

Just days after Christmas 2020, Jack Hamstra, an MAF maintenance specialist, his wife, Angie, and their three teen children, along with other teammates, were spending a few days in the village of Bina, to help with a special building project—a large gathering place where the Dem people would soon be hearing about the God who loves them.

Jack had been serving with his family in Papua, Indonesia, for a few months and he was happy to do this work project for the Bina missionaries who were supported by MAF flights. As Jack thought and prayed about what would soon transpire under the shelter they were building, he was amazed at the goodness of God and the path He had brought them on to get to this point—even though that path had included some tough things along the way.

Mission Aviation Fellowship families help build a structure for gospel teaching in Papua, Indonesia.

The Bina missionary families, Dem men, and the MAF work team, including Mike and Christy Brown, and Jack Hamstra and his kids, Emma, Jackson, and JR. Photo by Angie Hamstra.

A few years earlier, Jack and Angie had stepped out in faith in their first “mission field”—fostering and adoption. Angie had cared for their four children, including an adopted daughter who had several medical needs. Jack had been working on corporate jet engines for several years but was beginning to feel unsettled at work.

“I  liked my job fixing airplanes and the guys I worked with. I just felt like there was something more.”

His discontentment had gone on for three years while the couple had prayed together every morning for the Lord’s direction. As time went on, their daughter’s health had begun to decline. The family had been through some difficult times before, but when Laila died, it was the most heart-rending trial they’d experienced. They hadn’t known it was coming, but the Lord knew.

Six months later, after they’d taken time to grieve, God finally began to reveal what he had in mind for them next.

In 2017, they sent an inquiry to MAF, trusting that God would open the doors if it was His will. God opened them wide. Three years later, the Hamstras were in Indonesia serving at the MAF base in Sentani, which is how their family came to be in the village of Bina in late 2020.

MAF missionary family, the Hamstras in Papua, Indonesia.

The Hamstras in Papua, Indonesia, 2021. (Left to right) RJ, Jack, Angie, Jackson, & Emma.

They had a sweet time of fellowship during that visit with the four missionary families and learned the amazing story of how God had called them to Bina. They also met the Dem people and heard about their culture, their beliefs, and their fears. But now, the Dem were so close to hearing God’s Word in their own language for the first time; it gave Angie pause for thought.

With Laila’s death and other hard things her family had been through, plus the general craziness of the world in 2020, Angie had sometimes found herself thinking, “Jesus, can you just come back?”

But as she stood in the middle of a village of five-hundred people who didn’t know Christ, it gave her a different perspective. “Maybe wait a little bit longer, Jesus. We need these people to have the Word.”

Hope comes to the Dem

In early January 2021, Dem villagers walked across the dewy grass and took a seat on the ground under the new shelter. They may not have realized it at the time, but God was calling them to His heart. He wanted them to know the extravagant love He had for them—the salvation that awaited each and every one.

Among them were Tigitogon, Liut, Nambal and his son, Yanet, the ones who had crossed the bridge several years earlier. Terisi, whom God had saved the year before through an MAF medevac flight, was there with her twin babies. Many others filed in, some who had hiked from over an hour away to hear the teaching, even three people who were crippled and endured difficult, muddy mountain trails.

Another MAF work team came to extend the teaching structure and add a wood floor. Photo by Jack Hamstra.

The teaching began in the Old Testament with the Creation story and continued every weekday for several weeks. By March, they were in the New Testament. In mid-April, the Dem heard of Jesus’ death and resurrection and learned how they could be made right with God. Many tears were shed and confessions of faith were shared that day.

Dylan with his language helper, Eriak, the first Dem believer in Bina. Photo by Angie.

“Jesus did nothing wrong. He took my punishment so that I wouldn’t have to die and be separated from Yagwe,”† said an elderly woman through her tears. “I believe He did that because I couldn’t do it myself; no one can. Jesus did that for me. That Talk is very true.”

One man, after he’d believed in Christ as his Savior, said, “We have always thought Yagwe was white man’s Father.”

God in His sovereign, merciful way called the Dem men to cross the bridge that led to the four missionary families coming to Bina, which led to MAF opening the Bina airstrip. All continue to be obedient to God’s call on their lives: the Dem seek after God, the Bina missionaries teach and disciple, and the MAF missionaries partner with them.

Now the Dem people know that the good news is for all people, even for those who feel like the forgotten ones—even for those who live at the ends of the earth.

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*Some of our partners prefer to be anonymous, particularly when they are in the early stages of working with a new tribe.

†Yagwe – Dem word for Yahweh

 

This story appeared in the Vol. 1 2022 edition of FlightWatch. Read the full issue here:

 

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