MAF helps bring discipleship ministry to remote community
By Natalie Holsten
As the tropical sun beat down on the village of Long Pujungan, young children filed into the church building by ones and twos, freshly bathed and ready to learn.
They gathered at the front of the church, sitting on the floor in a semicircle, little folding desks before them. Their eyes were fixed on Refi, a young man tasked with teaching them the basics of reading and writing.
Refi is one of several young people helping with Hati MAF, or the Heart of MAF ministry, a discipleship initiative started several years ago by MAF and local church leaders in North Kalimantan, Indonesia, to reach remote communities.
Since the early 1970s, MAF has operated in Kalimantan, flying in places that previously took days or weeks to reach by river or overland routes through the mountain rainforest. Through the years, MAF has provided air support for the national church, as well as helping with medevac flights and community development.
Though much has changed in the decades since MAF first began flight service here, one thing remains the same: isolated communities need Jesus.
The need for discipleship
Starting in 2019, several MAF staff began discussing how they could be more strategic in helping the churches interior to be more effective in discipleship.
“The pastors in many of these communities were a bit overwhelmed, not even knowing where to start because of the issues their communities are facing,” said MAF pilot Jeremy Toews. “They specifically requested help from MAF to help bring in teachers, people who can bring in godly Christian teaching and disciple the people.”
Jeremy didn’t know exactly who their partners in a discipleship ministry might be, but as they were praying and discussing how MAF could be involved, one name in particular came up: Esther Adam.
Esther is a longtime friend of MAF, a “frequent flier” who often travels interior in her dual roles as an instructor at a Bible school, and as the head of children and youth for the Indonesian branch of the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) in North Kalimantan.
When MAF staff met with Esther about how MAF might be able to better assist the church’s efforts, she had recently returned from a trip to Long Pujungan, where she met with Pastor Musa, head pastor for the CMA churches in that area.
She knew exactly where MAF could help.
A pastor’s plea
Pastor Musa shared with Esther how burdened he was for his people. Families were hurting, marriages were suffering, children were growing up in church but without discipleship in the home. The family problems he saw were compounded by the presence of drugs in the area, as well as the influence of the internet via smart phones.
In tears, he pleaded with Esther—was there anything she could do to help the people in Pujungan?
Esther was able to bring Pastor Musa’s request to the meeting with MAF, which also included Bob Lopulalang and his wife, Sery, a couple active in children and youth ministry. Bob had recently been part of a team that developed a curriculum specifically for the discipleship of children.
“We decided to focus on three areas: Bob focuses on Sunday school kids and the training for Sunday school teachers, I do the class for parents, and Sery does the class for teens,” Esther said.
With their ministry plan formed, it was decided that the first location would be Long Pujungan, an hour’s flight from the MAF base of Tarakan. MAF’s ability to provide safe and efficient transportation was a key component of the ministry, said Esther, who had experienced the harrowing, days-long river route from Long Pujungan to Tarakan in a long boat. “Without MAF, we for sure couldn’t be here.”
Caring for kids
In the fall of 2019, the new discipleship effort began, with MAF providing flights for six weekend trips into Long Pujungan.
“We asked that Pastor Musa, and the head pastor of the church, and the important people of the village attend the first parenting class we did,” Bob said of the ministry’s early days. “We knew that would have an impact on the others, to have the leaders attend. And they did, they came.”
Bob’s curriculum included not just how to teach children but also focused on how the Bible shows we are to value, nurture, and teach children about Jesus. “We found the parents needed discipleship and encouragement to help their children,” Bob said.
After the first few classes, Bob began to hear stories about how families were impacted, including one family known to be abusive that became more loving to their kids.
“We have heard testimonies from a few families that they shared with others in the village, saying this program really pushed them to care for their kids,” said Bob. “That really encouraged us, we saw the fruit, we saw this program is being used by the Lord.”
Esther was also hearing testimonies from families who were becoming more loving to their kids and less harsh. “Their difficult homes had transformed,” she said. “It’s amazing!”
Unexpected interruptions, new opportunities
The ministry was moving along, until a government runway renovation project shut down the Long Pujungan airstrip for months. Then COVID-19 pandemic restrictions severely limited where MAF could fly.
When restrictions finally lifted and the Long Pujungan airstrip reopened earlier this year, MAF began flying in the ministry teams again.
As the ministry resumed, it expanded to include early childhood literacy. This was a need the leaders identified early on as they saw that children weren’t reading well, which provided a challenge to Sunday school teachers.
Rindu Siahaan, the office manager for MAF Tarakan, with a background in early childhood literacy, stepped forward and offered his services. He met with leaders in Long Pujungan to make sure they agreed with this new facet of the ministry focused on the children of the village.
“I thought if they don’t have a culture of reading and they don’t know how to read, then how will they know how to read their Bibles well?” Rindu said. “That’s what motivated me to pursue this.”
Rindu provides training to young adults, fresh out of college, like Refi, who volunteer for the program. They are usually sent in pairs for two weeks of intensive teaching with a group of four- to six-year-olds, with the goal of preparing the children for entering elementary school. And they’re seeing results, not just in literacy, but also in the students’ interest in school.
“The second time we met, I asked the teacher, are you seeing a difference in your students? And she said, ‘yes, they have more enthusiasm for learning,’” Rindu shared.
The literacy program has provided a way for other church denominations to be involved in Hati MAF, which has been a desire of the Hati MAF team.
“Rindu’s been very actively recruiting young people from a variety of churches here in Tarakan…that are also very missions-minded,” Jeremy said.
According to Jeremy, having people from different church backgrounds come together united under the banner of discipleship broadens the potential and reach of the ministry. And MAF, with its long history in Kalimantan, is well known and respected in interior communities. Using “MAF” in the Hati MAF name provides a neutral umbrella so that communities know the ministry is something MAF supports and can be trusted.
The word spreads
Word about Hati MAF’s work interior has spread to other villages, and people are asking for the team to bring the ministry to their communities. One such place is Long Belaka, a village two hours upriver from Long Pujungan.
One of the local church leaders, Pastor Sadung, is burdened for the villagers there, and invited members of the Hati MAF team to visit and assess the needs.
“The people there are still tied to their old beliefs,” Pastor Sadung shared. “On one side, they go to church services, on another side, if they have somebody who’s sick, or a child is born, they revert to their ancestral ways to protect themselves from evil spirits.”
On a recent visit to Long Belaka, members of the Hati MAF team saw a deep need for the gospel to impact the village, along with educational and other needs, and will prayerfully consider next steps.
“We have to pray and ask the Lord to lead us in what He wants us to do for this village,” said Esther. “We will wait for what He asks us to do, after that we will move according to what the Lord wants.”
A partnership with donors
Hati MAF is funded through the National Church Subsidy, a funding initiative donors give to that also covers the cost of flights for Bible schools, translation projects, and church conferences.
“For all the people that donate, that support us in prayer as well as financial means, thank you,” said Kalimantan Program Director Tyler Schmidt. “We can’t do this alone. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.”
Watch the video of the MAF Hati team’s visit to Long Balaka:
Story ran in the Vol. 3 2022 edition of FlightWatch. Read the entire issue here: