The Light Begins to Break Through

The birth of the church in Dem Land


By Natalie Holsten

In the early months of this year, while the world was consumed with the chaos of global events, something amazing was happening in Bina, a small hamlet in the mountains of Papua, Indonesia.

A church was born.

A Dem woman with her children. Photo by Angie Hamstra.

The Dem people, one of many isolated tribes in the range of mountains that traverses the island of New Guinea, were living in spiritual darkness. They did not have the Bible in their own language. They lived in bondage to beliefs about spirits, fearing them and attempting to appease them.

“We have seen the Holy Spirit change the entire demeanor of some of our friends who have lived in fear their whole lives and now have put their faith in Christ and have hope,” shared Jeremiah, one of the expatriate Christian workers serving in Bina.

He, along with his family and three other families, moved as a team into Bina in 2013 to reach the people with the good news of Jesus Christ. Because of the ruggedness of the terrain, the only way in or out of the area is by foot or airplane.

MAF has assisted these families and the Dem people from the beginning of their ministry there, bringing in building supplies, food, and the families themselves.

“It’s been a privilege to be working alongside of the team there in Bina,” MAF Papua program director Mike Brown said. “It has been over eight years getting to this point, and MAF has been part of supporting them all along.”

Two MAF families flew in to assist the team in Dem with the construction of the teaching building. Photo by Angie Hamstra.

My husband David made dozens of flights into Bina, and I was always anxious to hear how the families, who had become our friends, were doing as they progressed in learning the language and culture of the Dem.

“I would often fly into Bina following a flight into another village where there was already a gospel understanding. And the contrast was stark,” David said. “There was this pervasive sense of brokenness that was palatable. All of us were united by a sense of faith that in the future God, in his timing, would bring light to that area.”

Our family visited Bina several years ago, after diverting there when our original destination was covered by clouds. I was glad for the chance to visit and see the place I had heard so much about. As I stood with my friends on the grass airstrip, we looked across the valley to where a completely different people group lived. My friend explained how even though geographically it’s not that far, the languages are vastly different.

For the families who moved in to work with the Dem, the process of church planting is a long haul, a “marathon, not a sprint,” one of them related. Step one was to master the language, while also absorbing the culture. As the team learned enough language, they translated portions of scripture, checking them with Dem language helpers for clarity and accuracy. They also held literacy classes to teach the Dem to read and write in their heart language.

Literacy is a crucial aspect of the ministry. Here, Dem women are learning to write. Photo by Jared C.

This whole process took eight years, until the day arrived when they could begin a chronological teaching of 70 lessons that cover “creation to Christ.” The teaching would take three and a half months, starting in Genesis and concluding with the ascension of Christ and the early church.

In anticipation of the teaching, last December two MAF families, the Hamstras and the Browns, flew to Bina to assist in building a “meeting place” or teaching facility that would become the hub of activity for the team as they shared the story of God’s love and plan for this fallen world.

MAF staff work with the Dem team to construct a shelter to be used for teaching the Dem people. Photo by Angie Hamstra.

“It was amazing to see the Dem people so curious about what was going on,” shared Angie Hamstra. “The families had been telling them that this new gathering place was for them. They would be teaching ‘God’s talk’ and that these words are for everyone. These words are for every person, whether they have more than one wife, those who don’t have ‘church clothes,’ those who smoke, those who are poor and those who are rich. The Dem people have had a skewed vision on Christianity and church in the past, so they are not calling this a church. It is a gathering place. It is free and it will tell them about true freedom in Christ.”

The teaching launched mid-January with an estimated 500 in attendance. Many of the Dem tribe live in outlying villages and hiked miles over muddy mountain trails to hear the teaching. Special MP3 recorders were used to record the teachings and were distributed among the people to enable those who couldn’t attend to hear the lessons, and for others to listen again to “God’s talk” in their huts or as they take a break in their gardens.

Eight years of preparation culminated in the chronological teaching of creation to Christ. Photo by Melanie C.

Several of the lessons brought immediate responses from the Dem, evidence of the light beginning to break through the darkness. The teachings started with the creation of the world, and after the lesson about how God created man and woman, the men responded. The idea of woman being lovingly created by God as a companion for man is totally counter to what Dem culture believes.

The team members report that the men say women are like animals or don’t have brains so it’s ok to beat them if they don’t have food ready for their husbands. “In the past we were lied to,” the Dem men said. But now they were hearing the “true talk.”

Genesis 1:1 in the Dem language. Portions of scripture were distributed before the teaching sessions. Photo by Brianna S.

Jeremiah shared how the Dem think a certain frog is a “spirit” and they fear it and won’t touch it. “After the teaching…one of these frogs jumped out next to me and they started calling it a spirit again until one tribal guy came up and said, ‘No, It’s not a spirit. Remember what we have been learning? All these things were created by the Creator, and when he created them, He did not create them with a soul or spirit. They are just animals. We do not need to be afraid of them.’ Of course, I was thrilled to hear this, and the man was still afraid to touch it, but baby steps here are very encouraging. Little nuggets of truth planted in their minds, causing them to question what they’ve believed their whole lives is all we are doing, and letting the Holy Spirit do what He does.”

After the lesson on John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus, a Dem man came up and said to team member Dylan, “I don’t speak for the other people here, but I am a bad person. I just do bad things all the time.” He started to cry and then said, “I want Jesus’ blood to wash away my sins!” Dylan was in tears as he put his arm around him and told him to just wait and he’ll see what happened.

Hundreds of Dem have showed up for the teachings. Photo by Kendra T.

Dylan’s wife Angie shared about another Dem, an elderly man named Kayus who has been a ‘pastor’ in the Dem region for decades. “He had attended a school in a different tribe as a young man and learned some things about the Bible, but it was all in a completely different language than his and he has some very skewed ideas about the Bible now,” she said. “We were really praying that he would respond well to the teaching and not be offended by the things he was hearing as they were quite opposite to what he’s been teaching for years. This week he said, ‘A long time ago I went to school and I heard, but I didn’t really understand. Now I am hearing, and I understand!’”

Recorders are distributed with the day’s teachings. Photo by Brianna S.

One Dem man, Mese, testified to how the teaching was affecting his everyday life. He told Dylan, “I remember you told us to talk about God wherever we are, not just in the teaching time. The other day I was fixing my fence and it stopped raining and I saw a rainbow and I remembered God’s promise to Noah. And last week I was walking to Sinak with my friends and for the first hour we just talked about random things, but then I said, ‘Let’s talk about God.’ So we spoke about God’s talk for the next four hours.”

Then Mese said, “We Dem people are like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, but God sent you four (families) to us to tell us about Him so we can be saved. You told us that God told you to come to Papua and then you said, ‘Where should we go?’ and God showed you the Dem people so that you could tell us about Him. If you hadn’t told us, we would die like the people back then, but if we believe God’s talk, He saves us.”

After the teaching on Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, Angie said her friend Joragal left after the lesson but showed up at their house several hours later, “just beaming and telling us how she believed Jesus suffered and died for her to save her. She would go from tears over remembering what Jesus suffered to big smiles saying, ‘He led me here to hear this talk and He saved me! I’m just so happy!’”

It’s the prayer of many that the Dem church will continue to grow, and believers will be added and discipled into maturity. MAF will continue to be there for them, providing the necessary flights to continue the work.

“MAF has been an incredible blessing to us families living interior,” Dem team member Melanie said. “From regular flights of supplies, flights in and out of the tribe, to medevacs. We are so very thankful to have a mission organization that backs us up and that we trust for safety for our families’ and tribal friends’ flights.”




  • Thank you for this wonderful message

    • Natalie Holsten says:

      Paul! Do you remember seeing us off at the airport a million years ago? It’s so good to see you commenting here. It is a wonderful message! God is at work.

    • Mary Reyes says:

      This is amazing . Thanking God for all your sacrifice for the gospel and not only in words . I’m grateful! May many come to Christ and may God supply all their needs and more. Keep you all in good health and extra measures of strength . Blessings 🌎🙏🏻💞

  • Nancy Horn says:

    What a great mission story bringing delight along with the angels. May God continue to bless these patient missionaries and the Dem people!

  • Diana L Ackley says:

    Listening to God’s voice and His will for their lives and having the courage to FOLLOW is such a blessing. May God’s blessing continue to be with you and the DEM peoples ad the Holy Spirit grows in them.

  • Ray Roy says:

    Thank you for that wonderful report. What a great blessing!!

  • Ruth and Joe Baxter says:

    Our hearts were greatly moved to hear how the four MAF missionary families served so faithfully for the past eight years, giving the message to the tribe of DEM. We promise to keep the ministry in our daily prayers. We served in Quito, Ecuador. S.A. for 39 years and saw God do miracles daily in the lives of the Ecuadoreans-It was through the death of the 5 missionaries on the beach of the Auca’s that touched our hearts for ministry in Ecuador. MAF is in our prayers for the great ministry of saving lives. They serve Faithfully in Shell and bring patients from the jungle to our mission hospital in Shell-many lives have been saved physically & spiritually. We have dear friends, Dave and Carol Osterhus that took Nate Saint’s place at the hanger in Shell and flew MAF into the jungle. We had the privilege of flying with Dave to be able to see the beach where the men gave their lives to reach the Auca’s. Their mission is being fulfilled today and will continue. Ruth served in our Hospital Vozandes Quito in surgery and had the privilege of working with Marge Saint who served in our Out Patient Department there. We were interviewed with Marge Saint, who was on furlough for missionary service for HCJB in Ecuador.

  • Marion Dexheimer says:

    Loved reading this article. This is the “stuff” which really matters in life. It’s a great blessing to read about the power of the gospel and what is happening as a result of these four families.

  • Debi Eberstein says:

    What a blessing to see the Hamstra’s in these photos that Angie provided as well as to read the wonderful words of all that God has done and is doing -they were called -they answered yes-and now so many more sit to learn about Jesus ❤️

  • Lois Faris says:

    It is truly a blessing to hear how God’s love transcends the language barriers, and to clear up misunderstandings these Dem people have had, by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit!

  • Cecily Turner says:

    God bless you MAF for allowing God to use you to assist and support the missionaries as you together minister the love of God to the Dem people. This matters to God and encourages us to support your work.

  • Mabel Valech says:

    I have been aware of Mission work in New Guinea since the 1950’s and am amazed that there are so many nooks and valleys
    that are still unreached. Stories of hardship and then break-threws and victories as souls surrender to Christ.
    Thank you for this story of having to land in an “unplanned”
    stop and now a church is established, PTL

  • What refreshing, challenging, and inspiring news from the ends of the earth…how God’s Word goes out and will not return empty until it has fulfilled that which He purposed in His sovereign and perfect plans, even when those do involve trials and extreme tests of perseverance. Praise the Lord for faithful servants in MAF as well as many other organizations who are fulfilling the Great Commission by engaging with God and being obedient in these last days, despite all the chaos and things that distract His church from the real mission. Let’s help train and send more laborers out there too!

  • Katye says:

    Such an awesome read!

  • Isto Laitinen says:

    Wonderful to read how God still works today! Thanks be to Him and those faithful servants on the field, and MAF.

  • Great article Natalie! It has been amazing to watch and pray for the teaching process. I finally got to go to Bina in the spring and it was so encouraging to listen to them all share about the teaching.

  • Phyllis Beiter says:

    Mike and Christy Brown: Your recent prayer letter is very thrilling, and adding this about the Dems to it is even more thrilling! To hear how the people are responding to the teaching beginning at Genesis, and your long time involved with the Dem, is such a beautiful picture of God’s love and care for all people, because He created us!
    Don and I spent the 1960s flying with MAF in Papua, and all our lives we have praised the Lord for leading us to places where He, the Lord, was doing so much marvelous work among many peoples.
    I will add the Dem to my prayers. {Don is now in Heaven, since his 90th birthday, having responded to God’s story early on!)

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