Ending the cycle of fear and violence in Indonesia
It was 1978 when a handful of pastors in the village of Kiwi in Papua, Indonesia, decided something needed to be done. The Gospel message had come to the Ngalum people more than 15 years earlier, yet the Ngalum still lived in fear. They clung to the old ways: initiation rites, fetishes, and secret words to engage the spirit world—words that could not be shared between clans, or among women or children. These words held them captive and prevented them from embracing the Gospel.
A few years earlier, Jack and Corky Hook with Unevangelized Fields Mission (UFM, now Crossworld) had arrived to carry on the work begun by earlier western missionaries. They soon found themselves to be the sole “parents” left to nurture the young Ngalum church—a church that had reached an impasse. Jack was teaching in the local Bible school when the Ngalum pastors decided to do something drastic. In the middle of a church service, with hundreds of women and children and dozens of clans present, they revealed all of the secret initiation words. The tribe lived in fear for about a month, believing their gardens would fail or an epidemic would kill them. They thought the spirits would retaliate.
“But when nothing happened,” said Jack, “transformation swept through the whole tribe. The fear they lived under was lifted.”
Today, some 16,000 of the 25,000 Naglum people are believers. There are 36 churches, a self-supporting Bible institute, and the Ngalum are finishing a translation of the Old Testament into their native language. They are also reaching out to six other tribes and sharing the Gospel with them.
Like faithful parents, Jack and Corky remained in Kiwi to disciple and support the growth that was occurring.
“For the first 25 years of our ministry, we wouldn’t have survived without MAF,” said Jack. “There were no roads or anything. We were totally cut off. Everything … all of our building supplies, medical supplies, food, outreach ministries … was probably 95 percent dependent upon MAF.”
Jack has fond memories of MAF pilots and memorable flights through the years. One in particular stands out to him. A young man he worked with was mistaken for a rebel and shot in the upper arm. Scared and in shock, he ran off into the mountains. Medical workers tracked his trail of blood and found him the next day. He had lost a great deal of blood, and his arm was barely attached. MAF was called in to evacuate him.
“Today, his arm is very weak, but he still has the use of it,” said Jack. “So that was a dramatic rescue by MAF that saved this fellow’s life. He’s alive today and has a beautiful family.”
The Hooks retired in August 2013, satisfied they had accomplished what they had set out to do.
“We felt it was time for the parent birds to get out of the nest and let the little birds fly off on their own,” said Jack.
The church in Kiwi could be described as being in its “golden years” in terms of maturity, yet churches in other Papuan communities are still in the “baby stages,” having only recently received the Gospel. Still others are going through a “midlife crisis” of sorts. The Gospel is having less impact on the second and third generations of Christians. Some churches have lacked strong and consistent leadership through the years; others have lost their way and let worldly habits and old beliefs creep in.
The remote village of Mamit is an example of a “midlife” community. Though the grandparents and parents accepted the Gospel with great joy, many of the next generation have not taken hold of that faith as their own. In fact, as recently as last year there was fighting between tribes, even amongst those who call themselves Christians. Arrows flew again, as the tribes descended into a cycle of revenge killings and hatred.
After a recent landing there, MAF pilot David Holsten visited with longtime missionary Wes Dale of World Team. As they walked the airstrip, they discussed some of the challenges affecting a church multiple generations removed from when the Gospel first came in.
“David, every generation has to be impacted by the Gospel,” Wes said to him.
This is exactly why there is always going to be work for MAF. It is not enough to say a place has been “reached.” MAF needs to be there for the churches, to ensure they are moving forward and growing—helping each new generation have a deep understanding of the Word and a commitment to Christ.
Story originally appeared in FlightWatch, November 2013.