Look up and you’ll see them, perched five to twenty-five meters above the jungle floor: the homes of the Korowai people of eastern Papua, Indonesia. Around 4,000 Korowai live in the trees, descending to gather food and hunt, but spending much of their lives above the jungle floor. They’ve built their homes up high out of fear––fear of their enemies, evil spirits, and sickness.
The Korowai have a strong distrust of outsiders because of a deeply-held cultural myth: intrusion by non-Korowai into their clan areas will signal the destruction of the world. Since the late ‘70s, missionaries have tried to reach the Korowai, but progress has been difficult. In the last decade, however, things have begun to change. Missionary couples are providing medical care as they work on translating the Bible, and trust is being established as the Korowai seek help. This is opening the door for opportunities to share the Gospel.
One such missionary couple is Trevor and Teresa Johnson, trained nurses serving with World Team in the remote village of Danowage. Because they offer the only medical help in the area, they constantly have a line of sick and hurting people at their door.
Recently, MAF pilot John Dalton made a delivery to the Johnsons: 1,000 pounds of satellite equipment for a V-SAT internet system, which will allow them access to the world outside of Danowage. MAF also flies in solar panels and batteries––since there is no electricity––along with food and other supplies.
“I can’t even begin to express to you just how remote this village is,” said John. There’s no town, no roads, nothing but walking paths and huts.”
And the only landing strip is on the water. The floatplane is the one MAF aircraft that can access Danowage, though villagers are currently working on clearing some land near the village. The need for a new strip was keenly felt during a medical emergency this past summer when one of the village women, Ledipena, began having seizures and labored breathing. The Johnsons brought her into their home to treat her and discovered that she was suffering from cerebral malaria. Her health was declining rapidly and she needed a medevac flight, but the MAF floatplane was being inspected and unavailable.
Working with limited supplies, the Johnsons soon exhausted all of their IV quinine and fluids. They made another emergency call to MAF, and within a few hours an MAF plane flew in low over the village, dropping a box of the necessary medical supplies.
“It was MAF’s med drop, I believe, that helped her make it through,” said Trevor. “They were right on target.”
MAF also supports the work of Wycliffe missionaries Peter Jan and Maaike de Vries, who have been working with the Korowai people since 2002. Early on, Maaike’s time was spent setting up a very practical medical system, while her husband focused on learning the language and the culture. In May of 2005, he was able to introduce the Gospel to a few families with the help of an interpreter named Fina. After seven days of interpreting, Fina’s heart was changed forever, and he gave his life to Christ. His brother, Detena, followed shortly after.
Every time we are in the village and we hear the sound of a small airplane, even if it is not coming for us, our hearts beat lighter and our spirits lift, because we are reminded that we are not alone in our mission to reach the unreached.” –Peter Jan de Vries
Today there is a small but enthusiastic group of believers among the Korowai. “They lead the Sunday service, tell Bible stories, and sing songs they have composed in their own language,” explained Peter Jan.
With the help of MAF, faithful servants like these are providing healthcare and sharing the love of Jesus in this rugged, isolated area. With each medical flight, each delivery of medicine or supplies, the Gospel is taking root among the Korowai ––from tree to tree and family to family . . . growing God’s kingdom in the jungles of Papua.