MAF flights bring trainers to remote villages to teach culturally relevant Bible story-telling methods
“It doesn’t get much better than this.”
Brad Hopkins, our MAF pilot—and my husband—pointed at the clear blue sky out of the floatplane window. I glanced at my notes: Kuala Kurun—that’s the name of the jungle town to which we were headed.
“Just a 40-minute flight,” he continued. “It saves these women hours on a jungle road.”
I glanced back at the two women sitting behind us.
Nope, it doesn’t get much better than this—for a different reason than gorgeous weather. We were carrying story-tellers.
While Brad’s office view is often the jungle and blue skies, mine is usually words, ideas, and stories. I love stories because they remind me that the difficulties of today can grow into the legends of tomorrow.
Brad landed the airplane on the river, docking next to village boats. The women climbed out and had to be on their way to administer a story-telling training seminar. We needed to return to our home in Palangkaraya, but I asked Ibu Ronna Karasih (ibu is the Indonesian equivalent of Mrs.) if I could interview her later, when she returned home to Palangkaraya.
Ibu Ronna is the director for Kaleb Yoshua, a local Indonesian organization that’s currently working on four language projects. In a nutshell, Indonesian Dayak translators translate the Bible into local languages, compile stories from the Bible that many local churches use to teach children and adults, and train villagers in how to connect the stories with common Dayak methods. Some of the stories are written in Sunday school books and the already completed books of the Bible. But often times, Ibu Ronna and others train villagers in using traditional wayang puppet dolls, performing play-versions and singing the tales—all long-held Indonesian story-telling traditions. Not everyone can read, but Bible stories—and the hope that these particular stories will foster—are essential to remote jungle communities throughout Central Kalimantan.
“My friends all said this would be impossible,” Ibu Ronna said.
She was telling me the story of how Kaleb Yoshua was formed while we sat in the recently built wooden office—on stilts—in Palangkaraya. When Ibu Ronna isn’t flying with MAF into villages in her story-training role, she’s overseeing a staff of twelve.
Ibu Ronna started as a secretary for a handful of Americans and Europeans in 2000. Back then—at the beginning of the story—she didn’t even really understand that her employers were Bible translators. Somehow, no one explained that part when they hired her. Nine years later, all these Westerners lost their Indonesian visas that gave them permission to work there. They had to leave the country, and the future of Bible translation in that area was uncertain.
But by then, Ibu Ronna not only understood what they were trying to do, she was so passionate about continuing the work that she accepted the role of manager. And then she spent the next five years in what felt like constant failure. Almost everyone around her told her it would be too difficult to do it the right way.
“I didn’t keep going with it just to have a salary so we could eat,” she said. “I believed it was an important work that must continue. And we—the local people—are the people who have the language, know the culture, and are from this place. ”
Finally, she formed an official, locally-run organization with a reputation for financial health, honest interaction with the government and impact in the community. Her staff and translators are mostly Indonesians, with two American consultants who recently got visas.
“These stories touched me,” said an Indonesian woman who attended one of the story-telling training sessions, after hearing the Bible stories in her own language. “I want to do what God wants.”
MAF has also gotten to be part of this story for more than a dozen years. Not only have our pilots flown translators into and out of remote Borneo villages, but one American MAF woman helped make a connection with a donor to build their office so they wouldn’t have to keep suddenly moving when the landlords kept kicking them out of their rented spots. Another Canadian MAF woman—an artist—illustrates the Sunday school materials.
I get the best part—watching some of these stories unfold from the seat of a red and white floatplane.
Note: This was one of Charlie Brown’s last flights before he retired earlier this year. Watch for more stories about this beloved airplane published in FlightWatch and arriving in your mailbox, or online, soon!