Wamena: Aviation Town


A white and blue 737 screams onto the runway. After it has passed, a dark-skinned Papuan woman scurries across the asphalt, her colorful net bag swaying behind her. Probably not a scene you would see in America, right? Welcome to Wamena! A remote aviation town situated in a breathtaking valley at 5150 feet above sea level. Surrounded by sheer, rugged mountains, Wamena’s terrain is impassible. No roads go through to the coast. Everything has to be flown in by aircraft.

A jet unloading its cargo at the Wamena Airport.

A jet unloading its cargo at the Wamena Airport.

Because of this fact, the stock of goods in town ebbs and flows. The other day I was searching for matches. The first store I asked said, “Lagi kosong” (la-gee  koh-soe-ng), which means “we are all out!”  I received the same answer at the next store and the next. Finally it dawned on me that the shipment of matches must not be in yet! And, because of the cost of shipping goods via aircraft, the price of food and merchandise is on average two to three times higher here than in the coastal towns.

One of the joys of being based out of Wamena is serving interior missionaries with the airplane. Like us, most everything they receive has to be flown in by airplane. MAF delivers their mail, packages from the post office, food, and supplies. We can do medical evacuations if there is an emergency.

C.J. and Ryan, watching a jet land at the Wamena airport.

C.J. and Ryan, watching a jet land.

Our two boys enjoy watching all of the airplane activity that glides in and out of Wamena. They see passenger and cargo jets, Twin Otters, Porters, MAF Caravans and Kodiaks, and our youngest son Ryan’s personal favorite: the MAF Amphibious Caravan.

Downtown Wamena.

Downtown Wamena.

One of the tough things about living in an aviation community like Wamena is the probability of aircraft accidents. In Papua the weather is unpredictable and the terrain is unforgiving. This province of Indonesia averages more than one accident a year. That’s something you have to face as a reality; something the whole community has to work through.

Wamena MAF team.

Wamena MAF team.

Our MAF base here is made up of nine families, and a national staff of 27 local workers. Other missions also work in Wamena. Some are aviation related and others are more involved with community development. In addition to Americans, the larger Wamena ex-pat mission community includes Dutch, Swiss and German missionaries as well.

As I sit on my porch writing this post, several aircraft have landed. I wonder what supplies they will bring, how many new people will arrive, and what impact the Gospel will continue to have. I breathe a prayer for all of the pilots who fly here, and I thank God that He has called us to serve in this unique place called Wamena.

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