Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field " (Matthew 9:37).
During Easter of March 2002 Alice and I accompanied Darrell Van Luchene and his wife Sue on a journey. We visited the interior highlands of Papua, Indonesia (formerly known as Irian Jaya) to survey Christian educational possibilities. It is located on the western half of the world’s second largest island, New Guinea. The island is known for its wild beauty, and some of the most inhospitable terrain on earth. The population of this most eastern province of Indonesia is listed as about two and half million people. It is composed of a mixture of Christianity, Islam, animists, and a small percentage of Buddhists. About 275 languages are spoken on this half of the island.
We travelled by Garuda Airlines to the island and arrived at the airfield in Sintani where the Mission Aviation Fellowship pilots live with their families. We next flew in a two-engine plane to Wamena and met a teacher and a nurse. They flew with us in a one-engine plane to the mountaintop village of Halowan.
We spotted the village from the air. It was tucked away near the top of the mountain at the edge of a cliff, and consisted of several buildings and huts beside a short dirt airstrip. We circled to land. As we came in, we noticed that the airstrip was built on an incline. The short hill helped to stop the plane, and to also provide momentum when taking off again. Shortly after we landed, the pilot turned the plane around and took off again. He left us in this village for the next 24 hours, on our own.
A Christian missionary family had lived there for many years and had translated the Bible into the local language. When their work was done, they moved away from the village about ten years earlier. We stayed in the small guest house, which had been their home.
The villagers were very friendly. Some wore no clothes while others wore tattered second-hand clothes to keep warm. We walked around the village with them and they showed us their small church and their school, which were both in poor repair. They also showed us the inside of their huts, which were charred from their warming fires. They gave us gifts of three live chickens, some eggs and some bananas. A villager who took care of the guesthouse butchered two of the chickens and cooked them in a pressure cooker for supper. We ate the eggs and bananas for breakfast. We gave the villagers a box of food, and gifts of money, and bags of supplies for their church and school.
The following day the plane returned to fly us back to Wamena. Each time we flew, we had to weigh everyone and everything to be sure we were within the weight limits for the plane. We boarded the aircraft and sat in the canvas seats. The pilot started the engine and we took off, gathering speed as the plane rolled down the little hill and out over the cliff! Alice thought: "This is how an eagle must feel when it flies!" We just soared out over the valley and followed the riverbed as it wound through the mountains and back to Wamena. It was a beautiful day and we could see several other little villages on other mountaintops. A few of them also had airstrips; otherwise they were only accessible by footpaths. We arrived safely to Wamena, Sintani, and eventually back to Jakarta. We praised God for good health and safety on our trip.
Have you ever seen or read the book entitled From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya by Ruth A. Tucker? I took it along to read. I had read bits and pieces over the years. It is about missionaries going to the end of the world. Well, I think we have now gone to the end of the world. What a privilege the Lord had given us. Very few people go into the interior of Papua as far we did. I'm having trouble trying to find the right words to express my feelings. What I saw makes me both happy and sad. They do have the Gospel and faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior. Yet their life is so difficult. They were promised by the government to have an education program twenty years ago and it never was provided to any level that would be acceptable in any society today. They live from day to day with little or nothing. My number one memory will be their smiles as I shook their hands and taught them how to whistle with their hands.
The door of opportunity was open. As a result of our trip, we believed the best way to proceed was to help write a curriculum and train teachers. The government of the province was willing to follow our initiatives. A window of opportunity allowed for the educational system to be built on a Christian worldview. The size of this project was huge! It stretched the mind beyond our wildest dreams. Because groups with different worldviews also realize the vulnerability and value of this area, Christians needed to act quickly. This was absolutely the biggest opportunity I had been touched by in my years of serving the Lord.
The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Notice what the real issue is here… He says in verse 37: “Harvest is truly plentiful… But the laborers are few.” In other words, there is much work to be done… But there aren’t enough workers to do it…! I regret I have but one life to give to my Lord. As a result of our recommendations Missionary Dennis Denow moved to Papua. His assignment there was to learn the language and coordinate God’s work in Christian education.
We have found the people of this world are more ready to receive the Good News of hope than Christians are ready to give it. I challenge you in your prayers and actions to consider the uttermost part of the world – Papua (Irian Jaya) and beyond.
Personal Reflection Time
1. Do you include praying for labors in your daily prayer time?
2. Do you think locally, globally, or both during your prayer time?
3. Do you know of any young person who could use your prayers and encouragement to be a cross-cultural missionary?