It’s not often that my day starts in a VIP room and ends in the mud of a mountain airstrip, but hey, this is Papua and you never know what a day will hold.
Our little Pilatus PC-6 stood out like a sore thumb on the tarmac of Sentani’s airport, parked in front of the VIP arrival lounge, dwarfed by the Boeings. Eventually the Vice Governor of Papua and his entourage made their way to our aircraft. Our mission? Deliver them to the celebration of the Kimyal people receiving the Word of God in their own language.
An hour later, with the aircraft safely parked at the top of the Koropun airstrip, the Dedication Ceremony is in full swing. A pastor is speaking to the assembled crowds. I wander about with my camera, watching faces, taking it all in. Under the brilliant blue sky and towering mountain walls that surround us, the Kimyal are resplendent in their best dress. Here’s a guy in his warrior finery standing next to a man in the uniform of a government civil servant. In Papua, the Stone Age and the 21st Century dance together with a tentative step and uncertain rhythm.
Then, through a maze of Bird of Paradise plumes I notice it. A simple, chest-high monument with a tiny brass plaque embedded in it. I quietly maneuver to the point where I can read the engraving.
Philip J. MastersApril 9, 1932Sept 25, 1968"My Faithful Martyr"Rev 2:13
April 9, 1932
Sept 25, 1968
"My Faithful Martyr"
My mind floods with thoughts and images. 1968. He was 36 years old. I was a newborn. These mountains surrounding me were solidly in Satan’s grip. The Kimyal and their Yali neighbors were fierce defenders of the evil one’s domain. Fully aware of the risks, Masters walked in, hoping to pierce the darkness with the light of God’s passionate love for these people. He didn’t walk out. The bows of Yali warriors sent dozens of arrows into his body and his life bled away on a lonely river bed a few valleys west of where I stand.
It was the end of a life full of hopes and dreams. The end of Phil’s time to be a husband to his wife and a father to his children. The premature end of this life was, and is, a tragedy. And yet...
My eyes refocus on this huge gathering of Kimyal beside the Koropun airstrip. I’ve met several who have trekked days through the mountains to get here. They walked through those mountains in peace, in a complete absence of fear that they would be ambushed by their enemies, or worse, overwhelmed by evil spirits.
Today, among the Kimyal, the spirit of happiness, freedom and light is palpable. Phil Masters gave his life for this end. For this day.
I look again, and there’s Phil’s widow, forty-two years after her husband’s death, lifting a ceremonial net bag to reveal a stack of freshly printed books whose pages contain some very good news for the Kimyal.
This moment must be the definition of the word beautiful. All I can think is: “Why is God so incredibly generous to me that I get to stand with unseen angels and witness glimpses of beauty like these?” And then, a prayer. “Lord, may those of us who follow in Phil’s footsteps be found worthy of his example. May we follow you with the same unquestioning devotion.”