One reason is the incredible variety in the types of missions we fly. This day’s mission? Fly some ministry colleagues from our home base in Sentani up to Nipsan, where at 5,300 feet above sea level they will get a much-needed break in the cool of the mountains—away from the heat of the tropics and demands of ministry.
The weather is perfect, the flight uneventful, the landing doesn’t break anything important, and we’re soon parked at the top of the steep airstrip at Nipsan. The beauty of the valley is breathtaking and I’m reminded why our family has so enjoyed the breaks we’ve taken up here. Vertical limestone massifs tower all around us. Here and there, the sheer cliffs are split as if with an axe, and from these clefts plummet some of my favorite waterfalls in all of Papua. Idyllic hamlets—groups of four or five huts—cling to slopes surrounding the airstrip, smoke from the overnight fires still drifting through their grass roofs.
|One of the many ridge top hamlets surrounding Nipsan|
Nipsan is the central village in the Mek people group. On the way into the valley, we flew by Bari, one of the newer airstrips on the edge of Mek territory. The weather at Bari was of interest to me because for my next leg I was scheduled to fly some Mek evangelists from Nipsan down to Bari. The entire area was blanketed with low clouds.
On the ground in Nipsan, I’m in no hurry to get moving—I want to give the sun another 45 minutes to work on lifting those clouds down at Bari.
My friends will be staying in the home built by the original Dutch missionaries, long since retired, who brought the Gospel into this area. The cabin-like structure sits empty most of the year except for when tired coastal missionaries show up to sit by the fire for a spell. With the airplane unloaded, I wander over to the house to kill some time until the weather in Bari clears. I run into Yeremina, the mission home’s caretaker. Petite in the extreme, Yeremina offsets her tinyness with a huge smile and a mountain of energy. Great to see her again. I step inside the door and notice that just off the front hallway there’s a curious bundle lying on the floor. It’s a gorgeous one month old baby girl in a noken, the traditional net bags that Papuans use to hold all that is precious to them.
“Is she yours, Yeremina?”
She tells me the story. Twins were born, and as is common, the mother planned to “throw away” the second baby. In an act that went radically against her own culture, Yeremina took the baby to raise as her own. Others thought her crazy, and told her so, reminding her that she didn’t have the resources to raise the child on her own.
“I know, but this is what a Christian does.”
This is what a Christian does.
Christian. “Little Christ”—it’s what the term means, I’m told. Four foot tall Yeremina… a little Christ.
“Does the baby have a name?” I ask, scooping up this soft little ball of imago dei.
“Neli.” She paused. “It means unwanted.”
Papua. Every day it seems I encounter another amazing story. I hold Neli close and enjoy her. After a while, someone else wants a turn with her. Their timing is perfect—little Neli has already done her peeing on me—and, alas, I need to get back to my day job and get these evangelists to Bari.
It takes less than ten minutes for the Porter to climb up over the mountain wall and down into the next valley. The tropical sun has done its work, and with a bit of poking around, we find a hole in the clouds big enough to squeeze through, and make it in to Bari. After spending some time with the Mek people in Bari, I’m soon airborne again and pointed towards home. Just one passenger joins me from Bari, so the airplane is light and climbs like a thoroughbred—I’m at altitude in no time. Leveling off, I’m still thinking about this tiny follower of Jesus in the isolated valley of Nipsan. Doing the right thing—just because it’s what little Christ’s do.
I don’t know what plans God has for Neli, but one thing I’m sure of—He’s going to give her a new name.