|The river led us up into the Star Mountains|
Bram speaks truth. He's done this particular trek through the jungle countless times. The vast majority of the next five and a half hours of walking were spent with our feet in a pristine jungle river that flows swiftly out of the Star Mountains. We crossed the torrent so many times I lost track. Each time two sure footed Papuans unobtrusively placed themselves on either side of me, waiting for me to fall. I didn't disappoint them. My only source of pride was that, by swiftly sticking my arm straight up in the air, I always managed to keep my camera out of the water.
|This was on the trail...not in the river.|
For the last hour of the hike we split off from the main river, but our soggy feet found no reprieve as we followed a smaller stream through a deep gorge. Finally we left the wet behind and began climbing a steep mountain wall. Emerging at the top of the bluff, we saw what we had come to see: a 1000 foot stretch of ground that immense toil had hacked out of the mountain. The rough shape of an airstrip. As I pulled out my clinometer to measure the slope, Bram crested the cliff and stood beside me.
“Let’s pray, Bram. If the slope here is greater than 15%, this won’t work as an airstrip and the people’s incredible labor will have been for nothing.” We talked to God for a moment. I feared the worst as I sighted the top of the airstrip through the clinometer. I showed the reading to Bram. 14%. He literally jumped up and down, shouting his joy.
|The little airstrip that could.|
To ensure that our feet wouldn't dry out, it began to rain. We trudged up the slope of the airstrip to the shelter of the lone hut where we would spend the night. An old man hobbled down the airstrip towards us. We met halfway and he embraced me, weeping. His name was Paulus. As we stood there in the rain, others surrounded us and they told me his story.
“And now,” he said to me through his tears, “I am old. But before I die I have one last prayer and that is that my home village, the most isolated of this area, would finally have an airstrip.”
I turned to my colleague Tim who was now standing beside us. “Here is a real missionary if there ever was one. Some day we’ll meet him again, and I think he’ll be standing in a place of honor, next to the other Apostle named Paul.”
Choosing one’s heroes is dicey, but I don’t hesitate to call a guy a hero who has served God in complete anonymity in one of the harshest, most remote environments on the planet, eking out a living from his gardens and trekking weeks to bring peace and freedom to his enemies.
Then there’s Bram. He comes from a Christian family 2000 miles away on the island of Java. He felt God clearly call him to serve as a missionary in Papua. His family wouldn’t hear of it. Even his church told him not to go. So with no backing and $200 in his pocket, he left everything he knew behind for Papua, and hiked into this remote area to love these people and teach them more about the God Paulus had introduced them to.
“Mathew 6:33 is true, Nate. Four years later I still have that $200 in my pocket. God has provided for all my needs as I’ve served him out here.”
|Bram and Paulus.|
When I left my home country, my family, my church and a host of friends were solidly behind me. Bram left with his church telling him he was doing the wrong thing, with his family hoping he’d soon run out of money and be forced to return home. Comparing ourselves to others is a generally unhealthy sport, but I can’t help but be humbled by the contact I have with missionaries like Bram and Paulus.
That night I didn’t sleep a wink, and it wasn’t due to the cockroaches crawling all over me (“Don’t worry,” says Bram, “if they crawl in your ears, I’ve figured out how to get them out. I shine a flashlight in there and they crawl out towards the light.”) The cockroaches, while unnerving, are a quiet lot. The people of this mountain are quite another matter. They are so excited by the news that the airstrip site will work that they dance all night.
Right outside the hut.