Saturday, December 8, 2012

Jesus At The Door

We were awoken once again to the bitter reality of this current life's fragility this past Thursday morning. I had my helmet in my hand, ready to walk out to the airplane to fly when we learned that our good friend and colleague Zeth Nabyal had lost his short, terrible battle with tetanus.

Zeth leaves behind his wife Selina and their three beautiful children, Windy, Timothy and Angely. 

Through tears, Selina told Sheri and I that in the early morning, Zeth had sensed it was time and told those with him,

I feel like this is the end. 
Please pray for me. 

One of the men in his hospital room began to pray. After a bit, Zeth interrupted him a bit gruffly and said,

When are you going to get to 'Amen?'
Jesus is at the door, waiting for me. 
I need to go. 

The man abbreviated his prayer.  Zeth breathed his last...and didn't keep his King waiting any longer.

Henry Moore invested many years in mentoring Zeth in the field of avionics (aircraft electronics) and Zeth served on our team in that capacity for more than 15 years.  But Zeth was so much more than a technician in the service of Bible Translation.  A pillar of his church, the chairman of the committee for translating the Old Testament into his native Una language and a respected leader among the Una community, Zeth's presence here on this earth will be dearly, dearly missed by many.

Zeth is in heaven now.  I think he may find it familiar.  I will never forget the day when I sensed heaven come down and envelope Zeth and the other Una with him on a remote Papuan mountainside.

I wrote the following in September 2007:

I’ve known Zeth for a long time.  Ten years in fact.  An easygoing guy, we’ve frequently shared light moments.  Seen a lot of laughter on Zeth’s face.  Never seen him cry.  That changed a few weeks ago.

The day started at 5:30 in the morning as a lot of my flying days do.  The preflight inspection on the Pilatus Porter went fine but we weren’t able to contact our destination on the HF radio for a weather report.  Four of us huddled for prayer in our dusty cargo warehouse.  Zeth, Dick, Paul and myself asked the Lord to give us good weather in Langda.

Without a weather report, we launched in faith for Langda just after 6:00 am.  An hour later, crossing the spine of Papua’s high ranges at 13,000 feet, we held our breath waiting for the valley beyond to come into view.  What a feeling to see the Langda valley open before us without a cloud in sight.  Thank you Lord.

Soon the Porter’s turbine engine was spooling down on Langda’s aircraft-carrier-like runway--at 6,200 feet above sea level, this 450 meter shelf of land juts out from the otherwise near-vertical terrain around it… almost like God put it there thousands of years ago to serve as an airstrip.  I swung out of my seat and dropped to the ground.  Zeth was already out of his seat, untying the cargo net that secured a pile of non-descript boxes in the cabin behind his seat.

Wow, Zeth, wasn’t that incredible how God opened the weather to make it in here today? 

Zeth tried to respond, but the words stuck in his throat.  Hands trembling with the ropes holding the cargo net, Zeth lost the battle to control his emotions and the tears flowed freely down his cheeks.  Working through his tears, Zeth began to unload the Word of God in the Una language…a twenty-year labor of love.  Dick & Margreet Kroneman and a team of committed Una men and women had given their life’s work for this moment.

Born in a simple hut with a grass roof, Zeth joined the first generation of Una to emerge from the Stone Age.  Around the time of his birth, the light of the Gospel had reached into the Langda valley and brought freedom from oppressive spiritual powers that bound the Una people in an endless cycle of killing and witchcraft.  That freedom led to opportunities never before seen for the Una. Given a chance to get an education on the coast, Zeth made the most of his opportunities and pursued an education in electronics. He ended up becoming part of the Yajasi team in our Avionics Department.  From a grass hut to aircraft avionics…an incredible journey.

At the airplane, the people formed a festive procession to the church, the boxes reverently cradled on bow-and-arrow racks.  I noted that Zeth was by no means alone in being unable to keep his joy from overflowing into tears.  Dancing, whooping and rejoicing were followed by a time of quiet reverence as we were led in prayer by the Una Pastor.  I cannot remember when I’ve been so moved.

A few days later I was again landing in Langda.  This time the airplane was full of guests coming to attend the formal celebration and dedication of the Langda New Testament.

The Una people staged an elaborate drama depicting the cycle of violence and fear that once held them firmly in its grip. They celebrated the freedom that the Gospel of Jesus Christ brought them and now the wonder of having His words speak to them from these pages in their own language.  For many of them, it was as if this were far beyond what they could ask or imagine.

The Una dramatized their prior lives of violence.
At one point during the festivities, the organizers had thirty or so key members of the translation team line up on the uneven hillside.  As the clouds swirled around us and light misty droplets fell, each member was given their own copy of the Una New Testament.  When the church leader distributing the Bibles got to Zeth they were both beaming great wide smiles.  Then their eyes met. I saw a deep connection between these two Una men, a profound understanding as to what this book really meant.  The smiles melted away and they locked each other in an embrace and wept with abandon.

I was trying to photograph the moment but it will have to live only in my memory because I had to turn and walk away.

I returned moments later, my composure regained, to see Zeth and the others, clutching these books to their chests as though someone had just given them a gift they hadn’t dared to hope was even possible.

Then, in unison, they raised the Evidence that God speaks and understands Una high in the air.  Zeth’s face said it all: triumph, defiance, relief…YES!

I glimpsed heaven in the Langda valley that day and I will remember those moments for as long as I live.  It is unspeakable privilege to be a part of this.

We have given away nothing and gained everything.

Until we meet again Zeth.  Say hi to Paul for me.