Friday, August 1, 2014


Looking down the Omban airstrip
on a fair weather day.
photo Tim Harold
The last item on the pre-takeoff checklist was complete.  I peered over the long snout of the Pilatus Porter only to see that the restless clouds had again closed off the narrow exit to the Omban valley.  The trouble with Omban is that the steeply down-sloping airstrip points directly at a mountain wall.  The valley takes a hard right turn at the end of the strip but, from the takeoff position at the top of the airstrip, all you see is the wall.  Shutting down, I decided to walk to the bottom of the airstrip and take a peek around the corner into the exit valley.

Standing at the edge of the cliff at the end of the runway, I could see around the corner—the valley was actually open quite nicely.  I picked out a landmark on a ridge that I knew I’d be able to see from the top of the airstrip, turned around and hiked back up to the airplane.

Arriving back at the top, I turned around, and to my chagrin, my go/no-go landmark was now enveloped in clouds.  Ah well, when these mountains call for patience, patience is what you give them.  My passengers were being extremely patient as well, agreeing to stay belted in their seats in anticipation of a brief window of open skies.

Forgive me…I should have introduced you to my passengers earlier.  Andrew and Anne Sims have been working on translation in Papua’s Star Mountains for more than 25 years.  This particular week we were trying to pull off something that we’d never done before: Scripture Dedications in three separate mountain locations—two different language groups—in a single week.  Having had the first dedication in Omban two days prior, a huge gathering was waiting in nearby Okbap (along with two plane-loads of guests) for Andrew and Anne to arrive so that the celebration could begin.  Only thing was, we were trapped in Omban.

At the side of Omban’s airstrip, a group of Ketengban were sitting, watching and waiting with us.  Softly, one of the men in the group called over to me, “Hey, we’re gonna pray if that’s OK.”

I’m sure they’d been waiting patiently for one of us professional Christians to think of it.  Eventually their patience ran dry.  Somebody’s got to do this.

For several minutes this simple tribal man spoke fervently to the God he believed could understand his Ketengban sentences.  The only words I understood were my name (probably in the context of, “Lord, forgive the idiot pilot who forgets to pray”) and the Indonesian words for airplane and weather.  And of course the word Amen, which, when uttered, was the signal for them all to open their eyes and look down the, mountain slope to the valley’s clogged mouth…only, it wasn't clogged anymore.  There was now a just-wide-enough opening and my all-important landmark was clearly visible.  “See,” he says to me.  Not a lot of emotion—just rock sure faith that the Creator his new Book spoke of listens to His creation.  Pointing, he says, “God opened the weather for you.”

I sputtered a thanks, climbed in, fired up and took off, not sure if this particular answer to prayer came with an expiration time.

The Ketengban pray for the weather to clear.
Recently, a friend asked what the highlight of those three dedications was for me.  To be sure, there are many moments from that week of watching the Ketengban and Lik people celebrate God’s Word in their own language that I will always remember, but the most powerful moment was a quiet one: having men of faith pray for us, and watching God answer that prayer.


A collection of photographs from three days of partying in Papua's Eastern Highlands.

Each village welcomed dedication day with traditional, joyful dancing, everyone in their Sunday best.

Andrew Sims greets an old friend.
The plumes in the headdress seen here and in other photos are the feathers of the reclusive Bird of Paradise.
photo Tim Harold

The Ketengban honor their guests with feathered net bags.
photo Tim Harold

Wall to wall people at the Lik New Testament dedication in Eipomek.

Lik warriors dramatize the warfare that characterized their lives before the Gospel.
This particular war they re-enacted was started over stolen bananas.

One of the immediate impacts of the Gospel among the Lik people was the end of warfare.
Here, the war chief leads his warriors in breaking their arrows.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ in Lik.

Encountering the New Testament in his own
language for the first time.
photo Tim Harold

A Ketengban man opens his long awaited scriptures.  The revised New Testament and the shorter Old Testament.

Sunday, April 27, 2014


Paulus, the first believer among the Ketengban of Pipal, 
receives a box Bibles translated into his language.
April 8, 2014

A few weeks back, I flew in to Pipal with an Indonesian missionary and boxes of the freshly printed Ketengban Scriptures.  The new Scriptures are to be formally dedicated in June and distributed to the Ketengban believers at that time.  In other words, these boxes are a bit like Christmas presents that are supposed to sit under the tree, strictly off limits until Christmas morning.

But, it would seem that Pipal is populated with cheaters.  

I have it on good authority that after the first day of sunup to sundown work constructing a home/ministry building at the top of the airstrip, the people brazenly broke the rules, removed a single Bible from one of the boxes and implored our missionary friend to read from the Psalms and Proverbs.  Exhausted from the hard day's work, he nonetheless complied (making him, at the very least, an accomplice in the cheating).  

The people sat and listened as, for the first time in their valley's history, the ancient Hebrew words of David and Solomon were spoken in Ketengban.  Many times the missionary felt too tired to continue, but the people forced him to keep reading the contraband book late into the night.

The cheaters of Pipal gathered every night after work, hungry to to repeat the wonder of hearing the Word of God in the language that had a clear and unobstructed shot at their hearts.  And every night the cheaters forced our friend the missionary to read deep into the night, far past his endurance.

The aircraft that delivered the Bibles to Pipal just happened to be the plane that we found in Nepal.  From the initial finding of the aircraft to actually having it flying in Papua was long, challenging, expensive process.  Likewise, the process of getting the airstrip at Pipal operational was an enormous undertaking.  The Indonesian missionary of this story has faced immense challenges along the way.  The multiple man-years of blood, sweat and tears poured into the translation project itself represent a stunningly high price to pay to produce a book. As I look at the level of expense in terms of time, energy, and money that it has taken to reach this tiny community in Pipal, I begin to shake my head and smile at the absolutely ridiculous economics of it all.  How much for Psalms and Proverbs in the night?

And then, I am reminded of the immeasurable cost my God expended in searching out and finding me... a dirty rotten cheater like my friends in Pipal.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

So Long, Bob

The mission aviation community in Papua lost one of its best a week ago.  Bob Roberts, a 20 year veteran pilot with Adventist Aviation, was killed in a takeoff accident.

The skies simply won't be the same without Bob's distinctive voice on the radio.  Pilot, mechanic, dentist, extraordinary person who will be greatly missed by all of us.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Finding Onya

I wrote some thoughts about bucket lists a while back.  Andrew, the man who has spent most of his life translating the Bible into the Ketengban language, told me in a recent email, 
Onya is a place I always had on my “bucket list” but could never get there on foot.
Getting the airstrip open at Onya has been on my own list for some time.  Now, with Ketengban Old Testaments piled high in our hangar, a full complement of pilots, and four operational Pilatus Porters, it seemed like the right time to get in there.

So last week, on an early Tuesday morning, my colleague Tim Harold and I flew a full load of Scriptures into Omban, the closest Ketengban airstrip to Onya.  We unloaded the majority of the Bibles in Omban, but left 10 boxes of Old Testaments on the airplane for the people of Onya. 

On the ground in Omban, tying down the Bibles for Onya.
We then took off from Omban and headed northwest, following what the pilots here call The Long Valley.  Looking down at the terrain below I can only imagine how many hours of hiking it would have taken Andrew to check this particular trek off his bucket list.

With the GPS showing us within a half mile of the airstrip, we still couldn't see it.  Having never been there before, I wondered if perhaps we had the wrong coordinates...but I didn't have any reason to believe our data was wrong.  Besides, we'd followed what I remembered of Andrew's instructions to a tee: "From Omban, go out into the Long Valley and hang a left."

Just as my worry motor was firing up, Tim spotted the airstrip through the dissipating morning fog.

When the weather in these mountains calls for patience, patience is what you give it.  With plenty of fuel on board, we circled overhead and got to know this little cul de sac off the Long Valley better.  As we circled, the fog steadily lifted and soon the approach path was clearing nicely.

Perched on a picturesque ridge line, the community at Onya had done an excellent job subduing their mountain into an airstrip.  After a couple of practice approaches, we were soon touching down on the smooth, firm surface.

As soon as the prop stopped moving, the reception committee started a high speed spin-cycle around the aircraft with the now familiar Ketengban whooping overpowering our senses.

Once the mayhem settled down a bit, we had a short time of prayer thanking God that these Scriptures had come to the people of Onya.  After more than fifteen years out here, I'm finally catching on that ceremony is important, so we made one up on the spot.

On a remote ridge line in the Star Mountains of Papua, under the wing of an airplane that God's people gave specifically for this task, pastors and elders from the seven churches in the Onya valley received boxes filled with books that held the very words of their Creator.  

Looking at the crowd pressed in around the airplane, I guessed there were about a hundred Ketengban folk cheering each time a box came out of the airplane.  My spiritual eyes don't work very well yet, otherwise, who knows... I might have been able to count the angels cheering. 

Yusup, a Ketengban Pastor at Onya.

Organizing the impromptu ceremony.

Tim passes a box of Bibles to an elder from one of the churches in the Onya valley.

One last look at beautiful Onya.
Tim Harold took the photos for this post.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Back...I think.

I should probably explain my absence from the blog.

From the beginning I told myself that off the path would be something that I would do in my spare time for as long as it served as an outlet for the things banging around inside my head and heart.  At some point, what little wind I had in those particular sails went away.  At about the same time a stiff breeze picked up for another 'free time' project that would absorb all the spare moments I could give it.  That particular project has slowed some and the wind is filling these sails again...while it lasts, I'll try my hand at scribbling here a little more often.   


Just a quick peek into today's flight:

For the past couple of weeks, our team has had the amazing privilege of flying some 9000 Bibles into the Lik and Ketengban people groups.  I think we're more than half way done.

32,000 pounds of Ketengban Old Testaments
ready to be flown out to the villages.
photo Tim Harold
This morning, Tim and I had over 1200 pounds of the precious cargo in the back when we landed at the Ketengban village of Okbap.