Saturday, April 25, 2015

Of Wind and Waiting

A thousand feet above the ground the wind skittered across the tops of the hills, giving us a mildly turbulent ride.  The electronics in the instrument panel told me it was blowing at almost 20 knots.  No go.

Our ministry is all about saying yes.  Yes to transporting God’s servants who have followed the call to serve in isolation and obscurity in Papua’s jungles.  Yes to the calls for medevacs.  Yes to flying foul-smelling, ill-tempered pigs for a celebration of a new church.  Yes to taking the time to help a village fix their broken radio.

But I often find that our no’s are easily as significant as our yes’s.  When God’s created order serves up unflyable weather or wind, the response of ‘no, not today’ is simple common sense.  But on another level I think the decision to say ‘no, I can’t’ is quite something else: by it, we acknowledge our finiteness.  Having weather change my plans demonstrates the limits of my vision.  My Plan A for the day, as well-motivated as it may be, can differ radically from God’s Plan A.  I can attempt to force through my Plan A or I can acknowledge my littleness, scrap Plan A and scurry for safe harbor.  Plane and pilot are preserved to serve another day.

During our windy season, there is often a period of calm for an hour or two just after sunrise.  On this particular day, even though we left Sentani as early as possible, the winds still beat us out of bed.  Attempting to land on Tumdungbon’s short, slippery, one-way airstrip with upwards of 15 knots of wind hustling us along from behind would have been beyond foolish.  We made the easy decision and diverted to a nearby airstrip with a runway that allowed us to land into the wind.  A Helivida helicopter was going to be in the area that day, and the night before I had arranged with the pilot to be available to shuttle our passengers and cargo over to Tumdungbon if we were unable to get in ourselves.

Our passengers, two missionaries and a Nagi tribal woman whom they had been helping get medical treatment for TB, settled in for the wait.  My colleague and I would wait until the helicopter was enroute before leaving the missionaries and heading for home.

And now, God’s Plan A for the day began to unfold.

First, a group of unhappy young men came purposefully striding up the airstrip to the airplane.  The grudge they carried up the runway was soon set aside as a simple misunderstanding was rectified.

Baby Job
Next, Jerry emerged from the village, his face split with the ear-to-ear grin that makes him such an engaging person.  Jerry has been suffering with some kind of significant intestinal problem for a number of years and the last time I had seen him I was flying his emaciated self out to town for medical treatment.  He looked much better now, healed, happy and with some much-needed meat on his bones.  His eyes also glittered with the news that he was now married and had a healthy baby boy.  He told me the story of how difficult the labor had been (the baby had been breach) and how God answered his fervent prayers for the safe arrival of his son.  Before the child was born, Jerry had already chosen a name, but soon after the birth he had a dream in which he was reminded of the Lord’s faithfulness during his extended time of suffering.  Jerry scrapped his Plan A and followed the instruction he received in his dream, naming the boy Ayub (Job), as a testament to God’s goodness in our times of suffering.
Jerry went and got his wife and came back to the airplane with their precious, living reminder of God’s faithfulness.  We talked for a while about how amazing Job (the ancient one, not the dangerously diaperless one on my arm) was: neither green-pasture prosperity nor valley-of-death suffering were able to dislodge God from the center of his life.  Encounters like this with genuine followers of Jesus in these remote areas are some of the most precious of God’s gifts in this ministry.

After a while Jerry excused himself to go back to teaching the village children.  As he left, a family crossed the airstrip and headed off through the jungle in the direction of the river.  The father carried his bow and arrows for hunting and his ax for woodcutting.  The mom had her net bag hung over her back with the day’s food, and in her hand was a home-made spear gun that would hopefully result in some fish or freshwater shrimp on the fire that evening.  Their little girl came last carrying a rattan fish trap.  With not much else to do I decided to tag along.

A short walk through the forest brought us to the confluence of a fair sized stream with the main river.  The family got into their canoe and took their leave downriver.  Alone with my feet in the cool, crystal clear water I marveled at how God’s Plan A for the day included the gifts of the conversation with Jerry and these unexpected moments of pure tranquility in a postcard-perfect setting.

Though my experience of the truths of Matthew 6:33 has been severely limited by my own stubborn disobedience, I continue to find Jesus to be good to His word: when we seek Him instead of other good things, the other good things come… and to me they seem to come at a time and in a manner that is much more satisfying than when I seek them directly.

The real problem with the world is not the bad things, 
but the good things that have become the best thing.

--Tim Keller


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