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.