June 7, 2012 will be etched in my memory for a long time. The sound of rain on the roof woke me at 3:15 AM and I couldn't go back to sleep. We would be filling up two vehicles with people and cargo in just a few hours. Our Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF) plane was scheduled to leave at 7 AM from Mount Hagen, about a 30 minute drive away. At 5:30 AM our team was on our way. We stopped at the Nazarene Bible College to pick up a national Community Based Healthcare (CBHC) educator, Joel Funfun and crept along the "Highlands Highway" in pouring rain to get to the airport.
I woke up before sunrise and was pleased to NOT hear rain on the roof and began praying for blue skies. When the sun finally woke up all we could see was fog and clouds. Just as we were contemplating what we could do for breakfast we heard screaming coming from all around the outside of the house followed moments later by the thundering sounds of the NTMA helicopter landing in the dilapidated basketball court just down the hill from the house. We ran down the stairs and out the front door to see our NTMA helicopter pilot Mike and Jonathan Kopf climb out of the helicopter. I don't think I have ever been so happy in my life!
|Hewa boy outside of Jonathan's old house.|
The New Tribes Mission Aviation (NTMA) helicopter that we were supposed to be flying from Fiyawana to Yifififiki (Yifki for short) had been forced to fly to Hagen due to the bad weather. It was at Hagen that we met our pilot, Mike, and NTM photographer David Pierce. It was obvious that our plane would not leave on time, but after a few hours our MAF pilots Mike Davis and Nick Swalm announced that the plane could fly, but that the helicopter would have to wait for better weather. In about an hour we found ourselves landed at the Fiyawana airstrip in the middle of the jungles of the Enga Province. Our MAF pilots informed us that the NTMA helicopter was still unable to leave Hagen, and that we could either take our chances and risk spending the night near the airstrip, or else have the MAF plane return to pick us up and bring us back to Hagen.
I knew from reading the manuscript of missionary Jonathan Kopf that this was not a very safe place. Jonathan and his wife Susan and their two children had evacuated this place years earlier when a man had been murdered at their front door step. Now the airstrip was lined with over a hundred Hewans of all ages, and they were crowding around us. We passed out tootsie roll lollipops and brightly colored knit hats to the children. One of the men who could speak pidgin told us that the trouble makers had recently left and that it was safe. I asked where Jonathan's old house was located and they pointed in one direction and looked very pleased that I knew about Jonathan.
None of us really wanted to go back to Hagen, so I told the MAF pilot that we would be fine, even if it meant having to spend the night in the basement of Jonathan's old house. Pilot Nick Swalm looked at me in a way that was asking me if I was sure that that is what we wanted to do. When I didn't change my mind, he agreed, climbed back into his plane, and took off. As I watched the plane descend down the steep grass airstrip and take off into the sky and fly away I had a big lump in my throat, but still felt as if God had brought us this far and that He would protect us.
|Part of the team sitting outside Jonathan's old house.|
Left to right: Hewa man (standing), Matthew Galman,
Teresa Sawyer, Dr. Becky Morsch, SP Producer Arthur Rasco
The nationals carried all of our heavy supplies and bags through the mud and up a hill to Jonathan's old house. Within minutes the basement door was opened and all of our supplies were put inside. It looked like an ideal place for rats, and I knew that there were plenty of flea infested rats here. I tried to put out of my mind the diseases that rats carry here, especially the type of typhus that is endemic here in Oceania, scrub typhus, which is transmitted to humans from rats by fleas.
We were comforted by the Hewa people who brought plates of corn on the cob and cooked squash for us. They showed us where we could get water, and fortunately we also had a water purification system with us that had been recommended to me a month ago by a friend, Michael McLaughlin. (Thank you, Mike!)
As it eventually became evident that we were going to spend the night here, Matthew Galman, Samaritan's Purse photographer David Uttley, along with the Hewa man Yoke who was watching the house for Jonathan, took the door frame off the front door so that we could go upstairs in the abandoned house. Inside we found cushions and one foam mattress. Our dinner consisted of our supply of roasted mixed nuts, craisins, mandarins, granola bars, red vines, and Pringles. We laid the Samaritan's Purse tarp on the floor and put the cushions and foam mattress on the tarp, and then took our three SP blankets and laid them on the cushions. It was here that the ten of us would sleep that night. We were even more excited to discover that the toilet still worked and that we had brought toilet paper with us.
|Freelance photographer David Uttley photographing a|
young Hewa boy outside Jonathan's old house. Yoke is
standing to the left of the boy.
My wife, Teresa, said that she woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of rats scurrying around in the rafters. She had heard of rats in this area nibbling on the toes of adults and children while they slept. She purposefully had left her shoes on and coiled herself into a little ball, with her hands pulled up inside the sleeves of her sweatshirt and her drawstring pulled tight on the hood over her face.
|Jonathan Kopf as he greets the Hewa people.|