A Work of God Within as Well as Without
In 2006 my wife and I went to Indonesia. Together with the Evangelical Church of Indonesia, we chose to open an unreached jungle region for the Gospel among a tribe National Geographic calls the “Treehouse People” and the Smithsonian calls, “The Last Cannibals.” We lost 2 unborn babies due to tropical disease. Had giardia. Dengue. And I had 24 bouts of malaria. Various Papuan co-workers died. We were threatened, punched, kicked, spat on, even bitten and had machetes swung and arrows shot at me.
Our team opened up a large jungle area to the world.
We first hacked out a helipad. Then opened a waterstrip. Then we circulated among the villages (several thousand tribal souls scattered over many treehouse clusters of 2-3 families each), preaching and treating the sick. We now have a church with baptized believers and Korowai men leading services in some villages. Some men who once tasted human flesh now take the Lord’s Supper. We have a school and a medical clinic and an orphanage/dorm. God has planted an indigenous church there in the deepest jungle. The last week before I collapsed physically and was medivac’d out, I finished an immunization program alongside the government which received region-wide recognition, and also 24 baptized believers took the Lord’s Supper just in Danowage, about half being Korowai.
So an indigenous church has been birthed. There are believers being led by Korowai leaders in several other villages as well. I vowed to God that I wanted to see Korowai Sheep led by Korowai Shepherds, or to DIE TRYING. And God nearly granted both parts of this vow.
In 2018 my health totally broke. 24th case of malaria with swollen liver, spleen and gallbladder. 4 parasites total and high levels of mercury in my blood from illegal mining waste (yes, that is why I felt the need to report this mine to the international media. We got it closed twice and now there are prohibitions on mercury. If I was hurt, I am sure some of the tribal children could be hurt even worse).
I went to Malaysia for cheap but good healthcare and also to host some sick Papuan pastors seeking better medical care than Indonesia had to offer. I improved throughout 2019 until January 2020 when I suffered an intense and strange case of pneumonia, which might have been COVID. My O2 went down to 74% and I passed out coughing. And for the next 6 months I have suffered a relapse nearly as bad as the original illness and has rendered me unable to write or think deeply many days and to twitch weirdly and vomit at loud noises. It is like my IQ has been cut in half and I can barely string a sentence together at times due to severe noise or stress. I am not the life of the party, to be sure!
Many people bet on a winning horse, but then shoot the horse when it goes lame. I am glad most of you are not like that. We have continued in an admin capacity maintaining and even EXPANDING projects in Papua.
We use Indonesian managers now and they are more effective working in Indonesia (imagine that!).
Whenever there is severe sickness, the impact is not merely physical. The children are without a father, even though I am in the other room in bed (sometimes for most of the day). My family has had some adjustment issues. External success in the ministry does not equate to personal success in the soul. A great work was done externally in the jungle; and now God is doing a work in the tangles and thorns of my heart. God wants the heart; and he BEATS it into shape. God shows us that hard work and mere physical perseverance are not of main importance. Lest we attribute anything to our own strength and charisma, he makes our bodies fail utterly and our personalities turn even dark and brooding. Logically, I know God does not owe me health…but I am not ready to be an invalid for life yet. I chafe under His Hand at times and I am fighting to improve my health. God breaks us upon the wheel to shape us, and some clay is harder and must be beaten more roughly.
We ended up coming back to the USA for a few weeks. This was to deliver Noah to Missouri Military Academy, a Christian nondenominational military school. He had struggled with homeschooling so we were able to find him a place with many opportunities. When I saw the facilities and the rifle range and the obstacle course and two tracks and two gyms, and I loved the place and I think Noah did also. Last week, I heard he has been conducting Bible studies in his room at night. Good job, Noah.
We also took Alethea (13) to a Missionary Kid Transition summer camp and she is doing much better and also became aware that among all the missionaries we lived more remotely in a rough village. She has changed her perspective and said she marveled at what God did in that jungle. And then she thanked me. She thanked me! This brought tears to my eyes. Thank you, Alethea, I needed that! She remembered us helping sick children and she professes faith and wants to work with orphans when she grows up. I have heard her tell her friends about how good Jesus is. I have also been harsh and often sharp with my wife, Teresa, who worked tirelessly alongside me in the jungle and washed my clothes in a creek for years and lived without refrigeration! And yet, she remains forgiving and I am profoundly thankful for her.
So, we achieved a victory in Papua only for my health and emotions to be left in tatters. We left the field broken. I am currently on the Terrorist Watch List for Indonesia. The last time I tried to enter I was thrown in jail in Jakarta and they promised to jail me long-term and “forget me for a long time” should I try to return. My son Noah ate cockroach-infested rice with me, so it was good bonding, though. I am working on an appeal to immigrations and we will see how that goes next year.
We continue to help Papua. Even more NOW that I have enlisted Indonesian managers. If you support us, what are you supporting?:
- 32 dorm students/a teacher in Danowage.
- 60-plus students in Fuau who would not otherwise be educated, plus teachers Andika, Nia, Albertina.
- Scholarships/school fees for 15 students.
- Each month we send a plane of supplies to these students. This gets expensive. This month the supplies were totally bought by Indonesian Christians (this is progress) but I still paid the expensive flight.
- Medic Maikel services dozens up north as a medic. Last year the gov’t offered to pay Maikel, but relocate him and so he refused so that he could stay close to the neediest Korowai people in Brukmakot village, but this year they offered to pay and keep him in our region…another victory!
- We pay for about one medivac/hospitalization every month. This week a poor tribal lady with oozing breast tumor was turned away from a hospital [due to being topless and ill-dressed, I believe] but now she is admitted and being cared for decently.
- Last year we opened the Samuel Dorm/Orphanage and now it is so full of students that my house has now also become a home for these children. We installed electricity a few months ago. The water pipe just broke, though (there is always a challenge).
- The clinic started a chicken and fish project to aid nutrition in Danowage. I am campaigning the same medical foundation to go next into Evangelist Yulianus’ village of Fuau in the Mamberamo Region and I may almost have them convinced, if perhaps I can prepare some buildings to entice them.
- We have also partnered with Pastor Nahum, one of the Papuan church leaders who first pushed me to enter the Korowai region. He is giving us land in Sentani town if we build housing for older Korowai students to come out for secondary education. This is a huge need and I need 15k for this. I am hoping to sell my land in Missouri to pay for this expense, but I’d rather find a donor. I’ve not done a good job saving for my children. Maybe I should play the Lotto (just kidding).
- We are also offering “gifts” to a doctor to add to his meager gov’t income to entice him to live on location in Danowage, and we’ve also put out a call for 2 new teachers and received an incredible 677 applications within a single week! So there is still a lot of interest in our efforts. We decided to hire 4 to 6 teachers instead and send them to other villages, but we need equally enthusiastic donors to make this happen. Maybe a few churches can pledge 5 or 10k each to sponsor a teacher a year? Evangelism is part of each day’s education.
- There are always needs for funds, both personal and for the ministry. If I had a million, I’d spend it all in Papua by years’s end, I am sure. But we also now have new family expenses like Noah's schooling, our flights to and from the USA, and living in the US currently to deal with. The US is a LOT more expensive than Asia. We have expanded our projects based on living in Asia;
America is a LOT more expensive.
Each week in the US, I seem to grow sicker. I am not happy here. I had a routine in Asia. And hiking helps soothe my nervous system. We’d like to return soon, but the borders are closed. "Malaysia is currently ranked among the world's top health tourism destinations thanks to its affordable, high quality medical treatment, with the majority of health tourists making Penang their preferred destination." We have a residential visa and an apartment paid for already in Penang where I can recover.
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