April 2023. I was finally on a small mission plane and on my way to visit the highland jungle area of Soholuna in Papua, a province of Indonesia.
The history of this place had etched itself in my mind. On September 25, 1968, Stanley Dale and Phillip Masters, missionaries to Papua, were ambushed and killed here by the cannibalistic Yali.
Fifty-four years later, this past September, Gospel Outreach and Adventist Aviation Indonesia started a school in Soholuna and flew in five teachers.
At the opening of the school, a village leader told the assembled crowd, “For a long time, our home has been called Cannibal Valley. Since the arrival of our teachers, we are called the Valley of Mercy.”
Now here I was sitting in a plane with Adventist Aviation pilot Geordie, heading for this place I have dreamed of seeing. As Geordie and I discussed it in the cockpit on the way, I felt like I was on a spiritual pilgrimage.
After landing in Soholuna, we dropped off supplies. While there, I checked out the house being built for our five teachers, their spouses and children, and one nurse. The construction is slow, and the teachers live in traditional village huts waiting for funding to finish the building. A crew is on hand in the village to do the construction.
Our stay in this village was only 20 minutes—far shorter than I had hoped. After that, we were on our way so Geordie could complete his flight rounds before evening. We could see the next stop when we took off from the short runway. The flight to Wipon was less than two minutes. For a local person in good condition, the hike is over six hours from one village to the other.
HOPE AND A FUTURE
The landing in Wipon was uneventful. After greetings, we hiked 30 minutes down the mountainside to the school. Some of the children helped with bags and cargo as we headed down the slippery and rocky trail.
Clara, a teacher I met last year at another school, was leading about 80 children from at least five nearby villages in singing to greet us. It was heartwarming. Some of the songs were even in English. How could the teachers accomplish that?
Parents are happy their children can finally learn something to improve their future. The children will be able to do more than just dig sweet potatoes and bake them in ashes. In that crowd, there may be doctors and nurses, teachers and pilots, or anything else they might learn exists. All because they have a chance to learn.
JOURNEY TO CHRIST
How long will it take to retrain the children in such a way that cannibalism will never be seen among them? It is part of their journey to Christ. Please pray that this facet of their recent culture will be left behind as the children learn—and as their parents watch the witnesses standing before the outdoor classrooms.
We were told there are usually around 150 students. Some walk as much as two hours each way to come to school every day.
On this day, many students were not present because of rebel activity in the area. That makes it unsafe for anyone to be on the trails. When this happens, it is also not safe for our teachers. They had been temporarily evacuated by the same mission plane only two weeks before our arrival. At the time we flew here, however, it was considered safe enough to carry on, and so we did.
Despite rebel activity and other challenges, God is doing amazing things in this isolated place. Please keep the teachers and people of Valley of Mercy in your prayers.