Papua, Indonesia

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By Seth Hill, 24 years old // CEO at SWAVY Insulated Hammocks // Senior at Southern Adventist University //Jellico Seventh-Day Adventist Church

Georgia-Cumberland Conference Indonesia Mission Trip – No matter who you are, 30+ hours of flight travel will put you into a different state of mind – and that was exactly the team of six (including myself) that landed in Jayapura, Papua, Indonesia that warm and muggy morning. Jayapura is the largest city in the world to be economically dependant on air travel, meaning the entire city was only accessible by airplane. Five flights in, we only had one more to go to arrive.

When I was only ten years old, I traveled with my dad to India for a mission trip. The plan was to help with the finishing touches on a church near Bombay and visit orphanages to help where we could. On the way, I contracted a terrible sickness and had to be hospitalized for 2 days. The hospital was little more than an open room with a few beds, some outlets, and a few mosquito nets. I laid there with an IV in my arm – the old type where the actual metal needle was stayed in place. Every time I moved my forearm, a pain shot through me as a reminder that the needle was tougher than my own veins. I did not contest it.

But while I laid in that bed feeling so powerless, I thought about how much I missed my mom. (I was ten at the time but I still miss my mom when I’m gone!) I also thought about how helpless I really was and, ultimately, how helpless the mission group was. And I thought about the Indians we came to serve. On the third day, as I awoke feeling much better, I was discharged from the hospital. While we traveled to the job site, I made a very important realization. Even though I was small and sick, even though I had no idea how to connect with the people I came to assist, everyone, no matter their size color or nationality, understands the communication of a smile. As we rode into town, I smiled at everyone and, without fail, each person returned a little bit of that love. It was a beautiful feeling.

As we landed in Papua, the lesson came rushing back to me and, as we traveled from Sentani to Wamena to Heberima, I tried to smile as much as I could. Once we arrived in Heberima we hopped out of the truck, took a look around, and began to feast. You see, in Heberima when visitors arrive they prepare what is called a Bakar Batu. Bakar Batu’s are quite literally big holes dug into the ground, covered with huge leaves, and then covered with super hot rocks, more weeds, more stones, every kind of veggie you could imagine, followed by more rocks and weeds. This makes for the worlds largest steamer, or family style smorgasbord.

After we finished our meal of mostly potatoes, sweet potatoes, and Ube (another type of potato), we decided to get to work. We walked up from the Bakar Batu and saw the job site just a few yards away – there was a problem. We were told that a team of men had been working on the foundation for a couple of weeks, so all we should have to do was arrive, screw together all of the pieces, hoist up the walls and truss, and we would be set. This was not the case. We realized we needed to move about 50 cubic feet of clay and huge rocks. So we went to work. Day in and day out, we moved mud, clay, more mud, rocks, water, and a lot more clay.

After about the eighth day we had moved an easy 60-70 cubic feet of material and were finally able to start putting the foundation in. Now in most countries that are westernized we use these contraptions called “forms” to encase concrete for foundations to keep them in the shape we want them. Usually these forms are made of metal or wood. Not in Papua. We made the executive decision to cut some costs (we actually had not other choice) and use the leftover clay and rocks to make our own. Although it was unexpected and most of us didn’t expect to learn how to do all this stuff, we ended up really enjoying it.

Still though, there were problems. While we were digging around in the mud to create a solid foundation we came across a substantial amount of hefty boulders. Had it been just me I would have called in an excavator, a couple stick of dynamite, or just walked away, but not the Papuans!

Here in America we have a tool for everything. Not in Papua. I want to tell you about one of the tools they do have, though. It is called a Lingis (Ling – iss). A Lingis is a large piece of rebar with one end sharpened and another end flattened. You wont find this tool at your local ACE Hardware. It’s a jackhammer, hammer, pry-bar, digger bag, and giant two-ton boulder extractor all in one!

Getting back to the story, we had to move these sizable stones. And my first thought was to start digging around the base but I noticed something interesting. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a large pickup truck pull up with about 20 old tires. I wondered what was going on, but the helpers all began to unload them and pile them onto the rock!

One of the American boys who could speak Indonesian told me they were going to light the tires on fire to heat up the rock and then once it was flaming hot they would pour cold water on it in hopes of cracking the rock down the middle! So that is what they did, and while it was quite the sight to behold – not to mention smell – it didn’t crack down the middle. It did, however,  fracture the rock in a few places and we were then able to use several lingis tools to chip away until the rock was level with the rest of the foundation.

Over the next few days we began putting up pillars that we had fabricated, attached various levels of bracing, and finally began putting on the trusses. The trusses were a real engineering feat. Due to the methodical manufacturing of the truss they were all made into 16, 10 meter spanning single pieces.

In the US this would be no worry at all as we could use a crane to lift them onto the top plate of the building, but not in Heberima. The only access to that type of height was by man-made scaffolding. So we designed a system where four primary holders of the truss would essentially balance on a skinny piece of wood from the ground to the top level of the church. Then, while still balancing, they would pass off the truss to the next group who could shuffle across the top of the church, transporting it to the secured spot where it was to be screwed down. This in all took about twenty people, and man was it fun!

After about 2 weeks our time was winding down. We had literally all been in the trenches together, digging, getting sunburned quicker than you could drink a cup of water, cutting ourselves all over our feet, getting bug bites on every imaginable surface, and completely bonding in ways that would change our lives forever.

Each night we would all come together to have worships, share thoughts of the day, and share our testimonies. One of our fellow brothers was found by God in the most unlikely of places and brought to a point of unworthiness and love for Christ. Another of our girls had been so depressed that she couldn’t find the motivation to get up in the mornings, but here in Papua felt she could see what real blessings looked like. And most powerfully, we saw a twenty-two year old Papuan man sob as we told him that other people from America would love to come and see his home, his village, his people.

Indonesia is not a place for the faint of heart. It’s a place of hardship, of poverty, and of sin. There are people way up in the mountains who have never heard about or seen the true love of Christ. Each year as I am blessed to lead out these trips I realize how great the Fathers love is for us. Yes, I was drug out and tired when I arrived to Papua, we all were, but I realized that there is an energy to be found in the arms of Christ. Papua isn’t a broken place, it’s a place with broken people. That’s why we go, that’s why we serve, and that’s why we give it all to God – to bring life, energy and God’s healing to the broken.

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