A Lifeline

By Mary Beth

More than 1,500 Onobasulu live in seven villages and various hamlets in a remote part of Hela Province of Papua New Guinea. About half the population lives in Walagu, the main village.

From Walagu, walking distances to the other villages vary from forty minutes to five hours. As subsistence farmers, the villagers have a largely nonmonetary economy, but they can earn cash at nearby oil and timber companies. Some even use cell phones via a limited signal that covers some of the area! Although the people don’t suffer from hunger, thirst, or lack of shelter, they lack good medical care and education.

Walagu airstrip from the air

The Walagu airstrip is a lifeline—for the translation project, as well as for medical evacuations, flying in school teachers and materials, trade-store goods and many other items.

For the Onobasulu translation team, aviation is a far safer, more reliable, and more efficient way to travel to and from Walagu. From Ukarumpa, SIL-PNG’s translation center, the flight time to Walagu is 1 hour 20 minutes.

Since Walagu has no road access, the alternatives to air service require many days of difficult, dangerous hiking. One option is to fly from Ukarumpa to the nearest major town, Tari, and then hike to Walagu—a three-day hike across multiple rivers and a large mountain range and through the territory of a hostile people group. Sometimes threats or fights can make it too dangerous to travel through this area. A second option is a two-day road trip from Ukarumpa to Tari over roads in poor shape, then the arduous three-day hike from Tari to Walagu.

Earthquake relief flight into Walagu August 2018

It’s no wonder the Onobasulu team chooses SIL PNG’s flight services! The aircraft and pilot training for these services are provided by you. Thank you!

Walagu airstrip is situated in a small swampy valley, surrounded by creeks. Over time the runway, deteriorated by water, became so soft that it had to be shut down. They had no heavy equipment available to restore the airstrip, but, undaunted, the whole community joined in a huge effort to reclaim the runway. They redirected a creek and strengthened the river banks. They dug out the middle 40-foot width of the runway—by hand—to a depth of about three feet. They filled the trench with stones—hand-carried from nearby rivers—then covered it with a thin layer of firm ground.

Villagers cut the grass by hand

The whole effort took months but has made the airstrip usable again. Since their lawn mower broke down over a year ago, the community hand-cuts the airstrip regularly. The experience of not having a functioning airstrip made them very aware of the need to maintain it.

Carrying the Gospel of Luke in the dedication ceremony

Celebrating the dedication of the Gospel of Luke

And it’s being used for God’s glory! In 2017, a JAARS-provided aircraft and JAARS-trained pilot delivered the translation consultant, Johann Alberts, and the newly-translated Gospel of Luke to Walagu. The people reverently carried the boxes to the church.

Church leaders from four language groups at the Scripture class

Last February, Johann and Andy Grosh taught a special Scripture course at Walagu. Church leaders from four different language groups came to study the Tabernacle and compare the ministry of Old Testament priests with Jesus’ priestly ministry. According to Johann, “It was great preparation before beginning the translation of Hebrews.”

Your gifts to Aviation Solutions provide not only a lifeline to the outside world, but more importantly, a lifeline to the true source of life—Jesus Christ.

*This story was originally published as Touchdown Zone: Walagu in the December 2019 issue of Centerline.