Ordinary or Extraordinary?

By Rachel Greco

The Una people live high in the mountains of Papua, Indonesia. They are experts in gardening and raising livestock in their stunning but challenging environment. Their first contact with the gospel was in 1973 when mission workers arrived via helicopter. Shortly thereafter, the people carved a runway into a natural plateau at 6,100 feet in the central village of Langda.

The New Testament was completed in 2007, with much of the work done by Dick and Margreet Kroneman, who came from the Netherlands. Through the years, the Kronemans relied on the JAARS aviation partner in Indonesia, YAJASI, to deliver supplies to them and to deliver them to the remote village and back.

The trip to Bomela—the nearest village with an airstrip, just four miles from Langda—is an eight-hour hike over a 9,000-foot mountain or a five-minute flight. Travel to Langda from the YAJASI base in Sentani is a flight of one hour and ten minutes or a hike that takes several months. It’s not a difficult choice to make!

“Without YAJASI’s air transportation services and their servant attitude, we would not have been able to begin the Una translation project, let alone complete it,” Dick said.

Throughout the translation process, God has raised up ordinary people, or even people the world would look down on, to do extraordinary work for his kingdom!

One translator, Melkias Kipka, completed only primary school, yet for 30 years, he has taught many Una people how to read and write and has helped translate the Bible.

Melkias had been seriously ill twice—so seriously that the Kronemans expected him to die. But God healed him each time, and he was able to complete his task as a Bible translator. He saw the fruit of his labors at the dedication of the Una Bible, joined by the Kronemans and 600 other people!

It was no easy feat to get so many people to Langda for the celebration. Nestled in the mountains, the village is reachable only by air. The airstrip is short (only 1,460 feet long), with sheer drop-offs on both ends. Kars, the Kronemans’ son, serves with YAJASI, and he and four other pilots flew 35 planeloads of guests and Bibles from other villages into or out of Langda for the celebration.

Langda runway on the day of the celebration. Photo by: Kars Kroneman

And what a celebration it was! The festivities lasted three-and-a-half hours and included speeches, songs and dancing, and a feast involving cooking the food over hot rocks in the ground.

In one speech, an Una attendee emphasized the close connection between the Word of God and the string bags the people use: “God has come very close to us in his son Jesus and in the translation of his Word; God’s Word has entered our language and culture, just like we receive and keep the printed Bibles in our string bags.”

Dick was reminded that Bible translation is much more than just the physical act of translating the message of God. It is also about living out that message each day. Years ago, the Kronemans hired a young man, Yulius Bitibalyo, who had no parents, as their housekeeper and treated him with great love. At the celebration, Yulius, now a pastor, told them: “You have been a father and mother to me. May the Lord bless you for what you have meant to me personally.”

Partly due to the Kronemans’ love for him, Yulius is now spreading that love to other Una people.

Of over 275 unique languages in Papua, only about 50 have the New Testament! The Una dedication marks the sixth complete Bible among these languages. Now the Una people can know that they are beloved by God and are his extraordinary people.

Join with us in praying that the Una people and many others in Papua will experience God’s love and transforming Word in their heart language.

*To read more about the challenges of landing at the Langda airstrip, click here.

Pastors and elders hold their new Bibles high in celebration. Photo by Luke Sjoblom

*A version of this story appeared in the December 2022 issue of Centerline.