Nate Gordon, a JAARS-trained pilot who serves with our partner YAJASI in Papua Indonesia, couldn’t sleep. Even though he was bone-tired from the long hike to Marbata, the celebration, the runway inspection, the pig feast and icy bath, sleep danced out of his grasp.
Nate lay on a decent sleeping mat on the woven, springy floor of the hut, but the rhythmic beat of the dancers’ feet outside the door and the cadence of their chants kept his brain from shutting down for the night. His teammate Mark—the only other occupant of their sleeping quarters—dozed soundly under a mosquito net.
Time passed, and sleep still eluded him. Sometime later, still unable to sleep, Nate rolled over, and in the process must have accidentally jostled open his heavy eyelids. “In the glow of the fire pit I could make out a stunning image: a group of men, seated in a semi-circle around me.”
The one closest to him spoke his name. It was Demi, a long-time friend who helped with the New Testament translation for his Ketengban people. By now Nate’s eyes were wide open. “I counted 12 men in the hut. I’m not sure how long Demi would have waited for me to open my eyes, but my guess is a very, very long time—the Ketengban do not share their Western brothers’ lack of patience.”
Demi explained that these men were the elders from three distant villages. They had hiked through the mountains—some of them had walked for days—to reach Marbata because they had heard that Mark and Nate would be there. One-by-one the elders made their case, pleading with them to come to their villages and open the runways their people had built. For most of these men, runways are their only link to the outside world—to health care, basic goods, emergency medical care, education for their children, and, most important, the Word of God.
“I listened to these dear men speak with earnestness and humility,” Nate recounts. “When it was time for me to speak, I wished I could promise them something. All I could do was attempt to convey how much our team cared for each of their communities, but what a huge undertaking opening each new runway was for us, and how limited our capacity was as a team.”
To open a new runway, YAJASI must take one or two pilots off their flight schedule for about three days to hike from the runway nearest to the runway in question to inspect it. They must make sure it’s long enough, wide enough, hard enough, and not too steeply sloped before attempting to land an aircraft there. Nate says, “All of our pilots are busy meeting the ministry flying needs in Papua, so taking two of them off flights for most of a week is a fairly high cost.”
Generally, the people must fix certain things before the runway’s ready to land on. When the pilots receive word that the people have completed the work, they spend a day checking out the runway with the aircraft. Then each pilot who will serve at this new location must be ‘checked out’ at the new runway by an instructor pilot.
Thus, Nate couldn’t promise the delegation of men anything at Marbata. They talked deep into the night. Then they spent time praying together, asking the God they all worshiped to make a way for their runways to open and their communities to begin to benefit from the ministry of the aircraft. Each man filed past Nate’s sleeping mat and shook hands before the delegation slipped out the door into the dark.
Something more important than sleep had occurred that night.