I kept bumping into chickens the other day.

The first one was me. I’ve long tried to maintain the right dose of coward in my soul—it tends to aid longevity in this line of work. First landings at new airstrips may seem like the kind of thing missionary pilots live for and, to be sure, they are momentous occasions. But this particular missionary pilot is getting old enough that adrenaline has lost much of its novelty, and, besides, elevated risk gives me heartburn. That said, at some point somebody has to go break these places in, and so after getting a good look at the airstrip via helicopter, it was time to fly back into Pipal in something with wings attached to it.

Eight days after the helicopter foray, I was once again overhead Pipal. Coworker Mark Hoving was along as an extra set of eyes to help identify those “that looks dumb, let’s not do it” scenarios.

We took our time flying test approaches and mapping out what altitudes to use over various landmarks along the approach path. The airstrip is located in a little box of a valley that allows you in, but at about a half a mile from touchdown becomes so tight that you can’t turn around and get back out. We needed to make sure that we were spot-on as we passed that point of no return.

After satisfying my inner chicken, we finally jumped in with both feet, flew past the committal point, and landed. Parking on the tiny flat spot carved out at the top of the 15% slope, we were soon surrounded by a throng of Ketengban people dancing away in their Sunday best. What a party.

It took awhile, but once the hubbub died down we proceeded to install the runway markers. With our work done, we all head off to feast.

One thing you learn quickly about Papuans is that they really know how to party. I think Jesus feels so at home with them in that regard. They prepared a feast to mark the important day in their community’s history, and Mark and I had the privilege of sharing it with them. Pigs are slow-cooked by super-heated rocks in a manner similar to that of Polynesian luaus. Tender and delicious. This feast is also where I met the second chicken of the day.

I’m privileged to know many followers of Jesus in the West who keep very loose hands on their possessions, giving generously. Operating millions of dollars worth of aircraft reminds me of that fact every single day.

Papuan followers of Christ will not be outdone. As we were preparing to get back in the airplane to leave, Paulus, the man who has spent his life bringing the gospel to this remote area, presented me with a gift of a chicken (this one very much alive and feathered). When I think about the percentage of this man’s material wealth represented by that chicken, which he gave me so freely, I am ashamed at how painfully I part with much, much less.

As a filthy-rich missionary, I could do nothing but graciously accept that incredible gift from my even richer Papuan brother … who sleeps under a grass roof deep in the Star Mountains.

Has not God chosen those
who are poor in the eyes of the world
to be rich in faith
and to inherit the kingdom
he promised to those who love him?
—James 2:5

Nate Gordon

Nate Gordon and his wife, Sheri, have served with our aviation partner YAJASI in Papua, Indonesia, since 1997.