Treacherous Steps

It’s not everyday that Twenty-First century husbands step out the door for a few weeks of trekking in the jungle.  Many of those steps Darron took were treacherous ones, as they crossed high passes with land slides and eroded trails.  I processed Darron’s leaving a few weeks ago in the blog:  Now we have fast forwarded two weeks later and there are so many more events to process.  Some that I must hold in the hidden places of my heart (to ponder and pray on), and some events I want to share with you.  Thank you for caring enough to read and pray.  You have no idea what a significant and indispensable part of the team you are.

Surprisingly, I ended up hearing from Darron far more than we had originally anticipated.  A major focus of the government has been to recognize that a right of the tribal people is to have communication.  So more and more cell towers are cropping up in remote places.  This is not to say that communication was perfect or easy.  As often there was an eight hour lag in messages being delivered, but it helped to ease the unknown.  Darron in an email he wrote our sons while trekking (and copied part of it to me) stated:  “Many times you are on the edge of a major landslide or cliff praying your slippery step won’t be fatal.”  Maybe those are words that adventurous young adult son’s like to hear?  However, mark it in your lesson books all you ‘want-to-be future missionaries’, these are NOT words your wife at home wants to hear.

We were inspired to hear this story from Darron while he was away:  One of our young adult Indonesian missionaries, William, went to pray for a local tribal guy who had been on crutches for years.  He was about to give him some medicine for pain.  Insightfully, before having the man take the medicine, he invited him to pray.  As the tribal man and William began to pray together, William asked the man to accept Jesus into his life.  The man did just that.  As he did, he suddenly exclaimed, “There is a weight that is leaving me now!  I think I don’t need my crutches anymore.”  With that, he stood.   Then ran around the yard.  Jumping and shouting praises to the Lord.  His difficult steps of navigating steep muddy mountain trails on crutches had been liberated by the healing touch of Jesus.  Stories like these are delightful morsels of energy and hope for those of us in the backgrounds of mission ministry.

Meanwhile, back at home base, the Lord had plans for me.  On Monday my phone lit up from one of our local missionaries who was struggling with her third round of miserable illness in three months.  I was delighted to be invited to consult with her and drove her to the local lab for a simple blood count.  While waiting for her results, she became more and more uncomfortable.  I offered to take her home or to my house while the blood was processed.  She chose to go to my home.  After getting her settled with anti nausea meds and a bucket….I headed back to town (third time in five hours, at forty minutes a run…..whew) to pick up the lab results, with NO PATIENT PRIVACY laws.  Often that is SO liberating.  The result was sparkling clear.  Malaria.  Tersiana.  Plus Three.  This malaria can only be eradicated from the body by taking a two week coarse of Primaquine, post malaria treatment.  This fact is not practiced here in Papua, thus why this missionary was repeatedly getting sick, every month.  I thanked the Lord for the clarity and the wisdom to diagnose and prescribe accurately.  Within less than twenty four hours my new friend was ninety percent improved.  She and her husband stayed with me until Thursday.  In retrospect I am thankful for this time together as we are now bonded sisters in Christ that only time, insight, and compassion could form.
After resting over the weekend from my impromptu mini hospital interlude I was put into high prayer mode when Darron messaged to say he was going into the jungle to chainsaw down trees for the jungle chapel floor.  At noon my stomach lurched as Darron tried to call me over and over again and the phone signal wouldn’t allow us to talk.  My heart knew something wasn’t right and my mind was running with it.  Finally, what seemed like an hour, but was only minutes, we were able to connect and Darron stated that they needed a medivac.  An injury had happened.  Jackson (his trail guide and chain saw cutting partner) had gotten his foot wedged and crushed in a tree.  He had to be carried down the steep jungle trail on Darron’s and other men’s backs, in jarring pain.  I was able to give Darron all the first aid steps to take and talk through ways to make Jackson more comfortable and begin the motions of notifying Pilot Eric Roberts for a medivac through AMA (the local Catholic aviation organization).   In short, two beautiful things came of this:  Darron was home the following morning, three to five days earlier than anticipated.  Second, Jackson was able to get the help he needed and was back in the mountains within a week with crutches and a walking shoe cast…..doing remarkably well.

Darron and I managed to take a deep breath together on Monday and catch up on things that texting and broken signal communication won’t allow.  Then the week took off with a roar of business and many people and directions demanding our attention.  Thursday evening we broke away to watch and participate in a fun basketball game of the Dad’s against the 8th grade boys (Darron played against Jacob).  The Dad’s won in a close game and the Mom’s were left with hoarse voices as we had to cheer for both sides.  As the game was going on Darron’s phone was receiving message after message.  You know things are warming up when people start messaging me, trying to get in touch with Darron.  As soon as we arrived home, people were on our door step.  Our hearts began to pick up speed and our minds became very unsettled.  There was trouble.  Only the morning would reveal the truth.  We went to bed with extremely restless and disturbed hearts.
We tossed and turned all night.  Praying.  Waiting for dawn.  When once again, Pilot Eric Roberts, could fly.  This time into an area in the Star Mountains to reveal the truth that couldn’t be told over the radio.
Often waiting is more agonizing than the reality, because it is in those moments of the unknown that we are stuck to move in any direction.  The only good option is to be still.  To trust.  All we knew is that possibly one of our young adult missionaries had been killed or injured.  That the remaining four missionaries needed to be removed from the remote village speedily and quietly  before tribal war broke out or before the military arrived.  I had never understood the intense risk that sometimes our pilots undergo as they fly into situations that have potential to be very volatile.  The minutes clicked into hours as Darron manned the radio and we tracked Eric’s flight path and words.  Heidi, Eric’s wife, was also intensely following the progress and messaging me.  We were so relieved when Eric touched down and all seemed peaceful in the village.  Our hearts cried out within minutes as the truth came that Eric would be flying home with a dead body.
Berni, a twenty-four year old, young man.  Committed and dedicated to serve the Lord in a remote area.  Engaged to be married in July.  Eager and disciplined.  Died a martyr’s death.

Berni, while bathing on Thursday morning was brutally murdered by nine tribal men from a village three days hike away.  The village people tried to defend him.  Receiving many machete wounds and spear cuts, they were defeated.  Berni was buried right by the river immediately.  His treacherous steps to the river, were his last.
We don’t really understand the fullness of why this has happened.  Some speculate that because another life was taken from this tribe recently, therefore a life must be taken in it’s place.  Which is the traditional culture here.  It is also rumored that these tribal men were suspicious of Berni.  They were suspicious that he was a spy, because he was very disciplined in exercising and had his hair cut short and had a special tracking phone to communicate with (in reality this phone was just so these missionaries could communicate with us any medical emergencies they may have).
Within an hour and a half of the confirmed death, Eric was landing at Adventist Aviation.  Before the doors of the little plane slid open, the wailing grief of those grieving traumatized missionaries spilled out.  They had to dig their friend out of that grave and wrap his body in rice sacks to be transported.  Raw, raw, unimaginable grief.
From our little grass mission base airstrip we took them to the army hospital where the case was reported.  The stories began to tumble out from our traumatized  team in the hour drive.  Then five or more hours of cross examination and police reports and more took place.
Darron and I carry these young people close to our hearts.  At the end of the day, we feel responsible for them as they serve in extremely remote areas.  They are the heart beat of our mission.  Too loose one is a staggering loss.  And a weight that presses on us as we consider safety and risk and life and darkness.  Treacherous steps.  There really are no words to describe the loss of Berni.  We are clinging to the hope that God will turn this loss into hundreds of turned hearts towards Him.  Also that Jesus won’t wait long until He returns.  Do you know Him?  If you don’t, ask Him into your heart.  If you do, a weight will leave you that will set your feet running and jumping.  It’s a path worth walking on.  I have no doubt that Berni would fully agree.  Amen.

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