MAF relief pilot Rick Velvin shares another encounter where God used him to be a catalyst giving PNG women a voice and have their ideas heard – just as he was waiting on the ground for the people who chartered the aircraft doing their job. 

 

The meeting was being held in the church at Musula, a small community in the PNG lowlands very close to the epicentre of the February earthquakes. World Vision International (WVI) had chartered MAF to fly four of their staff members there, spend four hours on the ground talking and listening to the people to enable WVI to gather information on Musula and the surrounding villages. This assessment would help WVI to design future water, sanitation, health and education projects for the area, greatly assisting with the earthquake recovery and community development.

The four WVI staff called out the names of various village representatives, allocating them to groups for discussion and questions. All men. The women sat in a corner at the back of the church. Several were quite vocal and I gathered from their gestures and tone of voice they were telling or reminding the men what to say.

With four hours to wait before flying back to Mt Hagen, I was sitting at the side of the church observing the process. The people were engaged, very focused and motivated. The WVI staff wrote heaps of notes, the locals speaking and writing out thoughts and ideas. One of the pastors sat next to me and we talked All Blacks (the New Zealand national rugby union team), families and funny things that had happened in recent times among other things. Part of the conversation went like this.

“The groups are all men, do you think that the women want to join in?“

“Yes, but their names weren’t called.“

“Oh, do the women have different, good ideas? Would the men want them to join in and contribute?“

“Yes, but they’re not asked.“

“Some of the men are writing things on paper, perhaps the women could do the same?“

Silence. 

The kind of silence that goes with a new thought and processing an idea that leads to action.

I wasn’t aware of when the pastor got up and walked out but later I noticed many of the women had also left. Around 2 o’clock when things were wrapping up, the women returned with one passing two or three pages of suggestions to a WVI staff member who acknowledged the women’s paper and added it to the other contributions for later reference. 

Nice one!

The light drizzle turned into rain as we walked back to the aircraft. Soaked. Normally it would be good when leaving the heat of the lowlands, to climb up high above the clouds to the cooler smooth air for the one hour flight to Mt Hagen. But with no heater in the aircraft and wet clothes, it was quite chilly, in fact rather cold but that didn’t matter, it had been a great day.  

Thanks WVI for your commitment to the people of Musula. Your projects will be a huge blessing to everyone.

Being a mission pilot these days in Papua New Guinea isn’t that much about flying missionaries. The number of missionaries in the country has declined a lot since MAF started its operation in 1951. Today, the MAF pilot is often the only expat missionary a remote community gets to see. However, the time spent on the ground with the community in many cases is limited to unload the plane and to sort out the passengers and loading for the take-off.

But the random opportunities exist, when the timing is just right and the pilot can spend time with the people on the ground as it recently happened to Rick Velvin.

Enjoy his testimony of allowing God to use him in an unexpected way.

 

Well, this isn’t going to work!

I sensed that the afternoon’s flight schedule was about to change when I landed at Kiriwo, a village 280km south of Rumginae in PNG’s Western Province. The first indication was when I was greeted by the pastors asking me “How long can you wait before going back to Rumginae?” I thought one and a half hours maximum, but said “One hour”, just to build in some margin for weather and to get back before dark.

While walking from the airstrip to the church, I realised that the funeral service wasn’t going to fit into this time frame. So, thinking out loud I said something to the MAF Agent like, ‘Maybe I could stay the night,’ and quickly realised as I said it, that this would totally mess up the rest of the week’s flight schedule. Not a good idea…

Pastor Medua is the Hospital Chaplain at Rumginae Hospital. He and his family are from Kiriwo. For years, his wife, Foteng, battled an ongoing health issue with diabetes. Her health continued to deteriorate and could not be controlled either at the Rumginae or Tabubil hospitals. Sadly, she passed away one Sunday night, early in April.

Transferring the casket from the hospital’s ambulance to the plane at the parking bay at Rumginae with many people paying tribute to the family of the deceased

 

The MAF team at Kiunga and I managed to get ahead with the week’s programme so that  Thursday afternoon was freed up to fly the casket, Pastor Medua and some family members to Kiriwo and then return to Rumginae later that afternoon. Friday and Saturday’s flying programme were also full, making it important to be back in Rumginae Thursday night. So, imagine my surprise when during the ceremony it was announced that the pilot had decided to stay the night, kindly giving the family members extra time for the haus krai*. As the villagers clapped and cheered, I was thinking “Well, this isn’t going to work, not such a good idea!”.

Carrying the body away from the plane

 

During the service

 

The service moved from the church to the village, where many more people arrived from surrounding villages. A huge plate of food was brought out for refreshments. I had a couple of significant conversations with two pastors, along with an invitation to speak that night at the evening service. Ps Medua said to me: “Preach the gospel, this isn’t just a funeral.” I did.

Later, more food came. Someone gave up their mattress, mosquito net and pillow so I had a comfortable night’s sleep.

In the morning, we departed early as planned, following the 4 am prayer meeting and devotions.

My “How is this going to work?!” worked fine, and my “It’s not a good idea!” proved to be a very valuable time. I rejoiced at how God had enabled everything to be done. I flew some educational specialists to Kawito, patients to Daru, managed to do two extra flights on Saturday and arrived at Rumginae with time to spare.

I marvelled again at how things work out when we follow His prompting.

And God smiled.

The procession of the body to the home village of the pastor’s wife to finally lay her to rest

 

* haus krai: a word in Tok Pisin which means a gathering place to remember and mourn the loss of a loved one and friend

 

On Thursday, the 23rd of May, the Twin Otter P2-MFT did a charter flight from Mt Hagen to Mougulu to transport a sawmill and food care packages to the community there.

Also on board were Mandy Glass, MAF PNG’s Communications Officer and Laura Meeks, daughter of our Engineering Manager.

Part 1 of this story was a personal account of the flight by Laura Meeks. You can read it HERE.

Part 2 provides more background information on how this charter flight is going to meet earthquake and rehabilitation needs of the people at Mougulu and the surrounded area.

 

Part 2: Bilums, a Portable Sawmill and Bags of Food

Story by Mandy Glass. Photos Laura Meeks (LM) and Mandy Glass (MG)

 

“We were welcomed warmly and were given beautiful flower necklaces and bilums.“

As soon as we disembarked the Twin Otter after landing at Mougulu, the wives of two Bible School students presented Laura and I with the bilums and flower necklaces as thank-you gifts for donations the school received one week earlier by another MAF flight: Solar lights and tarpaulins, Bibles, guitars and tambourines, soccer balls and volleyballs, hinges, padlocks, saws, and spanners, etc. All useful items to help maintain the Bible School’s buildings and the fellowship after the physical and spiritual destruction caused by the recent earthquakes. 

Laura receiving a handmade bilum by delegates from the Bible School (MG)

 

The donations were funded by congregations of the German Liebenzell Mission which has a long and strong connection to the ECPNG churches in the area. Aviamp based German missionaries Gerhard and Brigitte Stamm then purchased this variety of practical utensils, enough to bless and encourage the congregations of three communities, the Mougulu Bible School is one of the receivers. 

Being of German background myself and good friends with the Stamms I became the liaison person between them and the MAF operations team, helping to pack and consign the items, communicating between the partners and now even being blessed with a handmade bilum, seeing the joy and gratefulness of the Bible school delegates with my own eyes.

 

Jason Marsh talking to one of the Bible School students who organised the bilum welcome (MG)

“The people said that they were going to use the sawmill to cut timber for a new high school…“

It was a bit hard for me to find the right people to talk to in order to gather more detailed information. I was directed to an elderly pastor who wasn’t very talkative at all and only came back to me with very little information. I learned from him that the sawmill is “to help our school and station and the community. They are going to cut the timber to build a new High School and also help those needy people.“

Many willing helpers to unload the pieces of the sawmill (MG)

 

The delivery of the sawmill also marks a change in the response to the destruction by the earthquakes. After many relief flights to provide food and sanitation to the communities, thorough assessments of the mid-term and long-term needs, the focus now is on rebuilding the local infrastructure of the communities.

A changed landscape after the earthquakes (LM)

 

In the weeks following the earthquake, Sally Lloyd and Lutheran Missionary Anton Lutz, conducted a needs assessment out of Mougulu in partnership with North Fly Provincial Government Team, World Hope International Australia, the Strickland Bosavi Foundation (that’s the Hoey family in partnership with the Strickland and Bosavi communities working with all of the communities and ECPNG churches) and Ok Tedi Mining Limited (OTML) who donated the first 50 hours of helicopter flights for immediate response and rescue etc.

Sally Lloyd summarises the outcome, combined efforts and the way forward:

“Ian Middleton, the CEO of Ok Tedi Development Foundation (of OTDF) who in partnership with those partners listed above has decided on a response most suitable to assist the combined communities to get back on their feet and rebuild.

All of the local communities are very appreciative of this and other development initiatives which help to build resilience and local capacity, while under the supervision of the Strickland Bosavi Foundation to ensure adequate training and long-term care of the equipment.

The Porta saw will be used to save having to bring in at great cost timber to be used for building – particularly health and education facilities and staff housing.

Carrying the huge saw blades (MG)

 

One project is the high school at Mougulu which has always been planned to service the whole catchment area. This is now even more urgent: Students having to attend their closest high school in Hela have had to flee from tribal fighting in the major centres back to their destroyed villages. We are urgently needing to make a safe place for them to carry on with their studies, and the communities want this to be Mougulu.

Timber will also be milled on site and used for rebuilding earthquake affected health and education infrastructure at Adumari, Dodomona, Habi, Fuma, Huiya etc. Even if we have to ship the sawmill and the milling team or the already cut timber to these places it is a huge saving compared to the purchase of timber in Kiunga or Mt Hagen and then shipping. We also have perfect local timber for framing which is insect resistant and saves introducing the risk of imported untreated product.“

 

“… and distribute the food to the pregnant mothers and little children.“

Seeing only limited amounts of food bags delivered to the community on this flight, I wanted to inquire  about the current food situation and found a more talkative man explaining to me their gardening concept of the community:

“We have three different kind of gardens: kaukau gardens (sweet potato gardens), yam gardens and banana gardens. For the kaukau and yam gardens, we make fences and leave them to avoid the pigs destroying them. When the earthquake came, the fence has been destroyed and now it was free for the pigs to come in and destroy the plants. So now we don’t have these yam and kaukau gardens to support us. Those banana gardens which were located along the hillsides and cliffs have been destroyed by landslides. At the moment we don’t have the interest to maintain the fence again as the gardens have been already destroyed. Those yams are seasonally and so we wait for another season when it is time again to plant. If we would plant the yams now they won’t produce.“

On board of the charter flight was the Logistic & Operations Officer of the Goroka based PNG branch of a worldwide operating NGO. Her mission was to deliver the bags of food and to give the local Community Health Worker (CHW) instructions on how to distribute the care bags. One big plastic bag contained 7 individual portion bags of 3 kg each. One portion was compiled of 2 1kg bags of rice, 2 cans of tin fish, 500ml oil and 500g sugar and salt.

Unloading one of the bags with the food care packs (MG)

 

The NGO’s Logistic & Operations Officer explained that with these portion bags they would like to reach out to the children with malnutrition and the women that are pregnant at the moment as there are limited supplies.

Paul Isilawa, the Mougulu CHW stated that “MAF has helped a lot flying in supplies for us and also flying those patients from Huya. We also thank the NGO for their support providing food. Like now, we’ve received some food for pregnant mothers and those with disabilities so that we can help them.“

MAF was able to help the Strickland Bosavi Foundation and the NGO to facilitate this Twin Otter flight to meet relief and rehabilitation needs of the communities affected by the earthquake thanks to a generous donation by Wycliffe Australia.

It is great to see so many different organisations and individuals combining forces to rebuild destroyed infrastructure and fellowship. People will be trained to operate the sawmill and to take ownership of the entrusted equipment. A new generation gets empowered to move forward for the sake of their children by building the facilities for them to complete high school in their own area. 

The NGO staff member talking with the local Community Health Worker, Paul Isilawa (MG)

On Thursday, the 23rd of May, the Twin Otter P2-MFT did a charter flight from Mt Hagen to Mougulu to transport a sawmill and food care packages to the community there.

Also on board were Mandy Glass, MAF PNG’s Communications Officer, and Laura Meeks, daughter of our Engineering Manager.

Part 1 of this story is a personal account of the flight by Laura Meeks; part 2 provides more background information on how this charter flight is going to meet earthquake and rehabilitation needs for the people at Mougulu and the surrounded area.

 

Part 1: My Mougulu Adventure

Story Laura Meeks. Photos Laura Meeks (LM) and Mandy Glass (MG)

 

My name is Laura Meeks, and I am what most people would call a Mission Kid, and I had the amazing chance to fly to Mougulu with one of the Twin Otters.

Laura Meeks observing the loading of the Twin Otter from a distance (MG)

 

I waited at the Kagamuga Airport as the pilots and ground staff loaded the Twin Otter P2-MFT with materials for a sawmill delivered to a village that was damaged in the recent earthquakes. Our destination: Mougulu.

 

Loading the sawmill (MG)

 

The true question was would I be embarking on this adventure solo or would our MAF journalist and photographer Mandy Glass be joining me as planned?

Mandy Glass taking photos from the loading process in the cabin (LM)

 

The sawmill barely left enough room for three passengers, but we weren’t sure if it would leave enough room for even two.

It turned out that they just had enough room for both of us, and that heightened the already huge excitement I felt. Going without Mandy would be a big thing for me, barely leaving my compound more than once a week, and even then usually with a huge group of family and friends.

 

I got to wear a headset and listen to the radio communications between the pilots, Jason Marsh and Sebastian Kurz. Looking out my window Mr Marsh showed me Mt Giluwe, laying like a blanket dropped on the ground in folds.

Laura Meeks taking notes during the flight to Mougulu (MG)

 

Our 45-minute flight was accompanied by another passenger, a lady working for an NGO, who was also bringing care packages for the people.

The sawmill and food bags secured under the cargo net giving just enough space for the seat for the staff member from Care International (MG)

 

On arrival, we were welcomed warmly and Mandy and I were given beautiful flower necklaces and bilums with flowers stuck in them.

Laura receiving a handmade bilum by delegates from the Bible School (MG)

 

Mandy interviewed a few people, a Bible School student, the pastor and the one in charge of the care packages.

I noticed a lot of people looked really hungry and malnourished. I was ready to start laughing when the Bible School student thanked Mandy for volleyballs and nets! But then I thought it’s good that they can have fun even though they have been through such a tragedy with the earthquakes destroying their food gardens and shaking up their whole lives. Still, the people were all so happy and you could hear them laughing at each other.

When Mr Marsh lifted a little boy into the cockpit all the kids were laughing at him and smiling.

 

Jason Marsh giving one boy the opportunity to sit in the pilot’s seat (MG)

 

The people said that they were going to use the sawmill to cut timber for a new high school and distribute the food to the pregnant mothers and little children. That’s really important because those kids are their future, and if it’s possible for them to get a full education then they should get that chance.

Unloading the Twin Otter at Mougulu (MG)

 

For my first trip to a remote village, it was pretty good. I must admit though, I was a little sad that we didn’t get to see the full village and I did miss a few good shots with the camera, but Mandy was right in there, asking questions, getting background information and taking photos.

I guess it’s all in a days work for her.