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