Only Accessible by Air – Building an Airstrip in the early 1960-ies
“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.“ (Matthew 24:14 NIV)
Reading about Jesus telling His disciples about the day of his triumphant return, we might wonder when this might actually be. The world is so big, all nations are not merely established countries but all people. So is it possible?
Tekin, a village nestling in the Star Mountains of Papua New Guinea in Sandaun Province, is a wonderful testimony to the grace and election of God when, decades ago, the Gospel was firmly established in this remote valley only accessible by air.
“In 1950 during the first conference of Baptist Missionaries at Baiyer River (in the Western Highlands of PNG) it was agreed that the mission should seek out a second area of missionary activity. A Dragon aircraft was chartered and (…) flew west towards the then Netherlands New Guinea border to see about establishing a work at the recently opened Patrol Post at Telefomin. About 25 minutes before getting to Telefomin and just after leaving the magnificent Strickland Gorge they flew up and down two valleys that were obviously settled and occupied by a reasonably large number of people. Upon arriving at Telefomin they found out in discussion with the Patrol Officer that these must be the Oksapmin people who had not been contacted at that time. Subsequently, when the work was established at Telefomin in 1951, the aim was to evangelise both the Telefomin and Oksapmin people.“ (Keith Bricknell, The Baptist Recorder, Journal of the Baptist Historical Society of NSW Inc., No122, July 2013)
What started with this survey flight in 1950 became reality a good ten years later, when in June 1960 the first Baptist missionaries moved to Oksapmin. By the end of that year a missionary family had also settled at Tekin.
“On 29 & 30 June 1962, MAF allocated a Cessna 180 aircraft piloted by Max Meyers to enable the mission to move into Oksapmin (…) to establish the work. The next day, …, they set out for the Tekin valley and after looking at the Kusanap/Sembati clan areas were given permission by the owners, to establish the Baptist Mission in that area. … (A few weeks later they) began to clear the land for an airstrip and for building the mission station. By late 1962 the Bricknells were living at Tekin some 2 to 3 hours walk from the Oksapmin Patrol Post in the next valley and now concentrating on getting an airstrip built to enable them to have a supply route and contact with the outside world. (…) For their first time the Bricknells spent their time in supervising work on the airstrip, getting to know the people, language study, organising some simple church services at Tekin and Oksapmin and dealing with a hundred and one other things that cropped up during that period.“ (ditto)
Miss Glenda, a Mother to the Nation
Since the last permanent missionary left in the mid to late 1990s, the Baptist Churches in the Oksapmin Valley and Tekin Valley have remained strong and have grown over the years.
The legacy of the missionaries continues there with Miss Glenda Giles, originally from New Zealand, who founded the Oksapmin High School 10 years ago. She turned 75 in May and has a long-term history of mission and education in Papua New Guinea. The school at Tekin is actually the fourth High School which she has set up in various remote corners of PNG. She came to PNG as a Bible translator with the Christian Brethren Church in 1967 and after translating a New Testament switched her focus to education. In 1976 she started a High School at Koroba in Hela Province and in 1987 another Hela Province High School at Margarima. After a few years as a Secondary School Inspector at Vanimo, in 1991, she started Green River High School in Sandaun Province and then in 2007 another Sandaun Province school, Oksapmin High School, where she is currently teaching. She is still going strong with a passion to educate another generation for a better Papua New Guinea.
Recently I had the pleasure of running into two of Glenda Giles’ former students, Hensit Wila and Yuda Dafatap, both now working as teachers at the Secondary School at Telefomin, Sandaun Province. I asked them to tell me about their career and the influence and impact of Miss Glenda’s teaching on their lives.
“It was during that time when we had to finish Grade 6 and go straight to high school to do our Grade 7,“ Hensit started explaining. “We two were privileged to go to Green River High School where Miss Glenda was the Principal back then. Being a student under Miss Glenda as an expatriate was really, really good. When I compare that time with this time, education was very interesting. So it was through Miss Glenda, who is from New Zealand, I got my education from Grade 7 all the way to Grade 10. She was the one who taught us in English. That must be one of the reasons that we are now able to speak better English. From Green River we went to St. Ignatius Secondary School at Aitape to do Grade 11 and 12. From Aitape we went to the University of Goroka and became teachers. By the time we completed our four years study at university, Miss Glenda was then appointed to head the new Oksapmin High School. As former students of hers she arranged for us to go and teach at Oksapmin High School. So I did my first two years of teaching at Oksapmin High School from 2007-2009. I am one of the pioneer teachers of Oksapmin High School.“
“Back then I also was at Green River High School,“ continues Yuda. “I think a lot of students throughout the country have a lot of testimonies about Miss Glenda. She is not just a Principal she is also a mother to the nation I would say. She started a lot of high schools and she brought a lot of students to be who they are today. Some are ministers in parliament, some are doctors, some are nurses, … everyone is sharing the same testimonies as I am. I am thankful that Miss Glenda came not just to be a teacher but also came to be a mother of so many young people in Papua New Guinea. She has brought so many young people from remote places in Papua New Guinea to be who they are today – and I am one of them. I am teaching at Telefomin Secondary School. A principle I learnt from Miss Glenda is to be there on time, get the task done and teach the students. She was very tough, when it came to administration. Her job was to make sure that we were in the classroom, teaching the students the right things and preparing them to pass their examination. That’s exactly what we are doing here. She trained us well to be administrators of our own profession and career. I am very thankful indeed.“
The Exam Papers haven’t arrived yet!
“Pray for the students as they do their Written Expression exam next Thursday. The papers haven’t arrived here yet and they are all a bit nervous that they won’t understand the questions and write off the topic!“
Those are words from Glenda, written just five days before the actual date of this year’s Grade 10 Written Expression exam. The papers needed to arrive from the National Department of Education in Port Moresby and the only way to get them to Tekin was by air.
The school at Tekin has about 120 students who are all boarders. It is made of bush materials with mud floors and pit-pit grass matting on the walls and roof. The roof includes a layer of black plastic sheeting for weather-proofing and turf to hold it down.
This school, as do many others across PNG, works with minimum resources, is understaffed and has crowded classrooms and yet many of these students will out-perform those of the most prestigious colleges in PNG. The school’s performance has consistently been in the top 10 in PNG and in 2016 the school came fifth!
Mandy Glass. Photos Keith Bricknell (KB), Glenda Giles (GG), Mandy Glass (MG)