Facilitating a Trauma Healing Course
Part 2: Hope. Air. Life.

Story and Photos by Harriëtte Knigge

In the distance I heard a sound my heart recognised. Is it really him? My friend Caroline and I stared at the sky, but couldn’t see much. Yet we continued to hear the sound more and more clearly. Gradually, a dot grew bigger and bigger. It really is him! My heart breathed with relief. We looked at each other radiantly and Caroline gave me a hug. The MAF plane is coming. Only ten minutes ago, we heard that my husband Wilfred, an MAF pilot, was on his way to pick us up. Finally!

I realised that only in that moment I was getting a little sense of what the sound of our MAF planes mean for the people in remote communities like Moropote. I felt hope, air, life; and I wasn’t even injured or in need. I just wanted to go back to my husband and kids and my own familiar place after a week in remote Moropote with Caroline.

You may remember my story about the trauma healing course. You can read it HERE.

A full church: 40 to 45 students a day!

We had a great week, even if the end went differently than expected. I realised I would like to share that part of the story too. So here it is from the bottom of my heart…

It was 10am on a Monday morning in March when we heard the relieving sound of the plane. We were supposed to be picked up by one of Wilfred’s colleagues on the Friday before, but at the last minute this was not able to happen. For four days we had been unsure whether it would happen at all. Caroline, also ready to go home to her family, had been carefully checking whether there was enough petrol available to ‘rent’ a canoe boat to take us to a place where we could return to Wewak by bus. This would be a hugely expensive and adventurous two-day trip. Even as we considered this option, we kept in mind that I, the “wife-of”, was out here in Moropote. MAF highly values ​​its staff and so would never leave me, and Caroline, sitting here in the bush. It is a privileged position to be so valued, how did I come to deserve it?

Luke, the official MAF Agent who maintains the airstrip and monitors the radio traffic, sat at the radio every morning and afternoon for the past week to receive updates on what’s going on in PNG.

Luke, the MAF Agent, at the radio

We didn’t hear about Covid-19 through Luke, nor did we talk about it ourselves during the course. Why should we worry the people here? At the end of the week, the first sounds of Covid-19 arrived. Since there is no mobile phone reception in such a remote location, I could not possibly check what had happened in the world or how far the virus had already spread in PNG.

The trauma healing course ended on Thursday afternoon and, just as we said goodbye to the students, Luke broke the news about Covid-19. His message was vague and, again, I got a little feel for what it is like to live remotely. You just have no idea what’s going on out there. Is the news really true? What exactly does it mean? Caroline and I read Psalm 91 before enjoying our dinner of fish brought by local people: “my refuge, my fortress, my God! 
I trust you!”

Fish for dinner

On Friday, when we heard that MAF still couldn’t pick us up, I began having a bad day. Neither Caroline nor I are newcomers to the mission field; we know the word ‘flexibility’ through and through. However, I continued to find the uncertainty difficult. We made our portions of food a bit smaller and were extra grateful for what the local people shared with us. How long will this take? Saturday we heard that plans were made for our pick up. Caroline and I breathed a little easier. We decided not to be down anymore, but try to make the best of it; we laughed, made up our own games, and read Psalm 91 again.

I only brought some dice. How does Yahtzee go again?

Luke and his wife Esther take care of the little house Caroline and I stayed in together. We often sat in their ‘garden’ to chat and laugh. Someone gave Luke a cup-a-soup bag, but he had no idea how to prepare it. Is he supposed to eat the powder from the packet? He laughed at me when I tried some new food and pulled all kinds of faces.

Harriëtte with Esther and Luke and their adopted children

On Sunday we heard that, as of Tuesday, there will be no more air traffic over Papua New Guinea. The government decided to shut everything down so as not to spread Covid-19.

Monday morning we finally received the happy news: Wilfred will be here in 10 minutes! I was afraid I didn’t quite understand Luke’s Tok Pisin. Caroline happily gave me a high five, so apparently I could believe my ears. We quickly cleaned up the mess from our stay, then gave hugs and shook hands with these beautiful people who became so close to us in the previous week. We were happy and grateful to be picked up. But at the same time there was this realisation: When will we see them again? How does this continue with Covid-19? Should we as a family leave the country? What about the local people? Questions, so many questions. But for that moment, gratitude predominated.

Looking back, it was a beautiful week with a very crazy ending. I expected to learn more about the language and culture this week, which I did. But this week’s unexpected lesson was experiencing a little bit of what people in such remote communities feel when you are really in need and there are no highways to hospitals or home. I will never take the sound of our MAF plane for granted again. And I hope and pray that God will give hope, air, and life to many people through MAF.

Way-maker, miracle worker, promise keeper, light in the darkness. My God, that’s who You are!

Happy to be home bound to Wewak!

Dear MAF Friends, Family, Partners,
We would like to thank you for your patience as we have been working through the challenges of Covid-19 along with our own safety review following recent incidents.
The condition of the rural airstrips still plays a significant role in limiting our flight operations. The MAF team has committed to re-surveying every airstrip to which we operate, and then completing an evaluation (Risk Assessment) of that survey data.  This Risk Assessments will result in our making a decision as to whether or not we can provide service to a particular airstrip.
The communities will be given an update on what actions need to be taken should their airstrip not meet the MAF International Standards.  
In all cases, it is ultimately the responsibility of the community to ensure that their airstrip is maintained in a proper manner to include keeping the grass mowed and clearways clear of obstructions (trees and brush).
As of 1-July 2020, we are intending to begin limited passenger operations to airstrips that have been surveyed and successfully passed the Risk Assessment. The current list of airstrips that have passed the process is listed below.

It should be noted that MAF will be complying with the mandates set forth by the government under the National Pandemic Act, and therefore will be requiring appropriate hygiene and social distancing (including wearing of masks while on the plane and collection of temperature readings prior to boarding and disembarking). Passengers will also need to plan on completing an Air Passenger Travel Form which will be provided by MAF Staff.
Please note that questions regarding airstrips/bookings will only be handled through our [email protected] email address which will ensure that your request can be answered in a timely fashion.  
Thank you again for your partnership and prayers for MAF as we move forward into the “new normal” of operations here in Papua New Guinea.
PNG Country Director
Airstrips currently open for operations:
Mount Hagen
Nomad River
Port Moresby
Airstrips that have been surveyed and are in the Risk Assessment Process – Opening date not yet determined
Ok Isai
Airstrips currently on the survey schedule – date for survey not yet determined
April River
Green River
Lake Campbell
Wawoi Falls

We know there are many airstrips not yet listed in one of these categories. Surveying more than 200 airstrips is quite a task. Please bear with us. Thank you.

Facilitating a Trauma Healing Course
Part 1: Together We Learn

Story and Photos by Harriëtte Knigge

At the beginning of March, I was allowed to fly to Moropote with Caroline Wälde to give a trauma healing course. Caroline works with Liebenzell Mission and, for years, they have regularly held week-long courses for the people in the Moropote area as a kind of part-time Bible school.

Ready for departure at the MAF Wewak base: Harriëtte Knigge (left) and Caroline Wälde

I know Caroline from Wewak, where she lives with her family. Through her I have also become familiar with the women’s prison, where we have been going every week for fellowship with the inmates since 2019.

Welcomed and surrounded by friends on arrival

On arrival in Moropote, it was nice to see people
I knew from previous visits. We as a family spent a week at Moropote in August 2018 for our MAF PNG language and cultural orientation. Since we really enjoyed the people and place, we took my parents in law there for a long weekend at the end of January this year.

The welcome letter

Again, in typical Moropote tradition, Caroline and I were greeted with sing-sing and a beautiful welcome letter. My name “Haleta” sounds like “highlighter” in their pronunciation. I approve!

The trauma healing course we brought to Moropote explained what wounds of the heart and grief are, as well as how we can help others. We also discussed what God says about all this, what we can learn from the Bible, and what forgiveness is. These topics are so very applicable in this country where many people do not have access to health care, and therefore die young, and where there is hardly any access to professional help for psychological needs especially for those living so remotely.

A full church: 40 to 45 students a day!

Direct encouragement from the Bible

We really had a fantastic week. Forty to forty-five students, men and women, attended the course. Every morning, they gathered for four hours of lessons and another two every afternoon. It was a full program, but we learned a lot together. They shared about their culture and we shared some “Western wisdom”; together we learned from the Bible. We sang, joked, swam in the river, and prayed with people for their personal needs.

Helping each other read the Bible

The men and women are nicely separated: each have their side in the church

We got to know some of the women quite well. They had all kinds of questions about the course and their personal life, and came to us in the quiet moments. It can be hard for them to find a trusted person in the bush. With almost everyone being related, it is difficult to share if you don’t want your story to be known everywhere. Caroline speaks the Tok Pisin language fluently so I sat next to her and listened while she talked with the women. Even though I don’t know the language fluently, I prayed in my heart for the woman and the conversation. I marvel at the questions they asked; so personal, so varied, and sometimes so basic. The questions ranged from swollen feet during pregnancy to the role of men and women in the church; from the vanilla harvest to problems surrounding the children’s education.

The women were full of questions. Many came to see Caroline and Harriëtte one-by-one also in the afternoon.

In between lessons, I sold a lot of audio Bibles, Tok Pisin Bibles, some reading glasses, and Jesus DVDs. All of these materials, provided by CRMF, come from the Bible box Wilfred (my husband) often has on the plane, which he lent me for this week’s course; particular as we knew the people had asked for the audio Bibles

Bible box sales outside the mission house accommodation

I admire the strength of the local people. Mrs. A. gave birth just a month ago, yet brought her little one with her in a bilum. Every day, she sat in the front row with another toddler beside her.

Mrs. A. walking home with her baby
sleeping in the bilum

Mister B. couldn’t hear everything in the back, but told us that he is a prayer warrior and prayed for us during the course. If we wanted to write down our prayer points, he could take them home after the course.

Mister B., the prayer warrior

Mister H. brought his son to the course every day and the child found a nice place to sleep.

Children sleep where they want

The course ended on Thursday afternoon. As we said goodbye to the students, Luke (the man who sits at the HF radio every morning and afternoon) talked about Covid-19. The message was vague and, listening to it, I got a little sense of what it is like to live in such a remote village, surrounded by endless jungle and swamps, so cut off from technology and media. You just have no idea what’s going on outside your area. Is the news really true? What exactly does it mean? How far has Covid-19 spread now and is it already here in PNG?
We really didn’t know either! Caroline and I read Psalm 91 before enjoying our dinner of fish brought by local people: “my refuge, my fortress, my God! I trust you!”

Knowing we will be picked up the next morning and go home to our families, we looked back on a wonderful week. I was so looking forward to teaching this course. I enjoy training and it was wonderful for me to be able to use my gifts outside the house. We have now been out of the Netherlands and part of MAF for over three years, and for the first time abroad I felt it from my toes: Yes, I was made for this!

Group picture in front of the church building where the course was held

Sepik area airstrip surveys

Between 19-22 May, our Goroka based pilots Brad Venter and Arjan Paas, along with a team from the Rural Airstrip Agency, RAA, spent a few days in the Sepik to survey various airstrip our Wewak base flies to.
Now, Wilfred Knigge und Andy Symmonds, our Wewak based pilots know the ins and outs of the current airstrip survey procedures and as of 1 of June, slowly but steadily will survey more airstrips in the region.
As previously communicated, a major contributor to our recent landing incidents has been the condition of the airstrips. As a result, MAF is working diligently to re-survey all of the 213 airstrips that we service. As you can imagine, this process will take some time. Once our teams complete the on-site survey of a particular airstrip, the information obtained must be reviewed and a decision made as to whether or not we can continue with operational flights at the particular airstrip. This process may take several days from the time of the survey to the decision. Our teams will also be preparing recommendations for the communities of what actions must be taken in order for the airstrip to be operational.

RAA team doing surface testing

MAF pilots doing airstrip surveys, L-R: Wilfred Knigge, Arjan Paas, Andy Symmonds

First do the survey, then open the Bible Box!

While being out surveying airstrips, Wewak pilot Wilfred Knigge tucked his Bible box onboard the aircraft last week – and had interested and happy customers!
MAF PNG pilots have carried Bibles into remote mission stations and communities since 1951 (the birth of MAF in PNG). Historically such transport has been in response to requests from MAFs mission partners. Since the nationalisation of the church denominations and subsequently reduced funding for the import and distribution of bulk Bible shipments, the accessibility to Bibles has reduced significantly for isolated people.
MAF is improving accessibility to Bibles, both printed and audio, by carrying a “Bible Box” onboard most flights. The Bible box is literally a plastic toolbox filled with Bibles and Bible commentaries and dictionaries of different types which the pilots take out on their flights and “distribute” to people in the bush. Each Bible Box weighs approximately 10 kgs.
The Bible (audio and written) and soon solar radios are sourced from MAF Technology Services PNG, in PNG known as CRMF, who arrange bulk imports.
The Bibles and resources are “sold” to the local people at remote airstrips. They are often sold for less than half the price for ‘location-appropriate prices’. It is unwise to give the Bibles away for free as the culture predicates that only things you buy are of value.
MAF PNG bears the cost of the freight of these boxes as part of its operational expense so this project will help MAF PNG cover those costs.

Read more about MAF’s Bible Box ministry HERE

Wilfred Knigge opening his Bible Box

A need for a medevac!

During the Sepik airstrip survey trip, on Thursday, the team went to Samban to do the survey. That night, Brad Venter who was part of the team, received an email from the missionary based at Samban to ask for a medical evacuation flight. Two patients only came in after the aircraft had already left.
One patient was a man who had a broken jaw because he was drunk and he got into a fight with some others who busted his jaw. He ended up going to Wewak by boat.
The other medevac was needed for a 4-year-old child from Tamo who had an eye tumour. Supposedly, it took the family twelve hours by canoe to get to Samban where they hoped to get helped. Currently, Samban got a doctor from England working in the clinic. The doctor was able to look at the tumour and realised, unfortunately, there’s nothing that they could do locally. So they were contacting hospitals in Madang and trying to figure out what to do and together with the doctor and missionaries at Samban, we as MAF were looking at all different options. Brad shares: “The sad reality is, with an ocular tumour that big right in your eye, there’s not much you can do. And so basically, it was really just the kind of care for the child until he dies. The little boy’s name is Freddy and he’s four years old, but he only weighed six kilos. He’s got quite a bit of intracranial pressure and was in pain most of the time. We just put him on the father’s lap and basically treated him like an infant. We flew the father and another relative and the child up to Mt Hagen. They had got a reference letter for the Mt Hagen Hospital from the doctor in Samban and also a reference letter for the Madang Hospital, in case they go to Madang where they have family support.
During the flight, we stayed as low as possible from Samban to Mt Hagen and to stop any kind of pressure in the child’s head.”
Please join us in prayer for little Freddy and his family as they go through this rough season in life.

After arrival at Mt Hagen

More airstrip surveys!
Between 19-22 May, another crew did surveys for airstrips in the Hagen area. From Mt Hagen, they went to Yambaitok and Yenkisa, to Pyarulama, Koinambe, Tsendiap and Kol.
Two staff from RAA, Erik and Peter, were also on board. Erik did all the surface testing and Peter conducted conversations with the villagers about the airstrip and Covid-19.
Sander, from CRMF, looked at all the HF radios at the airstrips to get a good overview of where HF radios are installed. He collected information and did some repairs at the same time.
Corné Noordhoek and Markus Bischoff were the pilots on these missions. Timon Kuendig, one of our pilot-engineers, also helped with the surveys for MAF.

Pilot Corne Noordhoek talking to the community

Sander, from CRMF, checking and fixing HF radios

Timon Kuendig with a group of villagers

making the most of the airplane’s shade