Singing people, dancing in their most festive clothing expressing their joy and appreciation was the scene that welcomed pilots Richie Axon and Paul Woodington as they brought in the first aircraft after 22 years of isolation into Yalum. The airstrip was closed due to civil unrest, but the need and longing for an open door through aviation caused the people to come together in peace talks and step up to clear the runway so that MAF once again can serve the community.

It was a fine and sunny morning when the pilots prepared the test landing for Yalum. The airstrip with its 450 meters and 2.4 % slope is a great challenge which limits the load of the aircraft and demands certain safety measures. The RAA (Rural Airstrip Authority) had done a survey a month before, but the pilots needed to confirm the length and that the clearway was free from obstacles. Richie Axon describes the event before landing.

“We took our time to fly around the airstrip and orient ourselves. We flew two low level inspection passes to examine the airstrip. Then I flew an approach down to short final and carried out a go around to evaluate what would be our ’committal point’ and Paul Woodington flew the first landing”.

Surprising survey

Yalum is located in the Enga Province and has around 10-12 000 people living in the surrounding eight council wards. Peter Pyandea from RAA was one of the men who conducted the survey before the test landing. He says that it took a full day of driving from Goroka to reach Laiagam, the closest town, where they spent the night before they continued the next day for another hour by car and 7-8 hours walking to reach the Yalum airstrip.

“I was expecting to see trees and bushes growing but was really surprised to see that the airstrip was clean”, he says. “It was much better than I expected”.

The community had come together and cleared the airstrip of grass, trees and had put up a fence. The only feedback from the survey was some loose gravel in the line area that needed to be buried and that they needed to move the fencing a little bit.

“The community had done most of the work, which really showed that they need this airstrip”, says Peter.

Changing history

The communities around Yalum have been suffering from civil unrest for many years, and it was when a group of armed men attempted to storm the aircraft to attack a passenger that they felt was their enemy, that the airstrip was closed with immediate effect over 20 years ago.

Fortunately, the attempt failed, and the police became involved. But with difficulties and distrust within the relationships in the communities continuing, the airstrip remained closed and started to overgrow.

Until now. The people didn’t want to live in isolation anymore and after encouragement and pressure from a few key leaders, the villages came together last year for peace talks and started mobilizing for change. And together they cleared and prepared the airstrip.

God’s servants

When MAF landed this test flight the community was waiting with a large singsing group.

” We were greeted with handshakes and smiles by some of the community and church leaders. It was obvious that a lot of work had gone into preparing and the community leaders kept saying how much they appreciated the airstrip being reopened”, says Richie.

With the challenging short airstrip which limits the amount of people and cargo that can be flown in and out, the village was encouraged to work with RAA to try to extend the airstrip which could then open up more possibilities. Richie greeted the people with a short speech.

“It’s a privilege to reopen the airstrip. We appreciate the effort you have put in to improve the airstrip to a level that we can operate again. But don’t look at MAF as your lifeline, see us as God’s servants to you. I hope our coming here will remind you that you are not forgotten, even though you don’t have access to “normal” services.”

 

”If we couldn’t see, diagnose, and bring these children back for treatment, it is likely the disease would have progressed on and may have eventually led to their deaths,” reflects Dr Rebecca Williams when realising that their initial suspicion of a TB diagnosis was correct and Mia and Masi had received surgery and were started on a treatment.

Malaumanda is a village in the border area of East Sepik Pro- vince and Enga, with around 300 people plus children living around the airstrip/station but with a few hundred more living in the catchment area of the airstrip, about 30- 120 minutes walking distance. It’s a very remote area, surrounded by very big mountains and steep valleys.

To travel out to Wewak would take about 3 days walking through the jungle, followed by 3 days on a motor canoe. There are no other villages nearby to Malaumanda within one or even two days walking distance. There’s no mobile phone coverage in the village, people hike 4 hours to a nearby mountain to catch a signal.

There’s a small aid post in the village, monitored by two village health volunteers one hour a day, Monday to Saturday. Daina and Didimus are helping the community with what they can during the week on a volunteer basis. The village gets the chance for more professional clinics and medical treatment 2-4 times a year when MAF flies a medical team from the Kompiam hospital in to do 1-3 days of clinics.

During these patrol days, Daina and Didimus help translate the local language when the doctors examine the patients; and at the same time the two receive hands on training from the doctors.

Dr Rebecca Williams, who led the patrol at the end of June, is Medical Superintendent at the Kompiam District Hospital under Enga Baptist Health Services. Joining her was Dr David Moore (UK, working with New Tribes Mission and currently based at Kompiam) who did most of the examinations un- der Dr Rebecca’s supervision to get more experience in the area of rural health and medi- cal needs.

Lucy Jack and Jessica Kandan, Community Health Workers from Kompiam, were also part of the team focussing on immunisations and health awareness for the adults.

During the clinic hours, Dr Rebecca and Dr David attended to almost 50 patients, men, women and children. Two pregnant women were checked up with ultrasound. Most cases seen were generalized fungal infection of skin, Osteoarthritis, and suspected TB cases.

Those people with the suspicion of TB were highly encouraged to find their way to Kompiam as soon as possible for further examination and testing, and consequently treatment. On the flight out, two young girls and their care giver found space on the plane. A young man, probably around 20 years, followed ten days later on a different MAF flight.

 

Dr Rebecca shared:

“Mia and Masi, age 5 and 8, were seen by us during clinic in Malaumanda, and had a positive family history of TB (their father had been treated for pulmonary TB in Wewak some years ago). Their mother brought them in to see us as the older girl Masi had a swelling on her neck that had persisted for several months. On examination and with the positive family history of TB, it was highly likely that she had TB of the lymph nodes.

 

We then asked for her to bring in all her other children so we could screen them also. The younger sister Mia also has similar neck swellings suggestive of TB lymph nodes. Their mother was advised to bring the two girls to Kompiam so we could do a biopsy and run the samples through gene X-pert, prior to starting them on TB medications.

When we returned on the 24th June back to Kompiam, we brought these two girls along with their guardian. The next day we did a biopsy of the lymph nodes, which came back positive for TB and they commenced with TB medications immediately.

They will remain in Kompiam for 2 months of TB treatment before going back to Malaumanda where they will continue their treatment for another 4 months. If we couldn’t see, diagnose, and bring these children back for treatment, it is likely the disease would have progressed on and may have eventually led to their deaths. We also know that there must be some people in the com- munity with active TB, as TB bacilli is only spread in people who have pulmonary TB i.e. a cough and children typically contract TB from adults rather than other children.”

Seeing a trolley full of boxes addressed to the Christian Union Mission in Mt Hagen, our Communications Officer, Mandy Glass, wanted to know more about the content and purpose of the boxes one of our aircraft just flew in from Goroka. She contacted the mission and heard back from Scott Hardaway.
Scott and his family arrived in PNG earlier this year from the United States and are now residing on the Christian Union Bible College campus outside of Mt Hagen where Scott is teaching and mentoring national pastors while his wife Noel is homeschooling their two children and is also helping to establish a primary school to serve the children of the Bible College students.
Below, Scott shares about his ministry and the blessings of these books he recently received through MAF.

Our Bible college fills an important role in training PNG national pastors. Increasingly, schools are moving away from Tok Pisin in favor of English instruction, and we have had a number of churches and denominations tell us, “Please don’t ever stop providing Tok Pisin instruction because there are so many in our communities who do not speak English but have a burden to be trained for ministry.” Consequently, our enrollment has been rising in recent years, as we draw students from all over PNG.

But one of the problems that we often run into is that solid Biblical teaching materials are increasingly hard to find in Tok Pisin. Many of the materials we’ve used in the past simply are no longer being printed. We reached out to New Tribes Mission and discovered that they are actually fighting against the trend toward all-English materials and are working to produce and publish more books in Tok Pisin for those ministry workers in PNG who don’t read English.

We ordered 50 copies of the Planim Pos material, which is going to serve as our new Old Testament and New Testament survey courses, as well as a few copies of other books in Tok Pisin.
We’ll be evaluating those other books to see if we can use them in other courses we teach, or possibly even the establishment of new course offerings. And we’ll be putting at least one copy of each book in our school library, so that they’ll be available for students to use for research and writing projects, as well as their own reading and edification.

We’re so grateful to MAF for transporting these important training materials free of charge. Eliminating the cost of transport was a major factor in us being able to purchase these books, which I am confident will be an enormous asset to our school and our students, as they prepare for the ministry work God has called them to.

Translation of student’s testimony
Wok Ministry 15

This study helped me to realise that I can’t just only listen to God’s word with no consequences. I need to listen and obey God’s Word and also share it with other Christians. To hear and obey and to help other Christians will help me to become a stronger Christian. I really want to be changed that way and therefore I need to follow Christ’s example and share his good news with the world around me. When I think about the huge price and what Jesus did for me to redeem my sins and to save me that makes me want to follow his example. When I read this Book “Yu kam bihainim mi,” I really got changed. Before, I just said I am a Christian, but I didn’t really listen to his word and just practised a few things but didn’t really obey his words. Since I am at CUBC a lot has changed in my life. The Holy Spirit, God’s strength himself, came into my life. Prayer is now a huge part of my life.

Testimony

When Erwin Jungen was working at our Mt Hagen base as a casual traffic officer he had the chance to accompany a team to conduct some airstrip surveys. Erwin has been accepted at the MAF Mareeba Training Centre, Australia to train there as a pilot under the PNG pilot training scheme. Pandemic travel restrictions delayed him for the January intake this year. By working for MAF here at Mt Hagen he’s not only bridging the time until he can move to Mareeba, but he’s gaining valuable experiences about our operation and MAF’s ministry.

”Over the past few days, I was given the go-ahead to join the team of MAF and RAA (Rural Airstrip Agency) surveyors to survey closed rural airstrips.

It was an amazing experien- ce with a steep but valuable learning curve. Learning about the local radio callouts and the history behind the strips we were surveying was so inte- resting, with some airstrips ha- ving been built in the 60s and taking upwards of 16 years to finish!

Learning to use the technolo- gy, properly measure out the airstrips and have an awareness of hazards and potential risks that these locations provided was an exciting opportunity.

Irreplaceable experiences

 

Though the learning was inte- resting and help broaden my understanding the greatest parts of the surveying airstrips were the experiences. From shepherding cows off the runway and the ridiculous heat at Mamusi to the 13 degrees steep and 350m long runway at Mengamenau it was incre- dible looking at the lengths MAF in coordination with rural health care centres and com- munities go to in order to pro- vide a service.

That’s what it all comes down to. Not money, not how cool it is to fly in such beautiful and remote areas. It’s providing a service for the people of our country. To provide economical and financial doorways. To aid in medical treatment.

Meeting these communities was the most important thing for me, learning their history, their languages, their plights and their stories.

That is just irreplaceable.