Our Goroka Twin Otter crew, Brad Venter and Jason Marsh, arrived for work that particular Monday morning expecting a normal Goroka Twin Otter program. Their first run was a drop off for some passengers and cargo in Guwasa, from where they would then fly to A*, a nearby airstrip where a group of missionaries are based. One of the missionary ladies there was relocating and they planned to take her and her cargo to Aiyura. However, things didn’t go so smoothly. The following is an unfolding of the morning’s events, as told by Brad and Jason.

Jason: By 8:30am, we had still been unable to get any weather reports, and this delay was pushing our planned return to Goroka past 6 pm, which is close to our last light limit. 95% of the airstrips in PNG are not lighted for night flying, Goroka included. I talked with our programmer to see if he could come up with another plan to allow us to maximize what we could complete that day. A little while later, he told us we should just go straight to A* – Aiyura – Goroka, and then continue on with the rest of our program. He also reported that the weather at A* and Aiyura was good, so we quickly prepared everything for these flight legs.
Brad: After completing our checks, we taxied out for take-off. On take-off we noticed that the auto-feather system on the Otter was not working. This is a critical system used for taking off at short airstrips. In fact, if it is not working, then taking off is prohibited. We aborted the take-off and did some more tests and the system seemed to work fine. We attempted the take-off again and this time everything seemed to work without a problem. However, we were a little concerned because if it failed on the ground in A*, we would be stuck. However, we decided that it would be fine.
After a short 15 minute flight, we arrived at A* and met the missionaries there. One of the missionaries quickly pulled Jason aside and told him that, as well as our booked load, they wanted us to put a young woman, Susan*, on the aircraft and take her to Goroka. She had been abused and brutally beaten by her husband over several days and he was intending to kill her. Susan had managed to escape and had found refuge at the mission station. The missionaries had hidden the woman in their house, but now they needed to move her and had arranged a safe house for her in Goroka.
After loading the cargo, we prepared the aircraft and Jason started the left engine. The missionary had gone to fetch Susan from his house and they had concealed her in his Land Cruiser which has tinted windows. His wife had also wrapped Susan up in a scarf so that no one could recognise her. He reversed the vehicle right up to the aircraft door and Susan quickly jumped into the aircraft. I closed the door and ran around the aircraft to get in.
Jason: Brad climbed in and we taxied to the top of the airstrip, lining up for take-off. This allowed us to have a good view down the runway and to see if her husband was coming. Here, we completed the rest of our check list. I applied power but, due to the steepness of the airstrip, the plane started to slide. The Auto Feather Arm Light was not lighting, and so we had to abort. Without the Auto Feather Arm light coming on, we cannot take-off. We maneuvered the aircraft around so that we could test the system again, and everything was working as it should. We repositioned ourselves at the top of the runway, applied power, let out a prayer to God, and everything worked fine with just a short delay before the Auto Feather Arm Light lit up. Off we went to get Susan to a women‘s shelter and to safety.
Brad: We had an uneventful flight to Aiyura and then flew back to Goroka where Bryan Matthews (from CRMF) and his wife Pam were waiting to take Susan to the safe house. Michelle and Melanie, our wives, were communicating with Bryan and Pam as to whether Susan had clothes and food and other necessary supplies for her stay in the safe house. Together they packed a few boxes to give to her.
Jason: God knew about this issue with our aircraft, but He allowed to do this one flight to get Susan out to safety.
Brad: We had also been communicating with engineering regarding the state of the aircraft, and it was decided that, after this flight, no more flying would happen that day until the aircraft could be flown to Mt Hagen the next morning for repairs.
Later we had a chance to speak with Bryan and Pam, and we found out a bit more about Susan’s story. She is 27 years old, was married at age 17, and has five children all under the age of 10. Her husband has been repeatedly abusing her and beating her for many years. She has feared for her life to the point of considering suicide. Susan recently managed to run away and seek shelter with the missionaries. Her story is even sadder because she has survived breast cancer and was recently diagnosed with cancer of the uterus which seems to have spread to other parts of her body, making her blind in one eye. She still fears for her life, despite being in the safehouse, because even if her husband is arrested, once he is released from prison he will come looking for her again. Being a mother, Susan of course is also very concerned about her children who are still in the village with her husband.
Getting the police to do something is a challenge. They are very busy, and this story is unfortunately an all too common occurrence. Not only that, funding is limited and so the police do not have the fuel to drive to the village (which fortunately has a road) to go and make an arrest.
This story is far from finished. Susan can only stay in the safe house for about one month. Following that, it is unclear as to where she will go. During this time, Pam Matthews is trying to get the police to follow up on the case and make an arrest. She will have to find the funds to pay for the fuel for the police vehicles. If they can make an arrest, then hopefully they can bring the children to be with Susan in Goroka. Even if all this is successful, we can’t be sure that the husband will be convicted, and then how many years he will spend in prison. On top of that, Susan still has the battle with cancer, with medical treatment in Papua New Guinea being very limited. That leaves five children with a very bleak future indeed.
Unfortunately, abuse of women is common in PNG, and the government is almost powerless to do anything about it. Something else that happens frequently in PNG is witch killings, where people (usually women) are accused by someone of witchcraft or sorcery. If this happens, then it is virtually a death sentence for the person who has been named. They are usually tortured and then killed. This is something that is happening in PNG regularly and not much is being done about it.
Looking back on the flight that saved Susan, we can see God’s hand in it. Had we flown to Guwasa first, it is possible that due to the problems with the auto-feather system, we may have chosen to return to Goroka and thus would not have complete the flight to A*.

Please pray for Susan and her children. We are at a loss as to what to do, and we can only trust that God will bring something good out of it all.

 

* No photos of the actual flight are included to protect the identity of the persons involved. Accordingly, names of people and places have been changed or abbreviated

Rick and Hudson Higlett arrived in the PNG programme shortly after Easter. While settling into life in Mt Hagen they had some Tok Pisin refresher lessons and discussed some PNG Cultural Orientation topics. 

On 12th May they boarded the Twin Otter for Tekin to be dropped off there for the following view days to experience life in a remote village and to learn about the impact MAF has had in this community over the years, as well as being forced to talk Pidgin. Here are some of their highlights:

 

“At Tekin, we first felt the remoteness and the safety of the whole isolated community being cut off from other tribal groups by the mountains and the Strickland and Sepik Rivers; that the Gospel had taken root in the hearts of the people, inspired new confidence in its power to bring people out of darkness and into the marvelous light. Yet that wasn’t enough! Because some of the people did not believe, some have not followed the faith of their fathers. There are some young people who drop out of school and are led into drug abuse. But God breaks stubborn hearts and we were able to listen to Maya (the brother of our language helper, Betsu) preach on Sunday at the High School. Glenda, the High School’s missionary teacher, told us later that he is called “U-Turn” because of the way God radically turned his life around.“

“So, while we saw the wonderful people and the simple life away from the pressures of western society and the instability of the rest of Papua New Guinea, we did also see the hardship: collecting firewood, caring for gardens, mud floors in the High School and cold water for washing. We know that it is not paradise. God is reigning there, but not everyone has let him into their life. We look at the rivers that almost surround the Oksapmin Valley as being like the Garden of Eden surrounded by five rivers. And we still see the serpent (Satan) ready to lure people out of obedience and into sin.

 

 

What can we share that has not already been said? We met Miss Glenda Giles and are so glad we did. We saw the school she began and the students’ thirst for knowledge and education. We were able to share the call that God had put on our lives that brought us here. Romans 1:12 where Paul writes: Tingting bilong mi i olsem. Mi laik bai bilip bilong yupela i ken helpim mi na bilip bilong mi i ken helpim yupela tu, na dispelai ken strongim bel bilong yumi olgeta wantaim.

We recognise that we are but infants in our faith, with worldly comforts that do not exist in their world; so it is good for us to be encouraged by their faith as we share what God is doing in our lives.

After six blessed days, in which we saw so much, the pilots returned to take us on to Telefomin with all its creature comforts.

House #2 with electricity and gas, and once Rick had looked at the router settings we had useable internet. The only thing we could have used is steps to climb into the bed. The view from the veranda and the dining table looked out across the main thoroughfare, the airstrip towards the Secondary School and the valley beyond. It gave us the opportunity to receive visitors from the many people we met in our walks and from lotu on Sunday morning.

On our walk on Saturday afternoon, we met Merna’s in-laws: aunties, mother and father-in-law and agreed to join them at church the next morning. To do so we walked past the three other Baptist Churches to the Angkem Baptist Church and enjoyed worship with them, sharing our journey and introducing ourselves before the message by Pastor Noreen. After the service, we were introduced to Pastor Kufanok and his wife who have a ministry among 23 Border Baptist Churches in the Tumolbil region. In our sharing with them later in the afternoon we prayed and were greatly encouraged to assist them in their work through resources available through CRMF. The time was relaxing.

We visited the Secondary School, finished our Tok Pisin course, shared meals and enjoyed the freedom of being able to walk unhindered by the constraints in Mt Hagen. We are reminded of when King David desired to build a house for God, God instead promised to build and establish David’s House. So we now have a King who reigns over all and for all time: the King of kings! We might have come to PNG with hopes of doing something that will help MAF assist the remote peoples, but God is using this time to pour out grace upon grace to us all.“

 

 

How long have you been with MAF PNG?  

Since 21st of October, 1996.

What brought you to MAF? 

When I was at High School in Vanimo, Pilot Lowell Deering’s wife Gail used to teach us CBC students in Religion Instruction. One day Lowell told us that he is a MAF pilot. For school holidays me and my parents flew on the MAF plane. Then the wish just came into my mind that one day I wanted to work in that airline company if that’s in God’s will. After high school I was unable to continue with my education. I had no work, but I was faithfully attending the church’s youth activities. About two and half years later, Kos Umion, who back then was the Vanimo Base Manager, came and told me during our youth night activity that he wanted to employ a female to work as a ticketing officer and asked if I was interested. Of course I was and sent in my application… Woo… that was my wish, and it’s where I am now.

What is your role? 

I am the Flight Programmer, which means I plan and monitor our flight program, so I have to manage flight booking information effectively to plan a realistic program. I try to communicate effectively with internal and external customers, striving for reliability of service.

What is your favourite part about this role? 

To plan and monitor the flight program, and to plan a realistic program.

What are the challenges?

Sometimes pilots are not happy with the programs that I put together for them to fly and that makes me second guess what am I planning…

Sometimes medevacs become a real challenge if for some reason we can’t help fast enough or if there is a delay in sending a plane to a certain airstrip; a person might lose their life, which makes me feel really sad.

Another challenge is education, health and subsidy passengers in remote places. I always give these requests priority in the schedule, but we have some pilots who are restricted due to their status of training and then airstrip penalties apply, so I can’t always help the request and people out there might need to find other ways to travel – that makes me feel like I am not helping them.

How does your job support MAF’s purpose and vision to see isolated people physically and spiritually transformed into Christ’s name?

By programming the planes & pilots flying from point A to point B, thereby supporting MAF’s purpose.

How have you seen God at work in your role?

Weather problem yet pilots get through / MAF getting to remote airstrips or steep airstrips/ helping medevac’s and sick patients to Hospitals to get help. Personally I can say it is a big blessing for me to work in a mission Organisation; God is in control.

LuAnne Cadd interviews Dr. David Mills in November 2016 about the Kompiam Hospital and how MAF supports their work in remote areas.

Kompiam Rural Hospital in Papua New Guinea is at the end of a road. Everything north is inaccessible except by walking or flying. The hospital supervises five health centers and four aid posts in those remote regions to the north. MAF flies medevacs from this region to Kompiam Hospital, as well as flying in medical supplies, staff and building materials to the remote health posts.

Dr. David Mills from Australia has been working at the hospital since 2000 sharing the journey with his wife, Karina, and four children (Natasha, Ashleigh, Chelsea and Nicholas).

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What brought you to this remote place?

I’m from Australia, whence all good things come. I came as a medical student back in 1993, so that was my first taste of Papua New Guinea, and again in 1997 with my wife. In 1999 we came just to relieve a doctor but it was then that we decided to come back to Kompiam and we’ve been here effectively since 2000.

Is this a long-term commitment or do you have an end date?

No, we’ve never had an end date. We just take each year as it comes. We could finish tomorrow or they could bury us here. I don’t know.

 

Are you raising children here?

Oh yes. Goodness, I’ve lost count. We’ve got four of our own, but we tend to share PNG-style. We have a lot of extras that live in the house with us. I think we’re 11 at the moment.

 

You do ‘patrols’ where you visit the field health centres and aid posts, combining trekking and flying. How often do you do these?

It depends a lot on how well staffed we are. If we have enough doctors, then one of us should be out every month or two. For MAF flights, we spend what we have and work within our limit. But if we had more funding, our operations would be completely different because MAF would bring in patients all the time, we would patrol whenever we needed it, and bring in an aircraft any time. We have to say no to people continuously. We’ll take the emergencies we can do. So we’re operating in first gear if you like. If the support was there, we might get to second or third gear.

In PNG you’re still just putting the foundations down. You’re not even close to standing the frames up and putting the roof on in terms of a health service. It’s very rudimentary. Aircraft is not the entire answer, but if we had more funding, we’d certainly be able to get a lot further. It’s just the nature of PNG.

 

How many deliveries do you do at the hospital here?

We deliver about 200 here a year. There are about 1600 deliveries a year in the bush, so you get some idea of the imbalance. Some die. We have no data, but we know they’re out there because when we patrol, we hear the stories of women who have died in childbirth.

 

What would you say has been one of the greatest joys of this work for you? 


It’s hard to distill it. The joys and the frustrations happen every day together. But if you can bring someone out of the bush who’s in obstructed labor, or in terrible pain and you can deliver that baby, for instance, that’s a very satisfying thing.

 

Also to be involved with the community, to sort out their issues, like today. We’re going onto the backside of the mountain to try and sort out this tribal fighting. To be part of a community in such an intimate way that you’re really involved in the machinations of what makes the community tick, for better or for worse – that’s a very privileged position to be in. There’s a deep satisfaction that this is what we’re meant to be doing.

 

What about challenges, hardships?

This is truly an ungoverned area in the sense that there’s no government, no police, no administration of any kind. And you have to work at a village level. If someone decides they want to break in here and steal, no one is going to stop him. So dealing with the community on that level without having any government structure around you was quite a foreign thing for us.

It also gets a bit lonely at times. We have very good friendships with the people here, but to be able to speak your own language, to have that relaxed style of conversation that you would be sitting over a coffee with someone – that we miss a bit. The people hold you with such high respect here, there’s not that level of intimacy that comes from having a conversation on the same level as just another human being, rather than one of the bosses. We miss that. That’s a level of friendship that’s quite important.

 

Tell me about the tribal fighting that is currently happening. Is it affecting the hospital?

This group here at Kompiam is fighting with the guys on the back of this mountain. So you have a situation where the people who get shot from here can come to the hospital, but the ones over there can’t come because this is enemy territory. So they start to get frustrated and say it’s not fair. ‘You guys are getting services and we’re not.’ So the response to that is they come and destroy the hospital. Then everyone is on the same playing field.

Those types of threats have started to emerge in the last 24 hours or so. We’re going to go there today and say we’ll try to help you guys as much as we can. (Since this interview the fighting has calmed down, according to Dr. Mills.)  

 

How does MAF support your work here?

Right now we’re building accommodation for one of our health workers at Megau. We’ve flown in a kit house – two runs and we’re nearly finished. MAF has flown it all. Materials, everything.

Our health centers are spread out all over and they are connected by air. There’s no road network beyond Kompiam so you either fly or walk. To get a patient out they have to construct some sort of a stretcher and then carry the person which may take up to three days in some cases. Or they get them to an airstrip then get on the radio and organize a flight.

MAF is the only one that does that here. In this part of the world, it’s either walking or MAF. So without MAF, basically there’s no way for those women or surgical patients to get help. It’s critical.

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I asked a patient whom Dr. Mills was attending to about the value of the hospital. Akalianda was shot in a tribal fight at Lapalama and flew with MAF to Kompiam Hospital. He is paralyzed and will likely not walk again.

Akalianda: If this hospital wouldn’t exist many of us who get wounded in tribal fights or are sick would die. Kompiam hospital and its little health centres they support us. I got seriously shot by a gun but the hospital was there with its staff and they continuously checked day and night and I am alive. We are very thankful for the hospital and health service of Kompiam. I would have died and they would have already buried me. This hospital is a good hospital.