As we were walking from the airstrip to the village an elderly man and woman approached, smiling broadly and greeting us warmly. After visiting for a few minutes we were saying our goodbyes when our new found friend very casually mentioned that "a while back there were some Americans here...and I had them in my home and we fed them." We thought that was a bit random, but who knows? Then he mentioned, "they were pilots too, but they fell out of their airplane." OK!!?? Now you have our attention! We asked him when this happened? "Oh, a while ago," He said. "Back when the Japanese were here."
Unbelievable! We've heard the story mentioned by numerous people second hand, we've read the book, "The Airmen And the Headhunters: A True Story of Lost Soldiers, Heroic Tribesmen and the Unlikeliest Rescue of World War II", we've seen the show "The Airmen and the Headhunters" on PBS's "Secrets of the Dead, ...but here was a guy who lived it first hand! He was seven years old at the time, and his father was one of the men that risked his life keeping a small group of American aviators alive in the jungle against all odds, while the Japanese relentlessly sought to find and kill them. As a boy, he was tasked with taking rice to the Americans hidden deep in the jungle to keep them alive. It's a really incredible story and I recommend you read the book, available at Amazon (linked above). Last year PBS aired a show that originally aired on BBC about the same story. We flew the camera crew around when they were here. Again, it's a remarkable story, worth seeing...though be aware there are a few graphic images shown of headhunting. You can view the show online at the link above, or purchase a DVD copy through Amazon here.
Anyway, it was amazing to talk to this guy about his experience, especially when you see how it ties into everything else about the weekend.
Life in the interior is all about community and relationships.
Their generosity is humbling. These dear ladies came together to cook up a storm for us on their wood fires. From the stir fried veggies to the boiled pig liver with pineapple, it was all cooked and served out of big, giving, generous hearts.
This is a bit long, but I think you'll find it very fascinating!
Earlier I mentioned that the "Airmen and the Headhunters" story had a connection to what we were doing out in Kampung Baru this past weekend. Amazingly, it all ties together. In 1939 John Francis Willfinger, a missionary with the C&MA, left the comforts of America for a remote part of Indonesia--Northeast Kalimantan. Over the next few years he served tirelessly, learning the language, earning the trust of the Dayak people, and pouring out his heart so the people could know the peace and joy of Christ. Several years later the Japanese had taken Indonesia, and with it the island of Borneo. Willfinger, along with a handful of other missionaries scattered throughout Northeast Kalimantan had the chance to flee. They clearly understood that to stay would mean almost certain death.
Well, John Francis Willfinger decided against fleeing. He wrote in a letter, "If I hide, naturally the saints will be forced to lie, to disobey orders if they hide me. In short I would be forced to drag them into sin, whereas my intention upon leaving my country and my family was only to make mankind righteous and not to bring them into sin, even though I pay for it with my life." He then surrendered himself to the Japanese and was subsequently executed.
Willfinger's willingness to give his life for the Gospel, had a profound impact on the people to whom he ministered. To this day many strong Christians in the area point back to Willfinger's ultimate example of faith as the beginning of the the Christian church in that part of Kalimantan. But suddenly, the Dayaks found themselves without missionaries. Along with Willfinger, several others were martyred in other areas of Kalimantan or were imprisoned in harsh, Japanese internment camps. But the seeds had been planted.
Near the end of the war a group of American airmen were shot down over the jungles of Borneo (actually they were hit over Brunei, but their plane made it as far as the highlands of Northeast Kalimantan before going down.) They bailed out into the jungles of the "headhunters", one of the most feared places in the world for a pilot to be shot down. Stories abounded of the ruthless headhunting rituals practiced by people in the area...the pilots were sure to face certain death. But a strange thing happened. Quickly discovered in the jungle, the Dayaks recognized the american flag patches on the airmen's uniforms and understood that these men were from the same country as the missionaries that had given their lives in the not so distant past.
One thing led to another and in the end they decided to hide and protect the airmen from the ruthless pursuit of the Japanese. They did it at the risk of death to themselves and their family, and eventually not only plaid a roll in one of the strangest rescues of WWII, but also defeated the Japanese at their own game. When you talk with local Dayaks about the history of the Christian church in their area, it all ties together. Because of John Francis Willfinger willingly giving his life for the people he loved, many placed their faith in Christ. Though young in their faith and not understanding much of the Gospel, it was this faith and their appreciation of Willfinger and other missionaries that had given their lives, that compelled them to help the Americans.
After WWII, the church continued to grow for many years in Kalimantan, with little to no influence from western missionaries. As the church grew, national Christian believers began to do the preaching, teaching and missionary work that had once been done by foreigners. An interior Bible School sprang up in the village of Kampung Baru, dedicated to teaching and training these national church leaders. Last year, an Indonesian church in Jakarta partnered with this Bible School to build a new, large dormitory and classroom facility (pictured below). The school is named after John Francis Willfinger. In this community and throughout the area, each person is familiar with the story and is eager to talk about the significant impact that Willfinger's life AND death had and continues to have in their community to this very day!
The school is a four-year intensive program that prepares men and women for evangelism, church-planting and pastoring. They obviously study the Bible extensively, but they are also taught animal husbandry, gardening and other "tools" to be self-sufficient and pass along to their future church members. There are many exciting stories from students in this school.
One young lady comes from a far away town. Seven years ago she became a Christian. Her family are devout followers of a major religion here. She was disowned by her family and told to never return. She found her way to the Long Bawan are, and eventually into the Bible School. When word got to her father that she had enrolled in the Bible School, he was furious and said he would come and find her and deal with the problem. The threat, though veiled, was real. Everyone knew what that meant. The students and faculty prayed fervently, and her father got as far as Tarakan, and then seemingly changed his mind. Since the day she became a Christian, she has never again seen her family. You would never know that from her smile--a continuous, contagious smile that tells of a soul that has found true joy and peace in the midst of pain and the real and ongoing threat of suffering. This year she will graduate from the Bible School. Her plan: to return to her village and share the Gospel with her family and community. She is following in the footsteps of John Francis Willfinger, sharing the Gospel with people she loves, even if the cost may be her life. Wow!
MAF plays a vital role in this school's ability to function in such a remote location. We fly students, teachers, supplies, etc into and out of the area. So recently we were asked to come share at the church services for the beginning of the new semester. That was the reason for our ministry trip last weekend. Phew! Long story, but I thought it was pretty interesting.
The local pastors and faculty were very encouraged to have Alan there. As pastor of a large church in America, their hope is that Alan's stories and experiences here will compel others in America to pray for them, their school, and their students.
On Saturday night I shared about the life of Nate Saint (one of MAF's first pilots) and his friends that were martyred in Ecuador in 1956. I shared a brief devotional related to that and then showed the film "End of the Spear" with Indonesian subtitles. It had a big impact on the students, faculty, and community. On Sunday morning, our program manager preached, while several wives did a Sunday school and message for the children. It was a very encouraging time for all of us, and we look forward to continuing to work with this school and others in the future.
Of course, on a lighter note there was some time to enjoy the animals and "easy life" for a bit as well.
If you read my last post, you may be wondering about the situation in Long Alango. I'm thrilled to say that things have greatly improved! Yesterday I flew the medical team back out of Alango. Most of the people are getting better. Many in the village came to see them off and to thank MAF. I received many thanks from numerous people for the role that MAF played in that situation. All said, over 200 people were struck with the violent vomiting and diarrhea last week in a very short amount of time. By the time I flew the medical team in on Thursday with the first load of IVs and medicine, one child had already died. The next day, another one of our pilots, Brad, flew nearly 800 pounds of additional IVs and medicine into the village. Praise the Lord, no one else died. Today I was in Alango again. A good friend of mine there told me, "There is no doubt that many would have died if MAF hadn't flown in those IVs and the medical team. We've never seen anything like this in our villages, and many of the older people and children would have died without the help." Thanks for your prayers and the role you play in allowing us to be here. This is why we serve!