The place—a grass hut on a knoll beside an airstrip hacked out of the New Guinea jungle; the occasion—a workers' meeting at Lake Kopiago; the problem—whether or not to open up new work in the notoriously rugged area of Oksapmin.
Brother Esau, the district leader, spoke up and said, "Let us go forward, for the fierce men of this wild area pleaded with us to help them when we visited them." No other mission had ever contacted the savages in this particular valley.
But how to get there? On the initial contact with these remote people it took eight days of tortuous trekking through the convulsed country. Lake Kopiago itself is 4,300-feet high and the trail drops down a deep ravine to 1,800 feet. Then over a perilous swing bridge of bush vines, and up again and over two more mountain ranges. Since then the precarious swing bridge has been swept away by the raging Strickland River as it impetuously rushed from the mighty mountains of the hinterland to meet the sea.
Would the people welcome our missionaries back again? A rumor had reached us that the people had been incited by a rabble rouser and that the tribe intended to kill our workers if they ventured there again and burn the little church that had been erected. Two government patrol officers and several native police having been killed not so many years before, this threat could not be treated lightly.
The Andrew Stewart
But on the airstrip stood the faithful mission steed, the Andrew Stewart. With it we could leap the treacherous Strickland gulch and in ten to fifteen minutes, depending on the weather, land our workers within a day's walk of the village. This was our answer, at least to the transportation problem.
Again Esau spoke, "We must send two strong men who can fearlessly tell the people of God's love, because they need so much the mellowing leaven of the gospel." Then he pointed to Moses and Kepa as such men. But Kepa was to be married that very afternoon.
Honeymoon for Kepa
Now, would Kepa be willing to go, as it was no venture for a honeymoon? So I asked him. He pondered but a moment, then his face lighted up in a broad smile as he stated in simple pidgin English, "Me can cno "
That night I tossed on my stretcher as I tried to sleep in the grass hut. Were we not extending our lines too far? The risks were high in that rugged country of savage head-hunters. But had we not laid our problems before the Lord and asked Him for a sign in the morning? If our Commander wanted us to go forward we asked that the weather, which always harassed pilots in this area, be favorable. So, finally placing my confidence in Him, I drifted off to sleep to await providential indications of His leading.
As the damp dawn stealthily crept over the jungle-covered mountains, I peered outside. The sky was surely overcast following a night of continuous rain. But there it was—no mistake whatsoever—a blue pathway through the sky, westward toward Oksapmin, with not a square inch of blue sky in any other direction!
Soon we were splashing down the muddy strip while Kepa's bride of one day forlornly waved farewell. A few minutes later we were blithely sailing five thousand feet above the turbid Strickland River, making a mockery of this hazardous obstacle. Like a crater on the moon, Oksapmin is surrounded by vertical rock escarpments. The airstrip is short, rough, and steep, but we cautiously spiraled down, then landed. Commending the three Christian warriors to the Lord in prayer, we shook their hands and parted, with the promise to return in ten days.
A Good Report
Upon returning, I hopefully took in Kepa's bride, and was relieved to see the three waiting for me, smiling with obvious joy. Esau, who had accompanied the other two could hardly tell me quickly enough all that had happened. When they entered the village in the remote valley where they had previously visited, they were greeted with joy. A hut and church had been built in their absence and an old man and his son had lived in the little mission hut making a garden for the hoped-for missionary. The people had been waiting for the return of the missionaries and thirstily drank of the water of life while the old man said he was eager to be baptized before he died so he would be ready to meet Jesus. Further, four groups of people in the valley around the airstrip wanted us to help them, and this was wonderful news, as we needed a headquarters' station near the airstrip.
Eleven Days or Thirty-five Minutes
It was only three short years ago that we had flown into Lake Kopiago in the mis sion aircraft and now we have a church there of nearly a hundred members, with double the number preparing for baptism. This area is eleven days' arduous walk from my headquarters at Laiagam but I can fly there in only thirty-five minutes.
How else can the gospel be preached in this rugged land? Groups of five to ten thousand natives live in scattered valleys all over the hinterland of this large island. Many of these villages are hemmed in by ten-thousand-foot-high rocky bulwarks. Are these people to be denied the hope of the gospel? We never will have the staff or resources to do this work by foot. The foregoing story is being repeated throughout the length of this island of endless mountains as our two mission aircraft carry the third angel's message and messengers into these pockets of habitation. Thus the message of truth is literally flying through the heavens in this needy land.
Vast areas of this inhospitable island still challenge us, and we are determined to storm as many strongholds of heathenism as we can. The government in most instances builds airstrips for its own use, which helps us considerably. Just as General Douglas McArthur jumped from island to island and fortress to fortress to win the Pacific war, likewise we are storming the enemy's bastions.
"Our General, who never makes a mistake, says to us, 'Advance; enter new territory; lift the standard in every land.' . . . Our watchword is to be, Onward, ever onward! Angels of heaven will go before us to prepare the way. Our burden for the regions beyond can never be laid down till the whole earth is lightened with the glory of the Lord."—Gospel Workers, p. 470.
Aircraft Evangelism—A Chosen Method
Undoubtedly, aircraft evangelism is the chosen method for this hour in this and other lands. Not one person who has seen it in action here doubts this. While the greatest want of the world is still the want of men, not machines; preachers, not pilots; nevertheless, to ignore the potential of these modern marvels of transportation would be to despise God-given gifts to complete the task.
Wherever our mission aircraft have been used here in the Coral Sea Union Mission field, baptisms have risen sharply. As long as the emphasis in flying is on evangelism and soul winning, this must al ways be so. Presidents and district directors can visit frequently to inspire and encourage the workers and preach the Word, and key personnel can be moved around more freely. Urgent medical cases can be quickly flown out to our well-equipped mission hospital, which reaps lots of good will. All this adds impetus to an evangelistic program.
At present we are laying plans for an evangelistic thrust into Kiunga, which is six hundred miles up the Fly River. Our overextended coastal missionaries have never yet been able to penetrate this far inland. It would take weeks of tramping through inhospitable country to reach there from my base in the highlands. But to fly there from Lake Kopiago only takes forty minutes.
Many a time I have arrived in a village splattered with mud after crossing 10,000foot-high mountains, with every muscle aching and every cell of my weary body shouting for rest. But I had to cheerfully shake hands with a long line of a hundred or so people who had waited excitedly for weeks for the missionary's visit. Then I would have to stand before them in church and enthusiastically speak to them of the wondrous message of love and hope that binds us all together. But my legs would almost fail to support me, and my voice threaten to trail off into a whisper. Today I can fly in fifteen minutes into several such areas that once took two or three days of toil to reach by foot. Now I arrive by plane, fresh and clean and physically able to inspire the waiting multitudes.
It cannot be suggested that Isaiah ever thought or dreamed of planes carrying the gospel over the tangled jungles of the waiting isles. Nevertheless his words, found in Isaiah 40:31, can most aptly be applied to aircraft evangelists: "They shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint."
For four years, as a soldier during the Pacific war, I watched helplessly as wings of vengeance rained bombs of destruction upon New Guinea. Now wings of mercy ceaselessly fly back and forth bringing hope and joy to its waiting multitudes. Wherever our prudent denominational policy indicates we need an aircraft, let us grasp this gift resolutely and use "plane preaching" to add impetus to our evangelistic advances.