I found myself early this past Monday dragging a small rolling suitcase through the non user friendly parking lot of our local commercial airport. My heart deceiving me. On one hand it is especially excited to be going to see Darron who has been away for ten days already and on the other hand it is reluctant to leave four boys alone. Also, usually I don’t struggle with aerophobia……but it was nagging in the back of my mind as unfortunately too many airplane mishaps happen to this particular destination. Yet I knew that fear cannot rule and deceitful hearts must be held in check.
So before I know it, we’ve safely touched down in Wamena. The largest city supplied by air only. Nestled by mountains on either side, this wide valley is an odd and delightful mixture of modern gas stations and a new hotel to within minutes of the city men in gourds and thousands of people living still very primitively. The cool air is amazingly refreshing after months of our normal tropical heat. I spot Darron easily in the crowd of people waiting for passengers. The excitement dancing in his eyes tells me that he was not struggling with any crazy emotions or a deceitful heart. Nope, he was purely delighted that I was stepping into his world of ministry. And I take a deep breath in and gain new courage as his hand slips into mine as we wait for my luggage.
Before long we are bumping along to Maima. This is a village where there is a thriving Adventist elementary school. Also Darron discovered an abandoned training center, with dorms and dinning area, etc. He now has a dream to re vamp these old buildings and bring them back up to a decent standard. Twenty-one lay workers from all over Papua gathered for two weeks of training. These are people who are committed to working and taking the gospel to remote areas. These two weeks of training include everything from practical classes on building rocket stoves and agriculture, to medical classes, to leadership and religious classes. Darron has a strong team working alongside him. Maima was only about a twenty minute drive from town, that included crossing over the ever changing vast landslide, which is not for the faint hearted driver. As we approaching the swift river, we had to park the truck and walk across the suspension bridge and up a steep gravel approach and down into the Maima valley.
Then I was able to see first hand everything Darron and team had been experiencing. How insightful to not just hear about it second hand, but to SEE it and touch and feel it. To partner with it. So for the next two days until late afternoon, we followed the program and interacted with the people. One husband and wife couple had walked over 12 hours to attend this program (along with their two small children). Darron had asked me to teach on Malaria and wound care. Two challenging topics when these students have access to almost NO medical supplies or medical access. And yet the more my mind wrapped around this fact, the more thoughts came on everything that could be done and at what point more action (getting outside help or moving the patient) must be taken. It was fun to teach with the two nurses that were already present.
Darron had been sleeping with all the people, in very humbling conditions (as he always does). I was willing to stay there also, but we recognized that we needed to step away in the evenings and take time to reconnect as a couple. So before the sun went down on the suspending bridge and landslide, we made our way back to the town of Wamena and the MAF guest house. Complete with a hot shower and toilet, all things that were complete luxury to my hard working man. These evenings were a deep breath of refreshment to both of us. Allowing us time to discuss important events and issues, time to take walks in the cool air and time to eat some fun American foods that “our girls” had blessed us with. We are learning that to step away from ministry for short times of rest is actually very “God honoring” and we aim to model that in our marriage and ministry. It is easy in ministry to allow our own decietful hearts to tell us to never take a break and rarely create room or to worry about the expectations of others.
There is one part of my Wamena trip that we wish we could erase. Yet we have to trust that it is all part of this story and our time there. Graciously, the Adam family allowed us to borrow their motorbike for day number two of adventures. It was more like a big dirt bike. I will confess that Darron and I are beginning to enjoy biking in Papua more and more. It is the only place that public sitting close, arms wrapped around waist and legs tucked in close, is appropriate. Also that it is cool enough, with the breeze of movement, to be that close. Wamena did not disappoint us for a scenic drive. Going to Maima early on Tuesday morning we had no issues. Once we reached the river, I jumped off the bike so that Darron could drive it up the steep ramp onto the suspension bridge.and I continued to walk across the bridge and the gravel road up and steep gravel down into Maima.
After a day of ministry it was time to repeat this process, in reverse. I set off on foot, expecting Darron to catch up with me soon. My heart became a bit concerned when there was still no sight or sound of Darron at the bridge. I started to walk across it when I noted four young adult Papua guys all standing at the opposite end of the bridge. Feeling like I didn’t want to walk into their midst I turned around and waited at the top of the bridge for Darron. Again, I felt it was odd that he hadn’t arrived or passed me.
Within two or three minutes he came zipping along and slowed in his approach to the steep ramp. He made it half way up and then the engine stalled. Darron struggled to hold the bike. I heard him gasp, “Oh no.” With that he lost his balance and toppled over and then fell off the bridge a good seven feet and landed on his back. Seconds later the dirt bike went flying after him. It was like watching a disaster in slow motion, and being powerless to do anything about it. The bike miraculously didn’t hit Darron and didn’t splinter into pieces. Of course, I’m shouting, “Are you Ok? Are you OK?” while scurrying down to Darron as fast as possible. Meanwhile he pops up onto his feet and says he thinks he is fine. Six Papua guys appear from no where and pick up the bike. It appears a little dinged up, but drivable. They push it up the steep ramp and Darron takes over forging across the bridge, clearly shaken up, but ready to “get home”. Meanwhile I’m processing all of this steps behind him and glance up to see this stunning double rainbow spanning the swirling brown swift river. I felt like God whispered into my heart, “It is OK Ruth, I’ve got you and Darron. It is OK.” Of course, the rest of the evening we had such mixed emotions of relief of protection and providence combined with the remorse of borrowing something and having this incident happen. Mercifully the Adams extended grace to us and the damage that was done is being made right.
Early, 5:45 a.m. early, I am sitting in the Wamena airport ready to end this interlude. I noted an American looking couple that I had never seen before…..but didn’t think too much about them.
Interestingly, thirty minutes later I am boarded and sitting right across the narrow aisle from them. They had been visiting some friends who run a mission with a helicopter. Now they were in route to Raja Ampat (a famous dive resort in Papua). They had a five hour lay over in our not so glamorous Sentani airport. I felt a nudge that I should invite them home, but the thought of having to drive all the way back to the airport later that morning was not part of my plan. My deceptive heart telling me I didn't have time for such entertaining that day. We land in Sentani and try to find our luggage on the unmarked four carousels. After an hour the hundreds of people were all gone and our luggage had not arrived. Fascinating. OK. Come on foreigners, come with me…..I’ll help you with language to try and figure out what the plan is. We learned that our bags would be on the next flight. Clearly we were together now! And I had to return to the airport later. So to almost complete strangers, I invite them home. Realizing that I was being more than asked to do this. I mean in my mind it was more than coincidence that my luggage didn’t make it on the plane, along with theirs and that more was at play than I understood. They accepted my invitation. And off we went on our Sentani adventure.
They were totally blown away at not having to sit in the airport for 5 hours and that I would take them into our home and feed them a Western breakfast. Meanwhile I chat away about the Lord, and ministry and missions and my kids and husband. We get to watch a large helicopter take off at Adventist Aviation. Soon it is time to head back to the airport and YES our bags had arrived. I showed them where to check in and we said goodbye with only one-and-a-half hours left for them to wait. I’m not sure what that spontaneous interactions was all about, but I’m pretty sure it had elements of divine moments splashed all in it.
So there you have it. Romance and crazy adventures that we are having here in Papua. I'm so glad that my decietful heart was held in check. Since coming home, Darron has had even more adventures, but those are his stories to tell. For now my heart tells me it is good to be home and fulfill the stability of having a parent in the house. Yet my heart is looking forward to my next adventure with Darron in ministry, as long as we can mix a little romance in there. Do you struggle with mixed emotions? With being torn between your kids and your husband? Between work and rest? Between fear and peace? Adventure and trying to maintain control? I rest in the fact that the Lord knows our hearts and can speak into them and guide us, as long as we are listening to His voice. May you be led out in peace.