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Life with the Hewas - the missionary's story

“This is who we are, this is what we are. We are on the Jesus trail. We are Jesus’ followers, and we need you to stay with us because this is all new to us. So stay here and keep living with us” - People of Yifki

MAF - Yifki airstrip (Annelie Edsmyr)
Yifki airstrip - "We hiked everywhere and finally located the perfect valley in the Yifki area"

| New Tribes Mission | MAF | Edited

The Hewa tribe of somewhere between 3,000 and 6,000 people lives in little hamlets scattered over 100 km of rugged terrain in the Papua New Guinea Highlands. In 2000 the New Tribes Mission’s Jonathan Kopf, with his wife and family, began to live and work among these people. This is their story. Photos by Annelie Adsmyr

MT HAGEN -– When we arrived in Fiyawena village, the people were eager to have us there and excited to hear the message of the light.

“We’re in the darkness of the jungle, and we know you have the story of the light,” they said. “We want to hear that story.”

So we learned their language and started translating the Bible and teaching the story of the Bible from Genesis to the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

MAF - Jonathan Kopf  missionary with ethnos360 (New Tribes Mission) to the Hewa tribe
Jonathan Kopf of the New Tribes Mission. He and his family committed themselves to the Hewa tribe

As we were teaching, we worked on other things. One was constructing an airstrip. When it was built, the people’s attention turned completely to the store goods, the medical facility and the school.

They didn’t listen so much to the message any more. They saw the metal-roofed buildings we built for our families and said, “The light has arrived.”

We said, “No, wait a minute, that’s not the light. The light is the story of Jesus. You need to hear this story.”

But they were so fascinated with the stuff they didn’t listen to God’s story and life became frustrating.

Then their enemies started moving in to take goods and use the services we were providing. They were pillaging and abusing our Hewa friends, the people we’d come to know and love.

Out of that fighting rose lots of warfare. People were killed - even in my own yard. It just became too violent to stay there.

We ended up having to leave and that was hard. To leave all that we had built, the airstrip with the help of so many volunteers, the medical clinic and the infrastructure.


MAF - Hewa people (Annelie Edsmyi)
Some people of the Hewa tribe

ut we decided we really needed to walk away and leave it.

We continued to pray with the few believers God had given us at that time. One of them was a teenager, Yanis.

He said, “You know what, my grandfather (his grandmother’s brother) really wants to hear this story.

“I think I want to go live in his village to tell him about it. You can come with me if you want.”

With that invitation, I hiked with Yanis for two days and over two mountain peaks before we arrived where his relatives lived.

Once we were there, and the village leaders told us they wanted to hear the story, we started the same teaching program we had followed in Fiyawena.

This time, however, we told the people we had not come to provide store goods. We told them we were there for one reason and that was to teach the important message of the Bible.

The village said, “Yes, this is what we want to hear. Don’t bring store goods. Don’t bring anything that would be attractive to enemies.”

MAF - Looking down Yifki airstrip (Annelie EdsmyR
The view down the grass airstrip at Yifki

And so, we started teaching, first how to read and write in their own language and then the story of the Bible. That village, back then only 50 people, was very excited.

After a while, our family went back to the USA on furlough for two years. During that time we adopted a daughter.

I was translating the Bible books of Ephesians, Romans and 1 Corinthians and would go back and forth to our Hewa friends from time to time to teach the important truths of these books.

Our Hewa friends said, “This is who we are. We are now Jesus people and we are on the Jesus trail.

“We need you to stay with us because this is all very new to us. We’ve never heard teaching like this before, so stay here to keep teaching us.”

But they also pointed out a problem, “When you go to the States for a year or two, we’re in trouble when a medical crisis arrives.

“You’ve taught us how to take care of our basic needs, like malaria and pneumonia. But when there are big situations, big sicknesses or a pregnancy that’s gone bad, we don’t know how to help ourselves.”

That’s a legitimate need. While we were in the States for the two years to adopt our daughter, three of their 50 people died.

Then they asked, “Is there any way you can help us build an airstrip?”

The leaders of the village were the shaman and his son, who he was teaching the art of witchcraft.

The time came when these two said, “We’ve been lied to by our ancestors. We realise now that what we’ve heard from the Bible is true. This is what we want to hear.

“We don’t want any store goods. We don’t want anything else. We just want to hear this story. So, stay and live with us. Please.”

They provided us with huts to live in and sweet potatoes to eat. We were living and working in rugged conditions.

We walked all over the mountains looking for a flat spot, a place where we could build an airstrip.

We hiked everywhere and finally located the perfect valley in the Yifki area, just long and wide enough to build an airstrip 600 meters long and 75 meters wide.

We talked and prayed about it with the people. If we build an airstrip, it will attract enemies. Will it actually backfire and destroy what we’ve really tried to create here, a village that’s following Jesus?

“We’re going to do everything in our power to keep people from getting enticed and start to be captivated by material goods,” they said. “But yes, can you help us build an airstrip?”

We had no money, no way to do this kind of project. But we said, “Okay, you guys can do a lot of the legwork. You can get rid of the 75-to-100-foot trees on this airstrip spot.

“Don’t cut them down because we have no tractor and no backhoe,” I said. “There’s no way to get rid of the monstrous root balls.

“But dig out the trees and, when they fall over, cut them up and burn them.

“I’ll see what I can do about finding a tractor. We’ll just pray together and see what God does.”

It was amazing. They started digging out these monstrous trees. As we were doing this, a ministry called Friends in Action offered us a tractor, a little Kubota. It was small, but it was God’s provision.

Friends in Action helped us take the tractor apart, a helicopter brought it in and we were able to use it to level and create a crown and build Yifki airstrip in a matter of four months.

In August 2013, I think it was, an airplane landed here for the first time.

Airplanes are really important in the people’s lives because there are no roads and no river access.

There are no canoes or boats going back and forth, and no cars. It takes the people four days to hike to the nearest town. So if somebody is really sick, how can they hike them out?

MAF plane at Yifki (Annelie Edsmyr)
MAF aircraft at Yifki

This airstrip is very important. They use it all the time.

MAF has been a fantastic blessing to this tribe because when there’s a medical emergency, MAF is available to come and help.

Like for our teachers who need to be able to get back to town during school breaks and come back to the village. It’s a real blessing to have MAF helping us.

God is doing something beautiful. Sure, there are challenges. It’s an adventure. God has called us to participate with him in this big, beautiful grand story.

It’s not about us as missionaries. It’s not about any particular ministry. It’s about God and his awesome story and what he’s doing in the lives of people. But he invites us to take part in his story.

I am just extremely grateful for MAF and the huge impact they have here in this village among my friends, these Hewa tribal people.


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