In this message, we’d like to share about our journeys to the Sulphur miners of Ijen crater in south Java, Indonesia. The conditions in which these men work is one of the worst in the world. Toxic gases and backbreaking loads carried up and down a prehistoric volcano make the view of these miners at work similar to a scene from the underworld of greek mythology. There is no glory in their work or love for the labor from the miners. The men simply have a job where money is made. Smiles are rare and only produced because of the good natured attitude of the Javanese culture, but in the eyes of every man there is the pain and the weariness of hard labor. It is a work of death, and it is estimated most of these miners live an average of only 10-15 years after they begin their work.
The days we visited the crater of Ijen, it was initially forbidden for us to descend to the open air mines because the volcanic activity in the region was at elevated levels and toxic gases were firing higher than normal off-bursts. We did, however, find a way and the account below is what we saw.
Ijen Crater, Java Indonesia: The air smelled like spent fireworks as we stood on the crater’s edge looking down to the jade colored lake. Plumes of white gases arose from the main work area below in a beautiful natural way, but we knew nothing below would be beautiful when we were in it. As we descended, the masks we wore helped to keep some of the fumes out, but for the uninitiated like us, the burn in the throat made us cough uncontrollably at times. To feel your lungs reject the air is a frightful feeling and requires control to know it will pass. After a few more stops, we descended further and passed miners walking in the opposite direction. They were slowly swaying back and forth staggering under the pressure of sulphur filled baskets weighing more than 175 pounds. These miners appeared in small groups through the thick clouds of gases from the place below they called the kitchen. The kitchen, as it is known, is the area located at the lake’s edge of the crater and location of the sulphur vents. The miners have to brave heavy fumes in the kitchen, then chip away chunks of sulphur near the vents until there is enough for a two basket load. This work, in the heavily toxic area near the gas vents, holds the most immediate danger as more than 70 workers in the past have been overcome with toxic fumes and died instantly. It is dangerous work, and we watch from a distance. Most miners work without any protective masks or glasses and suffer horrible respiratory afflictions. Other ailments the miners also suffer from is extreme tooth decay, as the toxic fumes literally eat their teeth away. But it is not only the fumes and toxins that kill, it is the backbreaking work of carrying loads up and down the mountain two times a day over 4km to a collection point that destroys the knees, shoulders and back. It is a painful way to make a living for only $10-15 a day. Amongst the workers, there is no real thought of the future and even though it is a well known fact most miners only live 10-15 years after they start in the mines, many Indonesians still choose this work. In hearing about these conditions many people will say, “Why would anyone ever do this to themselves?” This is a good question, and one that highlights a more eternal question that is—what a person is willing to exchange their life for. The miners of Ijen give their physical bodies for a slave’s wage, but this is repeated everywhere around the world in lesser degrees. The miners of Ijen work the mines, because they make slightly more than they would at another job in Indonesia. People everywhere are willing to wreck themselves for more. This doesn’t mean it is wrong to work hard, but it is important to know why you are doing it and the purpose you are working towards. Think about it. You might be working in your own mine. You might be giving up the prime of your life, your physical health or spiritual growth for something you dislike. There is no comparison to the physical labor of Ijen miners, but the physiological and emotional distress might be similar. Do you feel like you are like a miner of Ijen sometimes, just plodding along each day slowly destroying yourself in your job or your position in life? If so, you can change it, but you must plan and put things in motion. God has a purpose for you! In Him is joy and love in the work He sets you to do. We can attest to this, because even though we work in remote areas or difficult regions, we are joyful in the labor and know what we are working towards—that is the eternal things. If you set your sights on living a life for eternal things, then you will do well in life and be at peace. You will no longer feel like you are in a mine, but the burden will be lifted and you will be free in Him!
As we visited the mines of Ijen, we were also able to bring many masks and protective gear for the miners we visited. But more importantly, it is bringing the Word of life that makes the difference to areas like Ijen, and that is the ultimate purpose. Sharing the message of the Gospel is our mission. We are drawn to those who are in danger in this life or cut-off from the message of Christ Jesus. This is why we enter these regions and work where others have not gone or there is no witness. Your prayers and supportare needed even more in the months ahead as we prepare to undertake remote tribal work in Indonesia and New Guinea. Please pray for open hearts and God to lead us to people groups that are ready to receive. God is good and we thank you for your prayers and financial support, we’ll need it even more as we reach the unreached in the months and years ahead. Peace be with you.
Tim and Will