People of the Trees: Journey to the Korowai - Part Three
Interior Papua, Indonesia: As we set off for another day of marching in the flooded forest, we think about how the days in the jungle changes a person’s perspective. In our own experiences, we notice that there is an immediate shift of focus that becomes more simplistic. We awaken each day, march in the prehistoric forests, pray in the spirit as we trek, minister the Gospel to Korowai settlements and sleep happy and without burden even though we face extreme physical conditions each day. It is a form of detoxification that is so pleasant and welcome. It sharpens every portion of a person -- body, soul and spirit. There is nothing special about the jungle itself, but it is the act of disconnecting from the cares of the world that forces this reaction. Some people would hate this and reject it, but we welcome it and relish these moments. For in it, you can quiet all the cares you have and listen to the voice of the Lord clearly. Nothing really matters during these times other than what God is speaking to your spirit. It is in these times that we are inspired, very directly, as to what the next steps we are to take in life. Moments like this can be found anywhere in the world, but only when you are willing to quiet all things.
At lunch time we discuss this common experience of jungle life with Isaac, our guide, who also confirms he feels the same energizing of the spirit each time he ventures into the bush to minister. The conversation then turns to finding the next settlement, so we pull out our GPS and study it as we sit on a log with our gum boots skimming the waters of the flooded jungle floor below. At our current location, we have penetrated deep into the jungle regions that are unknown even to our Korowai porters. We have been told that there is another family living somewhere in this area, but finding it might take time. “These people are hidden. The porters don’t know this area so they feel a little lost,” Isaac says as we shoulder our backpacks and begin to walk toward an unknown way. About 20 minutes later, we realize that some of the team is missing, as they must have accidentally split off on another path. We double back and find the team and then we decide to send out scouts in every direction. Isaac, us and two other porters take a north-west direction, and we claw our way through the jungles for another two hours before we come back to our starting point. We find no settlement and wait for the others to arrive. Then, we hear yells from some of the porters in the bush and set off for their location. As we trek through the forest, we spot a young Korowai boy who is nude and only holding a walking stick. He begins to march with our team, and we know that his settlement must be close. We pass the treehouse of his family, and he walks us to a large sago hut nearby where our porters unload the gear and begin to set up camp. Within minutes, our team has already gathered wood and started cooking fires for the evening meal. At the corner of the hut we see a frail, middle-aged Korowai man appear, and we give the customary greeting of “Manoff,” to him in Korowai language. The man smiles and replies, “Manoff.” We immediately notice he labors to breathe and is very skinny. His son, who is the boy who showed us the way in the jungle, stands next to him, and the two of them stare affectionately at us with wide and surprised eyes. As we sit down, they come and squat next to us. The man and his son begin to pet my beard and hair in a friendly and curious way. Isaac communicates with them, and the man relates that neither he, nor any of his family, has ever seen a white person before. They are not scared, but only curious and shocked. We offer the man and his son an orange, and they don’t not know what it is. They have never seen or tasted this fruit before. We show him how to peel it, and he mimics our actions and then places a slice in his mouth. We can tell he likes the taste, as he shakes his head in agreement and his eyes open wide when he bites down. We all smile. He then examines our tree axes and machetes. They have rubber grips and sharp metal. He had never seen the likes of them before, and in amazement, holds it up above his head, inspecting it. He asks us, “How did we get these things.” We explain that we traded for them with money, but money was also a foreign concept to him. The rest of his family arrives near sunset, his wife and another son. He tells us that he had seen t-shirts and plastic items before as other Korowai from the river settlements have come past his land to trade, but never has he seen the items like we carried.
As dusk sets in, we tell the man and his family that we have a message that God has sent us to tell them. Isaac and the Korowai man talk back and forth, and then, Isaac looks to us and says,”There is another family close to here and they have already sent word for them to come. We should wait for them also.” We tell him this is a good idea and we will wait until the others arrive and share the message in the morning. Later that night, around the fire, Isaac, plays his guitar and sings praise and worship songs. The man and his family speak rapidly to our Korowai porters and ask questions about everything in an amazed way. They smile whenever we smile at them and there exists between us a simple connection in body language that makes us friends.
The next morning, we stretch and awake to the sounds of our team chopping wet wood near to the camp. The sky is cloudy and gray with a light rain trickling down. The man and his whole family prepare sago on a fire near us, and we exchange greetings and sit with them. The extended family from the neighboring settlement has arrived, and after we eat together we begin to share the Gospel. Each of the Korowai look on in amazement as we tell of how God created the heavens and earth. How he placed Adam and Eve in the Garden, the fall of man, the prophecies of Jesus, and ultimately, the life and sacrifice of Jesus. We show them the pictorials of Jesus healing the sick, teaching the multitudes, dying on the cross and being risen from the dead. Each picture illuminates the message even more, and the Korowai smile when we share that God did all these things for them and all the people of the world. When we tell them of the new birth in Jesus and accepting God, they all want to receive. We pray with them in that very moment and the new creation happens in our midst. It is a powerful and joyful scene, and many of the Korowai are crying tears of joy. We then explain healing and pray for each of the sick amongst them.
Near midday, as we pack our kit and prepare to set out for another encampment, the middle-aged Korowai man, skinny and frail, walks slowly over to me and puts an arm around me like a father would a son. He embraces me and I him. He and his family are full of life and joyful for the message we brought. I will never forget the embrace that man gave me. It said more than any amount of words could convey. It meant that we were family in Him.