The month that Yulianus Abarude and I visited the Western Mamberamo, part of a swampy jungle expanse half the size of Great Britain, I stepped on a death-adder, was threatened with arrows, and had to be pulled out of waist deep mud by two men after I sunk and stuck while crossing a drying swamp. We trekked for 12 hours a day, days on end, through a dripping green expanse (a region of blank topography reading, “Relief Data Not Known” on the charts). We developed rashes where our packs rubbed our shoulders and we drank filtered water straight from fetid swamps. My toes poked out of the front of my shoes, the sole of my right shoe eventually tearing away completely. The toenail on my left big toe simply fell off one day. And boy did we stink! A sickly-sweet odor, I think we may have been fermenting.
One time we had to climb hand over hand as we ascended a muddy mountain, using jungle vines to pull ourselves up. We fell often, slipping on slimy rocks, broken tree limbs, and muddy inclines. At night we washed aching limbs in muddy rivers, cleaned out blisters, and tried to clean our clothes for the next day’s travel.
When we arrived in Fona, we discovered that they had lost 15 people out of a village of 60 due to fever and diarrhea within the past 6 months, very preventable deaths. There was no radio contact because this was on the Western edge of the Mamberamo and there was no complete airstrip within several day’s march (one of the objectives of our trip was, in fact, to check on the progress of this airstrip and the local evangelist there, Solehman Sembuh, who had been out of radio contact for over a year).
Now, picture this: It is night and Yulianus is sitting around the campfire praying. Despite all the hardships we were enduring, what was Yuli’s prayer? It was a sincere prayer of thanksgiving to God for giving us the opportunity to visit these interior areas. Joy and eagerness in being used by God warmed these petitions and also awakened my own sense of thanksgiving to God as I listened to him. He grieved at the losses in Fona, but never complained once about his own weariness. He thanked God for the privilege: “Thank you Father for letting me be here.”
There were many memorable episodes from this trek. Having arrows pointed at our party, and being told that a hostile village man was planning to sneak into our hut and murder our guide when he slept is pretty memorable (Men, make sure you pay your full bride-price of cassowaries and pigs before you run off with your new bride!). Having folks complain of being possessed by evil spirits (“Ummm…I don’t have a medicine for that, but we can pray.”) is also memorable. Walking near cassowary birds as they drank water out of the river, seeing waist-high pitcher pot plants and other alien fauna, and passing trees – black and sagging down with the weight of a thousand fruit bats – also sticks in my memory.
The most moving memory from that trip, however, was the night that Yuli wept openly around the campfire. Of the several objectives of this trek, one was to find a local Bauzi man who could read, one of the few in the whole region, and to place a newly translated Gospel of Matthew into his hands. We found not only him, but also one of the few females that could read, as well. In the small village of Fona, we gathered together by the light of the campfire to celebrate and hear the Gospel read in their own language.
When I looked over, Yulianus was weeping – not merely a few tears, but openly weeping.
He said he was ashamed of crying because he was so happy to hear these locals read the Word of God in their own language, and he marveled that God had so willed it that out of all the people that we could have met on the trail, He led us straight to two of the very few that could read in the whole region – a remarkable providence. “But,” Yuli said, “These people are way out here on the Western edge and here are two that can read…and they have the Word of God in their own language. How long must my own people wait!”
I remember Yuli wiping his face with his long fingers and again repeating, “How long must my people wait?”
The Fuau Tribe
The Fuau people inhabit the Eastern edge of the Mamberamo River Basin. Along with Sikari and Papasena, Fuau village borders the southwestern edge of the Foja Mountains, an area that National Geographic and the BBC have labeled, “The Lost World of Papua,” after discovering 70 new species there in 2005.
The name of their people was originally Fuou, a “stinging bee,” due to the fighting nature of the people. Originally, the people consisted of four tribal groups that would join for major wars against the other nearby tribes of Papasena, Baso, Dabra, Taria, and Pagai. The Fuou always won, according to Yuli, because they were the most evil and cunning in that whole region.
The four clans of the “stinging bee” were the Abawiri, Guani, Gwofai and Kofo. If an outside enemy threatened, they would join and fight, but they also fought each other so much that their numbers declined until they were few and weak, “due to our own evil,” Yuli reported. So, the four clans gathered at the sound of the gure (goo-ray) flute and sought out peace, lest they all die. It was then that they changed their name from Fuou to Fuau – “stinging bee” to “the cooling sun at dusk.”
Many years later, when the Gospel entered the Mamberamo region, many of the Fuau sought out spiritual peace with God through the Jesus who was preached by the Dani “witness men” – many of whom died in their indigenous missionary efforts. Some, like Yuli, were educated by teachers sent by Regions Beyond Missionary Union and their pioneer in the Mamberamo, Costis Macris, who opened up the region almost at the cost of his own life. Sickened with hepatitis to the point of death, he was forced to be evacuated from the country knowing that Indonesia at this period of time was not granting visas to re-enter.
Present Ministry in The Fuau Region
Yuli’s heart is filled with a debt of gratitude for the schooling he received due to the early missionary efforts in the Mamberamo. Being a trustworthy and productive individual, others have nominated him for government office. Yet, Yuli insists that his main focus must be the spiritual advancement of the people in his corner of the Mamberamo, the Klasis Soi, comprising of Fuau, Dabra and Dou villages. Yulianus has expressed gladness for missionary efforts, but has grieved that these efforts often centered around and depended on the missionaries themselves. When the missionaries got sick and departed, their efforts died. Yuli is burdened to see indigenously-led efforts spring up through the Mamberamo. He sees my role only as “dari belakang kasih dorongan,” or “giving a push from the rear.” He is glad for friends of the effort, but is burdened to ensure that his own people are equipped to carry on their duties in the future and to lead the charge.
In the words of Yulianus:
“We have never had a missionary live among our people and we have felt forgotten for so long. But now seems to be the time that God has appointed for us. God has opened a path for us and we must grab the opportunity very well. We must not let the opportunity pass us by. Even though we may never have missionaries living with us, it is we who must do the work. God has opened the door and it is the Fuau people that must go through it; God has cleared the path and it is the Fuau people that must move forward.”
“Our children are the treasure and inheritance of the Mamberamo and we must not let that treasure be wasted,” Yulianus often remarks. To this end, he has helped establish a school in nearby Dou village and has helped bring teachers to his region. He also has plans to open a kindergarten in Fuau village next year to add to their elementary school, which he was also instrumental in starting. Yulianus is determined to move his people forward.
At present, Yulianus is moving forward with the foundation Fuau Mandiri (Fuau Independent) and is presently supporting nine students in various Bible schools and training centers through the efforts of the Fuau Scholarship Program. These Mamberamo men and women of potential are trained with the express understanding that they will return to train the next generation of Mamberamo children. Yuli is being helped by outside donations, but he has now built a crocodile farm and is planting cacao trees to provide a better basis of income in the future. He says, “Often we cannot give much money, but we can give our sweat and hard work and through these community development projects we can begin to better help our people, as well as fund our ministries.”
At present, here are the students being sponsored by the efforts of Yulianus:
- Rudi Winim is progressing well in his second semester attending a seminary in Malang, Central Java.
- Filipus Guani is progressing well at the coastal Papuan Bible school of STAKIN, in his second semester.
- Bastian Guani is attending the GIDI Seminary in Sentani, has already completed STAKIN, and is attending various Bible translation courses. He has also completed Kartidaya (SIL) linguistic training. Bastian is the point man for the Fuau Bible translation Project. He is progressing well, but sometimes strains under the emotional burden for his people and also the care of his family of four children, including the eight month old new baby, Trevor.
- Harun Tredo is shining in Batam Island in his second semester at ATMI (The Academy of Missions Theology in Indonesia) and is continuing to be mentored from afar by Utep, from the church planting team Asih Pamitran.
- Andarius Wau is attending UNCEN University on the North coast of Papua and is the first Fuau person ever to enter a university. He is in his third semester and desires to study accounting. His wife is a teacher and plans to open a Fuau kindergarten in a year or so.
- Musa Wau is attending STIPRR, a farming and agricultural school and is in his second semester.
- Deki Gofai is also attending STIPPR, in his second semester.
- Mickal Wau (Andarius’ younger brother) is in technical school to learn about machine repair.
- Sofia Wau has just finished high school and has entered a health provider school organized by World Team missionary, Sue Trenier.
- In addition, Immanual Wau and Domi Guani will enter STAKIN in July and Mesak Guani, a new convert, is praying about how the Lord might use his life, as well. Yulianus, himself, wants to attend seminary, but says that he needs to take care of these others first.
The Fuau Bible Project
¨One of the major burdens for Yulianus is to see the Word of God in the Fuau language. Yuli’s tearful entreaty, “How long must my people wait,” often rings in my ears. Around that campfire, I was so moved by Yuli’s passion for his people that I made a commitment to Yuli to help him in these efforts and help find a way for the Fuau to at last gain the Word of God in their own language.
Ten years ago, a clumsy local attempt at translating the Gospel of Mark was scribed in pencil and now lies unused on molding paper. Without help, the Fuau leaders became discouraged. Now, that hope has been revived. Bastian Guani, whom Yuli has been mentoring, feels especially burdened for this task. He has learned computer basics and is undergoing linguistics classes to either work well beside a trained translator when one finally is recruited or else with much more training begin the process himself.
This will be a long and hard process and I am praying that the Lord will yet raise up someone to come and stand beside the Fuau people as they struggle to gain a written Bible. I beg some of you readers to come and work beside Yuli and Bastian in this effort.
Closing Snapshots of Yuli’s Ministry
Yulianus is a ministry partner and a co-worker in the Gospel. He is also a dear friend. His children chase cicaks (geckos) with my own children and Yuli dives and jumps for cicaks like no other! He is loyal to his friends. When drunks threatened my family, Yuli gathered his sons and came running with sticks and rocks to defend us if needed. He shows himself patient in trial. When a neighbor falsely claimed his land and dug up his garden and tore down his house while he was traveling in the interior, he prayed for the man patiently and explained the Gospel to him.
Yulianus’ zeal for the Gospel is evident daily, but can best be illustrated by these three closing snapshots:
The dying Sehudate man: In Sehudate village, Yuli and I stretched out the first night on the floor of a hut. Our tight, tired limbs felt like old rope as we spread them out to rest. We drifted off to the thud of tribal drums. Suddenly, I felt tugs on my bedroll. Thinking Yuli was trying to get my attention, I shined my flashlight at the foot of my bedroll and saw a half-dozen tails attached to furry, shadowy forms. The rats had come down from the walls. They were eating our bedding about two inches from my tasty toes! YIKES! Yuli laughed as we relocated our sleeping quarters, hobbling on stiff, tired legs.
It was in this village that we met the dying sehudate man. He was gaunt and shriveled and greying. His skin clung to his bones. He sat still, resigned, except for a slight continual tremor from malarial chills. Despite tropical heat, an open fire blazed under his raised wooden platform. Sores peppered his body, which he burned with hot sticks to prevent oozing and to keep away flies.
Yuli explained the Gospel to this man. He was slow and methodical. It was already late and dark and we had not yet set up our mosquito nets or our bedding; but, Yuli pressed on. He asked questions to clarify. He invited me to help. He included the family, as well, and gathered them around. He used translators and checked the translator for understanding. We prayed with all those present.
The man looked pained. Shadows danced across his face from the flames as he spoke, “The faces of the men that I have killed continually come up before me in my dreams. They will not let me rest.” We prayed with him for salvation that night. He is certainly long dead by now.
Teaching in Derapos: After hiking over 35 hours in a three day period through swampy terrain, we half-collapsed onto the floor of the Dani evangelist’s hut stationed in Derapos village. We lay like dead men for about an hour. Then, we talked a bit to the locals, who informed us that the church services were usually in the Dani language – the language of the evangelists, who were doing a poor job of reaching the local people. The local Tause people still knew little of spiritual things.
Hearing this, new life seemed breathed into Yuli. He immediately rose and urged us to bathe, and as soon as we finished a bowl of gooey papeda (from the pulp of a sago palm tree; I hate that stuff) and kangkung (swamp grass), Yuli gathered the local people and began to recite the history of salvation, from Adam to Christ. My head bobbed with sleepiness, but Yuli persisted and taught the Gospel late into the night despite his fatigue.
Harun Tredo: Harun Tredo sat in a coastal Papuan church for years. When Yuli and I began to ask him about his soul and the truths of the Gospel, it became clear that he was trusting in his religious activities in order to commend himself before God. He held to a Christian identity and for salvation trusted in his tithing, church attendance, baptism, and abstention from smoking and drinking. He trusted in religion, but not in Christ.
I took the lead in explaining the true Gospel to Harun, and Yuli supplemented my explanation throughout. That night it appears that Harun truly understood and responded to the Gospel. Yuli did not stop there, however. He was so incensed that this coastal church had failed in its duties that he immediately went to the pastor’s home to speak to him about these deficiencies. That Sunday
Yuli preached in Harun’s church and explained the true way of salvation and followed up several weeks later in order to make sure that the true Gospel was understood.
How is Harun faring now? He is enrolled at a Bible school in Batam Island, ATMI (The Academy of Missions Theology). Due to poor education and low formal Indonesian speaking ability, he failed out of Tyrannus Bible School in Java, a very high-level seminary. But, Pak Nunu (also supported by Heartcry Missionary Society) asked fellow Asih Pamitran co-worker Utep to mentor Harun privately and intensively for six months in order to prepare him before attempting to pursue Bible training again. Harun is now head of his class. He is entering his second semester, funded by the Fuau Scholarship Program, and has promised to return and bless the Mamberamo after his graduation program.
Pray for Yulianus and the Klasis Soi area of the Eastern Mamberamo region, where Yulianus is focusing his efforts. Pray that a translator will come and aid Bastian and his effort to translate the Word of God into the Fuau language. Pray that their efforts at crocodile hunting/farming will help them fund many of their own efforts. Pray for all those whom Yuli is pouring himself into by mentoring and schooling.