Story my Michael Dupuis, Photos by Michael and Judith Dupuis.
This story follows on from Part I however it focuses on the work of a missionary and the people of Megau. Click here for Part I
Unexpected delays on the ground and the time pressures of a tight schedule can easily frustrate a pilot and add stress to the day. One way to overcome that stress is to take a walk and see what it happening nearby the airstrip.
After a difficult landing at Megau, I was waiting for the cargo to be carried from the bottom to the top of the 430M airstrip. it would be some time before I could load the five passengers and cargo for a 5-minute flight to nearby Kompiam where most of the passengers and a large load of power-tools and building equipment would be off-loaded and transferred to the Enga Province Baptist Health Services compound. It was going to take a dozen men about 20 minutes to haul everything up the hill and another 20 minutes for me to weigh and load it before boarding five passengers. Mel Kroenert asked me if I would be interested in walking about half way down the airstrip to medical clinic compound. He had volunteered to leave his native Australia take a week to assemble a house intended for use by a medical worker and family. He owned a building contracting company in Australia so he was well qualified to do the work. I was keen to see what had been done with the big load of building supplies that had been flown in by a MAF Twin Otter only a few weeks earlier.
As we walked along the narrow footpath that parallels the runway, we stopped frequently and greeted village elders. Most were very happy to see the airplane land and they were thankful for the work that Mel and his crew of PNG workers had accomplished in a short time. As we approached the compound, I could see a newly erected building made of wood and banis. Banis is the Tok Pisin name for wall, fence or dividing structure. In this case, banis describes a woven bamboo and palm-leaf material that can survive the wet and dry climate in the highlands for many years. The roof is made from corrugated metal panels that fit nicely inside an aircraft for transport. Outside, there were four large water tanks that are connected to a rainwater collection system. The water storage would provide a regular
supply for the compound and the clinic. Most likely, the water would be used by many in the community saving them a walk through the dense jungle brush to reach a stream. Although the clinic appeared to be a primitive structure, it is well built and features a solar-powered vaccination refrigerator; something unexpected in such a remote place. Across the compound was the framework of a modern aluminum-stud house with a tin roof. The foundation was secured using some high-tech footings rather than expensive cement. Cement is heavy to transport by air making it very costly to use. The exterior siding, which would be installed later, will be long-lasting vinyl clapboard. Drywall will be used for the interior walls. The house was exceptional quality for a location like Megau but as Mel explained, it is very difficult to recruit medical workers to remote locations and the quality of the house would go a long way to retaining staff. The aluminum construction was cheaper to transport by air and would resist rot, termites and pilfering.
Mel also explained to me that the clinic’s water tanks were the first ever placed in Megau. He said that for the majority of people who came to get water, it was the first time in their lives that they had used a tap or faucet. Water coming from anything but the nearby mountain streams was a completely unknown concept for many of these villagers who used to fight each other over the rights for their clan to have their own “waswas” place. (section of stream used for collecting water or washing).
As we walked back to the aircraft we were obliged several to greet more elders and passers-by. Eventually, we were airborne and on our way to Kompiam then on to Mt. Hagen. On the way to Mt. Hagen we passed by a community in the Baiyer valley about 10 minutes by air out of MT. Hagen. The outline of the old airstrip was still visible. Mel pointed out the home and village where he had lived as a child. I learned that he was the son of a Baptist missionary who had come to PNG in 1949 and planted the first Baptist church. Missionary, Reverend Albert Kroenert and Harry Orr, a former Australian military Chaplain, established a mission station in the Baiyer area that has grown to include many surrounding villages. Over the years, the Baptist mission has established a hospital, schools and a number of small medical clinics. Rev. Kroenert, along with his family moved on to several other parts of PNG and Indonesia planting churches and spreading the love of Christ. For a history of the Australian Baptist missions, see the book Five Barley Loaves.
I could sense that the short time that Mel had been in Megau, he had been deeply moved by the villagers. Emotions were showing as he said goodbye to some good friends; the workers who helped him to achieve so much in such a little time. As I learned from Mel about his father and researched the work of the Baptist mission in the Baiyer, I am amazed to see how the Lord has transformed the area from a tribal, feuding and dark place to a place where people can live in peace, enjoying some basic services many others do not yet have access to. Despite the work in the Baiyer region, the clans and families specific to Megau remained hidden from missionaries and were unknown to many of the surrounding villages. Sometimes considered as Masalai or bush spirits, they were a rare, nomadic group that eluded discovery until the 1970’s. They are among the last of the discovered lost tribes in PNG. No doubt that within the remote and difficult terrain, there are more “lost tribes” yet to be reached.
Learning about the missionaries’ work and seeing the positive impact on the spiritual and physical transformation of peoples’ lives made me aware of how important the transportation services are to this remote region, without which, little progress could have been made. A hard-surfaced road now reaches the Kroenert’s original missionary home. A gravel road is now under construction to reach into the hills of Baiyer area and will eventually connect the Kompiam hospital to several key villages. Sometimes it takes many years for roads to be built as governments change and money seems to wax and wane. Thankfully to the benefit of communities in the Baiyer area MAF provides weekly services to about a dozen airstrips only minutes apart by air but a world apart by land.