Maxine Holman, CEO of MAF SA, talks about her recent visit to our missionaries in Papua New Guinea.
Was this your first time visiting PNG?
Yes, I had never been to PNG before. We had been planning this trip for years, to visit our two missionary pilot families, the Venters and the Eatwells, living and working there for MAF.
You often hear about Papua New Guinea having very difficult terrain to traverse. Is that what it is really like everywhere?
Yes, I’ve always been sceptical of what people say about places until I have experienced it for myself. And I will admit, it really is exactly how people explain it: covered in mountains and thick jungles, its incredible!
Flying from one place to another with Steve and Brad showed how each community just weren’t connected by any kind of road. In the bigger cities and smaller towns, there are roads but nothing like you see in South Africa.
Can the locals speak English?
Yes, they can and it is becoming more widely spoken. I spoke to a British woman who had lived in PNG for many years and she said that their own languages are dying out because they either speak Tok Pisin or English.
But there are over 800 individual languages in PNG. I found this very interesting because their population isn’t that big. So you would find thirty people speaking one kind of language.
What does the average day look like for a Papua New Guinean living in a rural area?
I visited the home of a local Christian woman living near Rumginae where I stayed with the Eatwell family. I was amazed at what I saw. Everything they own comes from the land. Their homes are built from a popular tree growing in the area.
From this same tree, they get their staple food called Sago (not the type that we are used to).
Their Sago is bark that they spend hours pounding until it is a fine powder; they mix it with water and carry it in a bag hanging from their heads, which weighs about 10kgs.
From a different plant, they make bags and they find water from a fresh water spring. They work very hard just to live.
One thing that fascinated me was that they walked everywhere and sometimes they took local road transport but air transport was used by everyone from all walks of life. I think flying is associated with the wealthy here, but not there in PNG. There it is a necessity.
What do you think are some of the struggles Papua New Guineans face?
I believe one of the biggest struggles is access to primary health care, especially for those living in very rural villages. And only 18% of the population live in urban areas.
If a pregnant woman in a rural village had any sort of complication during pregnancy, the chances of her survival are very slim because there is no medical help within reach. She would have to trek for days through thick jungle to get to the nearest clinic or hospital.
Is MAF providing solutions for the people there?
Yes, MAF is doing an amazing job helping the locals with everyday transport for access to school teachers, health programmes, and church. But also with critical medical evacuations. MAF PNG do 500 medevacs every year.
MAF is also assisting local coffee farmers who live in very rural areas by connecting them to the market. We transport their coffee to centres where their coffee can be sold.
How is the gospel spread in PNG?
Many locals there have heard the gospel but are still hanging onto their animistic beliefs. Others haven’t heard or read the gospel in their own language. CRMF (Christian Radio Missionary Fellowship) who partners with MAF provides training and Biblical resources via radio and supplies MAF pilots with a Biblebox to carry with them.
So our pilots are very much involved with delivering the Word. We also help carry other missionaries who preach the gospel in schools, prisons, hospitals and communities to provide the discipleship that is needed there.
How big is the MAF programme in PNG?
We have a very big programme in the country, with over 6 different bases, 120 staff, 273 destinations and 13 aircraft.
What does the average day look like for Brad and Steve?
This really depends but for Steve his days mainly consist of flying people and cargo to different villages around the lowlands of PNG. Brad also flies but because his role has evolved, he is also very involved in the training and equipping of new MAF pilots that come into the programme. Brad is based in the highlands of PNG, where it is more mountainous.
How does Michelle and Camilla “do life” in such a different and challenging environment?
They are incredible wives and mothers. They do life with a great measure of God’s grace. The truth is, it is difficult and can be very frustrating. Sometimes the stores don’t have what you need, and if it is
there it can be too expensive to buy (broccoli and underwear were luxury items).
It is also not as simple as getting in the car when you want to fetch some milk. It has to be planned far in advance so that another person can come with you for safety. Nighttime driving is too dangerous; electricity is temperamental and the internet is very costly and slow. So they do life with a great deal of patience and perseverance.
Without them the flights could not go on. They have sacrificed the comfort of home and the blessings of being close to family (especially granny and grandpa), to support their husbands and raise their children as a testimony of who God is.
They are running children’s holiday camps for missionary and local children, women’s worship and bible study groups, volunteering in the local area, as well as running a household, cooking, and cleaning and on top of this, home schooling their children.
They are key to the workings of MAF, enabling people in isolated areas of the world to hear the gospel because of their daily sacrifices.
While spending time with each family, I realised that because their children have pretty much grown up in PNG they have lost touch with their home country. To them their home is PNG. I know this is not a bad thing but if they were ever to come back to South Africa it would be a major culture shock to them.
As a way to help support the missionary children and keep them in touch with their home countries we would like to start a programme with local Christian schools. This programme would help the children in PNG to learn about their home country and it would help local South African children learn about being a missionary child living in a foreign country.
MAF blogs are written by various authors