IN THE HEART OF PAPUA: Bringing the Spirit of Christmas to the Edge of the World

by | Nov 30, 2023

By Paul Richardson, MSI International Director

I’ve never seen terrain so wild, beautiful, and treacherous as Papua’s mountains. The towering might of those peaks is beyond description, reminding me of the magical time when Christmas is in the air. In July 2021, Tirta, a TransformNation alumnus, started a school with four local teachers. In September, I was privileged to embark on a journey to this remote land to bring the gift of education.

With a single-engine airplane, we flew over the snow-capped mountain ridges. Suddenly we banked sharply and descended toward a grassy airstrip. The plane bounced, sliding precariously in the mud and hurtled toward the top of a hill where our pilot spun the plane around and secured the brake.

Then we climbed down into the last remnants of the stone age. There, at the edge of the world, cell phones and electricity are unknown, much like the time when the first Christmas story was told. People sleep in grass huts and roast their food over fires. The nearest city is an 11-day walk. But one thing is clear. For half a century, the people in Tirta’s village had dreamed and prayed to have their own school.

Hundreds of men, women, and children from the local tribe greeted us holding spears, bows, and arrows. White paint covered their faces and they whooped with loud voices as they encircled us. One might have felt a bit threatened considering the circumstances. But no, they were shouting in celebration at our arrival to witness the dedication of their school to God.

Each morning, 154 shoeless children, mostly wearing raggedy shirts and shorts, eagerly arrived to begin their learning in this school. Their faces beamed with delight at the opportunity to read and write, learn Bible stories, and hear about Jesus.

By night, we gathered with the tribal elders in the firelight inside our grass hut. We ate roasted sweet potatoes and pork. We told stories and listened to theirs, laughing and sharing until we all fell asleep. Outside, the night was rainy, foggy, and cold, yet our hearts were warm, filled with the spirit of giving and love.

As we left Tirta’s village, we left behind not just a school, but a gift that will keep giving for generations to come. The joy of the journey will forever be etched in our hearts, reminding us that the true spirit of Christmas lies in giving, in sharing, and in bringing light to the darkest corners of the world.