Celebrate With Us Through This Special 30th-Anniversary Issue Of The Challenge!
Throughout 2022, we will share with you our favorite “God Stories,” tales of faithfulness, kindness, miracles, and provision only our God could ever orchestrate. We hope they result in praise to the One who is at work in our midst and inspire all of us to even greater victories in Jesus.
The Hewa Airstrip: God’s Miraculous Provision (2002)
MIKE BUTLER, FIA PAPUA NEW GUINEA FIELD LEADER
This story is dear to my heart because it speaks of God’s faithfulness and the power of prayer. We were asked to build an airstrip in the mountain highlands. To help you understand how remote these tribes are, the only way to get there is by boat the first 320 miles, then by road another 900+ miles to a little town with an existing airstrip, and then by helicopter into the tribal region. This new airstrip would be “out there,” but that is precisely why it was needed—for the Gospel to reach where it had never been heard before. The airstrip would be a massive undertaking requiring two 20-foot containers packed full of equipment like saws, 2 skid steers, a tractor, a backhoe, tools, and a mower. The massive weight would require a large helicopter to navigate to an elevation of 7,000 feet. The only helicopter in the area was a small one owned by New Tribes Mission for small supply drops and medical trips.
Prayers for Chinook Chopper
We had heard that there was a helicopter company that serviced a gold mine in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and also served Shell Oil. They had a huge twin-rotor military-grade Chinook helicopter, but it was $12,000 a day for use, $4,500 an hour to operate, and then fuel costs. Although Shell ok’ed the pilot to transport our containers more than a year in advance of the project start date, every time we tried to schedule, Shell wouldn’t release the pilot to help. We had a team of volunteers from all across America slated to construct this airstrip and time was running out before they arrived—3 days to be exact! Everyone was praying. We just didn’t know what to do.
Things got even worse when the Chinook pilot called to say that even if he was sanctioned to come, there was another issue. “I can’t land at the local commercial airport to refuel. If I try, I’ll blow the roof off the terminal. I need a footprint of 100 feet long and 75 feet wide to set down. On top of that, it takes 45 minutes to shut down and 45 minutes to start up, in addition to refueling time. Think of the expense,” he told us by phone. We kept praying.
The pilot informed us that the gold mine had a refueling pad where he could plug in and refuel without shutting down. I told him the lady that managed the pad refused access to many other requests. He advised me to call the gold mine manager directly. If he was willing, she would support his decision to allow access. It was a long shot, but we kept praying.
I called the gold mine manager, but he wasn’t there. I had to leave for Hewa to get things prepared for the soon-arriving team. I had only a satellite phone and the NTM helicopter on standby waiting until the mine manager returned. We waited for 3 days not having a clue how any of this was supposed to happen. But people kept praying.
God’s Favor Makes a Way
The morning before the day the team was arriving, I received a call from the helicopter pilot asking if I had called the mine manager. I told them I had not as he was due back that day. He said, “She heard we were doing operations in the area and volunteered the helipad for your refueling!” I ran to my computer to email (through the Sat phone) the incredible news to a slew of FIA prayer warriors that I knew were praying. When I got on, I discovered an email from the gold mine manager saying, “We heard what you are doing, and we want to be a part of that. We are scheduling the pilot and paying for the fuel!” What a kind God we serve and how He abundantly answered our prayers!
But we weren’t done crying out for help. Far from it because that night it began to rain. When it rains out here, there will be impassable fog. The whole mission might be shut down. We kept praying.
The pilot called the next morning (the team was arriving that afternoon) and said it was a go! An NTM pilot picked me up in his small helicopter, and we set off to meet the Chinook at the mine helipad. I was told that each container could weigh no more than 17,000 pounds, but with no scale to weigh anything, I used my best guess. The Chinook pilot dropped a 350-foot cable and pulled the containers up about 4 feet and then dropped down again. Assuming the weight was too much, I thought I had messed up the entire mission. Seeing the concern on my face, the loadmaster told me the pilot was checking for weight. Then just like that, the Chinook took off like the load was light as a feather carrying both containers and a skid steer at a 45-degree angle through the sky in 3 trips! It was an amazing sight to see!
We were rejoicing but the next thing I knew, the Chinook pilot was radioing back that the fog was too thick to drop the supplies. He requested the NTM helicopter come to guide him in. We kept praying! As the NTM helicopter led the way, the fog was immense. Then all of a sudden, God parted the fog and there was a huge circle of blue right over the drop site! It took less than 2 hours to have everything in place!
The Gospel Spreads
My “God Story” doesn’t end with the successful completion of the supply drop or airstrip. What God is truly accomplishing through any of FIA’s projects is reaching people with the Gospel. Through the work on the airstrip, I met two villagers from the highlands who I’ll never forget. The men, named Sebin and Wass, seemed to take to me right away. Sebin had come from a village 7-days hike away, and he was from a different language group from the other villagers. Sebin lived right there in that area, where they both were practicing witchdoctors.
Over the course of the airstrip build, we had many chances to talk and interact. Sebin and Wass became the first believers from the Hewa airstrip area, and they both were baptized in 2011! Sebin decided to return to his home village to take the Gospel to his language group and people…my “God Story” continues still.