Someone I don’t know reaches into the airplane to pull my 1-year-old daughter into the small interior village of Long Ampung. I climb down the ladder and look for my 3-year-old son, who runs to grab my leg, hiding from the cheek-pinches. My daughter’s white head bounces in the mob, camera-phones clicking, arms reaching, taking turns to hold her. She is patient, mostly unafraid of strangers, and I smile as I watch her being pulled in, while sticking out.
Brad is here to make a dent in the 3,000 some people who have converged on the tiny village of 500 for a conference for Indonesian pastors and other village servants. The conference is over and they want to go home to their own tiny villages surrounded by jungles and mountains in Borneo. Some 10 passengers at a time, he will fly several legs for three days, making some happy, others still on the ground, disappointed. I and the kids are along for the ride, staying with a pastor family who graciously hosts us and the other refugee pastors who are waiting to go home.
We eat rice and jungle vegetables and sleep on thin mattresses on the floor in our own simple room. I learn words that I’ve already forgotten for vegetables I’ve never seen, watching humbly as women cook over a wood-burning stove. We splash cold water stored in a rusty drum to take “showers.” My son loses his shyness and makes friends with everyone—from little boys to grandpas. He calls the house where we stay in for just two nights “home,” and I smile.
My little boy points and squeals ; my daughter waves; and I breathe prayers, as we watch the plane take off and land over and over again, full of the lucky few who won’t have to walk through dense jungle for two days to go home. Brad sweats, but smiles, flying until the sun sets, then going home to our wooden house on stilts to chat long into the night with his friends.
During the days, I explore the village with two kids in tow, my own camera clicking. And I listen, humbly, to the stories of life in the jungle—the problems the pastors face; the difficult pregnancies and deliveries; the various cultures and languages that the pastors learn as the take positions in even more remote villages; the price of gas for motorbikes and boats and cooking oil and sugar and the cost of serving others. I smile, thankful for the role my husband plays in providing them rides for medical care and conference training and food for cooking.
On the third day, I wait, crammed under the shadow of the wing in the hot afternoon, with the women who are still waiting, hoping, for a plane ride home, even as their husbands took to the jungle on foot. I climb into the plane, my daughter tired and fussy, not interested in being held by others right now. I know she’ll fall asleep as the plane rises into cooler air and the engine drones soothingly.
We fly home, high above the jungle trees and the dots of houses and scratches of runways, the taste of pineapple and village life and amazing examples of God-service still fresh.