From the time he was born, Yakobus’s parents pounded one message into his head: Be afraid. Trust no one.
His childhood home didn’t have windows, lest assassins sneak in during the night. His parents taught him to never leave home unarmed. When Yakobus grew up, his parents said, he needed to be able to kill people.
But there was one person Yakobus and his family didn’t fear.
“We were never afraid of God, because we didn’t even know that God exists,” Yakobus says.
Yakobus’s people believed that they were utterly alone, in a constant fight for their lives. But today, Yakobus knows otherwise. And he’s on a mission to make sure every village in his country hears the truth.
‘Our Parents Were Always at War’
When people from the Hatam tribe look back on the time before Christ, they all use the same word to describe it: darkness.
“Our parents were always at war with other people,” Yakobus says, “and we would eat their flesh.”
One death would leave to revenge killings, which led to further revenge killings.
It wasn’t just murder that led to revenge killings. The tribes of Papua, Indonesia, believed that every death was caused by someone else. If you died from sickness, someone had clearly sent the attack through magic — and you had to be avenged.
After a death, the tribe would lay out their body and have people walk past. If anything came out of the corpse’s nose while you walked by, you were judged guilty of that person’s death.
Everyone lived far apart from each other for fear that they would be falsely accused of someone’s murder.
But then God used people like you to send TEAM missionaries to Irian Jaya (now Papua).
Missionaries Bring Gospel of Peace
“When I was 15 years old, my parents told us that two white skin missionaries arrived in Minyambou,” Yakobus says.
Minyambou was a nearby Hatam village. People started going there and bringing back a new message.
The TEAM missionaries said there was a God and a wonderful afterlife. If they believed in Jesus Christ, they could live with God forever.
The Hatam quickly embraced this message. They started attending church services and memorizing Bible verses the missionaries translated for them. They declared their new faith through baptism.
When kids started going to government-mandated schools, their parents told them, “Don’t forget what you’ve been taught by the TEAM missionaries … because God’s word is very important to remember in our daily lives.”
And it wasn’t just the Hatam. Through friends like you, TEAM was able to send missionaries to other Papuan tribes — who also embraced Jesus.
Transformed Tribes Stop Fighting
“After the missionaries started teaching us God’s word, our parents told us that we’re not supposed to be killing people, stealing things and doing sinful things,” Yakobus says.
The Papuan communities were so convinced of God’s call to peace that they stopped carrying their weapons. Some family’s, like Yakobus’s, even burned them.
Until then, everyone had lived far apart for fear of each other. Now, they built houses close together so it would be easier to have church services and prayer meetings.
“Once we followed the Gospel, we no longer needed to kill each other,” Yakobus says. “Instead, we’re helping each other, sharing with others, and we’re living in peace.”
Yakobus grew up and went away to Bible school. He became a Bible teacher himself and eventually a leader in the Papuan church.
But as the Church grew in Papua, TEAM missionaries began retiring.
Who Will Reach Remaining Tribes?
There were and are still many more unreached tribes in Papua. But Papua is a rugged mission field. Very few people are willing to give up North American comforts for life on a remote island.
As the number of missionaries dwindled, the question grew: Who would reach the remaining tribes?
And then, one of the remaining TEAM missionaries, Walter Kennedy had an idea.
By 2009, TEAM missionaries had worked in Papua for 60 years. They had taught at Bible schools so that numerous Papuans could earn advanced theological degrees. The Papuans were now qualified to teach the Scriptures.
And so, at a gathering of Papuan churches, Walter made an appeal: It was time for the Papuan Church to begin sending their own missionaries.
The Papuan Christians were thrilled.
A New Missionary Movement
The Papuan believers created a mission board. They needed someone with experience to guide them, so they appointed Walter as the mission board’s head. When they were ready for local leadership, they appointed Yakobus.
The mission board started taking missions offerings at every church. They recruited 14 missionaries.
Although TEAM continues to recruit western missionaries, their focus has shifted. While Papuans share the Gospel, TEAM missionaries provide training and guidance for the growing movement.
“We will start in Papua first,” Yakobus says. “… Once we have enough funding through the collection from churches, we’re going to target outside of Papua and send our missionaries there.”
Some of the villages they serve in are so remote, they can only be reached by days of boat travel. Missionaries go with a tarp and a few sticks to set up a tent. Their only contact with the outside world is weekly, five-minute radio call with a mission board leader.
The risks are great. One missionary died for lack of medical treatment.
And yet, the Hatam people believe that risks are worth it.
“There’s one thing that motivates us,” Yakobus says, “and that’s the Gospel that changes our lives.”
Yakobus and his tribe know Jesus — but many more people like them are still waiting to hear they have a Savior. And you can help them. Will you give a special gift to share the Gospel with people in need?
Your gift will help share the Gospel by sending missionaries, planting churches, discipling young believers and more! As the year ends, we need your help to make sure every tribe and tongue gets the chance to hear of our Savior. Please give today!