Before COVID-19, Walter Kennedy didn’t even know how to send a message on Facebook. Today, he’s ministering to nearly 2,000 tribal people through his own Facebook group — and people are being saved.
Walter has spent his career ministering among the Hatam tribe of Papua, Indonesia. It’s a group that only received the Gospel 60 years ago. And few outsiders speak their tribal language.
Walter and his wife, Diane, started out in a mountain jungle so remote, they had to build their own house. Since then, they’ve helped establish a Bible school, taught Bible classes, mentored church leaders, written Bible resources, helped establish an Indonesian-led mission board and more.
It’s no surprise that Walter hasn’t had much time for Facebook.
But smartphones have become wildly popular in Papua, and with them, social media.
For a brief moment, Walter followed the crowd and set up a Facebook account. Then he mostly forgot about it. He didn’t post. He didn’t waste time scrolling through his newsfeed.
But Walter did accept every friend request he got. He eventually reached 5,000 friends, at which point, Facebook won’t let you accept more.
“My [Facebook friends] ranged from USA contacts to many local Hatam and Indonesian people, some who I knew, and many I had never met,” Walter says.
When COVID-19 hit, Papua went into lockdown, like most of the world. And as Walter wondered how he could continue in ministry, that dormant Facebook account began calling his name.
A Tribe Pushed Back into Isolation
Sixty years ago, the Hatam people were already living in a sort of isolation. They were a violent, vengeful tribe — not only against other tribes but against each other.
People built their homes far apart for fear that their neighbors — or even family members — would murder them. Their homes didn’t have windows, lest someone sneak in at night. And children were taught to always carry a weapon outside the house.
All that changed when the Gospel came into the Hatam villages.
TEAM missionaries encouraged Hatam tribe members to build their homes close together so they could easily gather for church. New believers started seeking out other people so they could share the Good News of Jesus. A team of missionaries and Hatam believers came together to translate the Bible into the tribal language.
Even among the unsaved, the Hatam tribe has been transformed into one of generosity, love and community.
Going back to isolation, amid COVID-19, hasn’t been easy for the tribe.
“I get frequent calls from our Hatam church leaders asking about the virus and whether or not it is pleasing to God to not attend church services,” Walter says.
The missionary always responds by emphasizing the importance of following government regulations. Yet, he knew there must be some way to bring the Hatam people together online.
His missionary son, Ryan, suggested he start a Facebook group.
674 Members in Four Days
“I formed a group to which I invited as many Hatam friends as I had in my pool of Facebook friends,” Walter says. “Within three to four days, word was spreading, and the group grew to … 674 members!”
Walter and Ryan started posting devotions, discipleship materials and even Indonesian-language clips from the Jesus Film. Now, Hatam members are also posting Bible verses and devotionals.
“We all really thank you for forming this group for us, and thank God as well!” commented a member named Aswal.
Another member, named Saiba, commented, “I thank God for His continuous protection over us up until today!”
But the group isn’t just for believers. God is transforming lives.
“Some of them have never read the Scriptures in their life, but now, for the first time, they’ve got something in their language that they can access on a daily basis,” Walter says.
Lives Transformed through Facebook
From the beginning, Walter has laid out clear Gospel messages for members of the group. He includes a prayer of salvation and asks people to indicate if they’ve prayed that prayer for the first time.
Over 100 Hatam people have responded by giving their lives to Christ!
And now, even though they’re in isolation, these new believers have immediate access to Bible study materials and fellow Christians who can encourage them in their faith.
Today, over 10 percent of the Hatam tribe is on Walter’s Facebook group, and the number is growing.
Please pray for good conversations in this group. Pray that Walter’s devotionals will continue to challenge group members. Pray that more people will give their lives to Christ. And praise God for using isolation and Facebook for His glory!
Walter is just one of many missionaries sharing the Gospel in the midst of COVID-19. Help this work continue by giving to TEAM’s COVID-19 Compassion Fund. Your gift will help share Christ, feed needy families and more! Please give today to share Christ with people in great need.