How God’s Using Facebook and COVID-19 to Save Papuan Souls

TEAM missionary Walter Kennedy reads the Bible at his desk. During COVID-19, he does missionary work online.
TEAM missionary Walter Kennedy didn't have much of an interest in Facebook. That is, until COVID-19 hit, and he saw an opportunity for online discipleship.

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.

Ryan Kennedy works on the computer

Walter wanted a way to unite the Hatam church online, so his son, Ryan, suggested starting a Facebook group. Now they’re discipling thousands of Hatam believers and seekers online.

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.

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About the author

Bethany DuVal
Bethany DuVal

Bethany DuVal serves as TEAM's marketing manager and editor. She is passionate about helping others tell their stories, whether they're missionaries on the field, new believers or part of a missionary support team. When she's not writing, she enjoys reading books and hiking in the Smoky Mountains.

14 Comments

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  • It is suprised to me for this interested news for where Walt got great revelation from Holy spirit to reach Papua clans easily through Facebook. You are so blessed Bethany.

  • Walter Kennedy was in Verona and my orientation classes before either he and Verona and I left for Indonesia. Many things have happened since then. We are now retired and living at Go Ye Village in Tahlequah, OK. Verona has many health issues and maybe the hardest for me is the Vascular Dementia which caused real concern and helped us to come to GYV. HE is faithful. So good to see Papa Mayor on Face Book as well. A great man of God. May God continue to use HIS Word as it is on Face Book and other media outlets. Just recently finished reading the books on I.J. and also am rereading the book: Let’s Roll – background is Indonesia for short-term. Small world for those of us who have matured over the years.

  • Its really an inspiration in the midst of covid19 pandemic crisis, children of God are doing wonderful work spreading the gospel .
    God bless you all.

    • I agree, Dr. Obangjungla! No matter what happens, our God is faithful and able to make His name known.

  • This is an inspiring story. I was so glad to hear it and rejoice about how God used Walter Kennedy to reach this people group.

  • Wow.. that’s really amazing story and especially in the midst of Covid19, and God’s work is really amazing through His Servants Mr. Walter Kennedy.

    • It really is! And I’m sure we’ll keep hearing more and more stories like this as the year goes on.

  • The God of the good times is still the God of the bad times. He is very creative and innovative with his servants. That is what He has done with Walter in Papua, Indonesia.

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