The Riots That Led to Friendship

burned building in Papua in August 2019
In the Summer of 2019, violent protests in Papua left burning buildings in their wake — but these protests also led to a surprising friendship.

People barricaded the streets. They threw stones at local businesses. They set buildings on fire. The people of Papua, Indonesia, were not happy, and they wanted the government to know.

As TEAM missionaries serving in Papua, Devon and Katie Hayes thought it best to keep a low profile during the protests. They tried to avoid big groups of people in the streets and parks. And eventually, the Indonesian government sent military troops to clean up the situation.

Devon and Katie warned their sons Seth (age 6) and Nick (age 3) about what was going on.

But kids aren’t necessarily concerned about protests and political unrest. They just thought the military men were cool. As kids who liked to play army, they were excited that they might actually meet real-life soldiers.

A car that was set on fire during the protests in Papua in August 2019

Protests sparked unrest across Papua as streets were barricaded and buildings and cars were set on fire.

Befriending Soldiers

As the situation cooled down, Devon and Katie took their kids to meet some of the soldiers who were stationed at the local gas station. Seth and Nick’s childlike wonder prompted them to ask the soldiers all kinds of questions. They asked about their guns, their knives, and all the other military gear they could see. 

While the kids marveled over the soldiers’ gear, Devon and Katie turned the conversation to adult things. They told the soldiers about their work as missionaries and thanked the soldiers for keeping their city safe.

The soldiers stayed for three weeks. And through the kids’ curiosity, the soldiers and the family soon formed a friendship. When it was time for the soldiers to leave, the Hayes family — especially the kids — were sad they wouldn’t see their new friends anymore.

A Surprise Return

After the soldiers left, things went back to normal for the Hayes family. They continued serving the community and the local church. 

And then one Sunday, a group of soldiers came into the church for the service. They came early, dressed in uniform and sat in the middle of the church. 

Devon and Katie didn’t think much of it at first. Then they realized some of these soldiers were the same men they had befriended during the protests.

Did these soldiers show up in church because some missionary kids were bold enough to ask questions? Devon and Katie don’t know. But they do know that these soldiers have now heard teaching from the Bible — teaching they may never have heard if a scary situation hadn’t led them to cross paths with curious children. 

The situation that brought the soldiers to Papua was far from ideal, but thankfully God doesn’t need ideal situations. He can work through anything — even the innocent curiosity of children — to draw people closer to Him.

* Names may have been changed to protect the privacy of our missionaries

The people of Papua need peace — in their land and in their souls. Will you share the Gospel with the tribes of Papua? Discover opportunities and explore how God can use you to reach island tribes.

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About the author

Jessica Purdy

Jessica grew up in various places in Indiana and Illinois and currently lives in Knoxville, Tennessee. She loves to hear and tell stories about what God is doing all over the world. Outside of work, she loves exploring the mountains of Tennessee, spending quality time with family and friends, reading good books, trying new things and adventuring in any form.


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  • yes, I get you clear. Everything we heard and see gives us understanding that in all we believe in God to every situation. we pray for you and the world. God be with you

  • I am glad to hear about more opportunities to serve in mission in Papua especially in community engagement, praying for involvement in this area. Thanks

  • My heart is SO excited when I hear stories where God shows up. We were on the mission field and our children often paved the way for meaningful conversations.
    God creates some of the most insane situations and turns up to make ALL things work together for good
    I yearn for more. For God-brought revival where the Holy Spirit can honor the Lord
    I ache for a deepening and ever deeper walk in which I can be a conduit for Him

    • My story is similar to yours and I search for stories of how God is working around the world to bring the gospel to all people. My heart is warmed and excited to hear these stories of the TEAM missionaries spreading the good news of the gospel and showing how belief in Christ as Savior brings eternal life.

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