Papua New Guinea (MNN) — It has been almost five months since a 7.5-magnitude earthquake struck the highlands of Papua New Guinea (PNG). Powerful aftershocks came in the following days, adding to the destruction and death toll.
According to ReliefWeb, nearly half a million people were affected by the quake and 247,000 were in immediate need of emergency supplies. The devastation killed more than 100 people and wounded more than 500.
What made this earthquake so difficult to address was how remote many affected communities were. Major landslides and damaged roads made travel nearly impossible. The rebuilding and aid process in PNG is still ongoing.
Mission Aviation Fellowship works alongside ministries and organizations to serve isolated communities in PNG. They deliver health and educational supplies, food, and provide medical evacuations.
When the major earthquake struck on February 26, Sharlene Coker with MAF says the ministry sprang into action.
“We woke up that morning in the early morning to the earthquake, and once the sun was up we had two aircraft in the air which had already been scheduled to go to that part of the country, checking on the communities. So the pilots took some extra time talking to the community leaders and people on the ground at the airstrips they were at, finding out their needs.
“So we had that information coming in from pilots, and then we also have HF radio. We have people monitoring that on a regular basis. Also, we partner with CRMF — which is Christian Radio Missionary Fellowship — and they are monitoring the HF frequencies at all times. So people would be calling in because cell networks were down and being able to get communication was one of the issues.”
Between the radio communication and an aerial survey, MAF was able to pinpoint areas with the greatest needs following the earthquake. From there, the ministry communicated these needs to other organizations and ministries that could then provide aid and assistance.
MAF also collected donations of food, rice, and water and flew those aid items to the hardest hit areas.
“In PNG, a lot of people know that if they can get to an airstrip, help will come. So that is what happened in the weeks following the earthquake.”
The psychological trauma was hard on communities as well. Tremors can bring on a renewed sense of stress and panic in the wake of the earthquake.
Some people have gone back to rebuild, but not everyone can. “There are certain areas…that it is not safe for them to go back in. So there are areas — care centers is what they call them — at the different airstrip areas where many people are gathered and they are still sorting out where they will make home in the future because they can’t get back home.”
Coker explains, “At this time, we’re more in the recovery phase. So most of the supplies going out now are more for rebuilding and hygiene, and organizations are offering training on clean water and how to obtain that and gender protection and different things that need to happen. But rebuilding right now is the main focus.”
While there is demand for rebuilding supplies and aid, there is also a deep desire for spiritual truth in PNG.
“For us, the most important need is Christ, getting the Word of God into people’s hands. Our planes are all equipped with a Wi-Fi Bible and that allows people to use their cell phones and download many items, Bibles, and other Christian resources to their phones. And yes, in the bush airstrips, they have cell phones!” says Coker.
“Our pilots also take out Bibles and Christian resources on their planes in a box wherever they go. Rarely do they come back without an empty box…. People are just hungry for the Word of God.”
Even in the midst of hardship and devastation, MAF pilots and staff in PNG are seeing God move. “We could not reach so many people without the Lord working. Even after the earthquake when many had gathered at the airstrips and they were asking for food and water and basic things, they were also asking for the Bibles. We had calls coming in from the people working on the ground asking us to put Bibles on the airplanes.”
If you would like to learn more about MAF and how you can support their ministry, click here!
One of the best ways you can support MAF and Papua New Guineans is through prayer.
Coker asks, “Pray for safety in flight. The weather here can turn at any moment and it really impacts what we can do. But keeping our pilots and those on board safe is always a prayer request. [Pray] for people to be open to God’s Word; and also for those who have heard it, to really grow in their faith as they get a better understanding of what Scripture is about and what Christ has done for them.”
(Header photo courtesy of Mission Aviation Fellowship)