Shipwrecks and supermarkets

Peter and Jeanette discuss returning after their service in West Papua 1977-1983, and in Central Java 1983-1986

Food was simple in West Papua; most often it was steamed fish, swamp spinach and a bit of spice. That’s it!

It was very different from the choice and variety in Australia, but there was something about the simplicity of life in West Papua that was irresistible!

Our house was right on the water, and we were about half a degree from the equator, so it was always hot. The house was a bookshop in Dutch times, and there was no power at first. The front door opened onto the main street, so there were always people walking by. Our back window looked out across a beautiful harbour, which looked like a tourist postcard of paradise, with palm trees, mountains rising across the bay, pawpaw trees and jungle everywhere.

Peter and Jeanette Woods

It was a marvel that people back home thought we were having a hard time!

It was in that house we met Robbie. Robbie was a student in the college where we taught, and he came to our place for dinner one night. He told us the remarkable story of how he came to be at the college; he was caught in a shipwreck in the open sea. He survived by strapping himself to an empty jerry can, and for a night and all the next day, he prayed. He promised the Lord that if he was spared, he would dedicate his life to the church. He was indeed saved, and enrolled in the college. In time, he became a pastor himself, and has been a wonderful lifelong friend with whom we keep in contact to this day.

All told, we spent five years in West Papua, and another five in Java before returning home to Australia. In both places, Peter taught in colleges training pastors, evangelists and supported the local churches. Jeanette also taught in the colleges, as well as our own children. Life is so different in that part of the world, and we truly struggled when we got back. We would go into an Australian supermarket and instantly be overwhelmed by the bright lights, packaging and all that mind-boggling choice.

We may have looked OK on the outside, but inside we were really grieving for our past ministry, our goals, directions and the friends we had made.

We had some sessions with the CMS General Secretary which were very helpful, but not nearly enough for what we needed. I’m glad missionaries these days go through a significant re-entry and pastoral care process.

Like many missionaries, we used to look forward to our day in the Prayer Diary, because we knew that on that day, we would get huge support. That is a significant action people can take to care for missionaries – it’s so important to pray for us regularly.

For a time, we wondered what our missionary journey was all about, and if it was all worthwhile. Then, as if in answer, memories would come back of the people who were in our lives, like Ibu Larno and Ibu Suminah.

Ibu Larno was the lady who lived next door to us, and she and Jeanette were two people who couldn’t have been further apart. Jeanette was educated and from a Christian background; Ibu Larno had endured a hard life, and didn’t know how to read or write. Jeanette offered to teach her to read under the cover of night, because she was embarrassed around her children.

Jeanette taught her painfully slowly, and at first she made small progress, but Ibu Larno was very excited. Because we loved her and shared our lives with her, she started coming to church with us. We eventually had little Bible studies together, and one day, we said a prayer with her in our little front room, and she accepted Jesus into her life.

Years later, we returned to our old neighbourhood, and sadly, we found that Ibu Larno had passed on to her eternal rest. Lives are shorter in the developing world; that is something you just have to accept, but we know that she is resting in the Lord now.

Ibu Suminah was our cook who came to faith in Jesus while she was working with us. To this day, she continues to have home church meetings where all are welcome.
We recovered in the end, thanks in part to the genuine care of our parish, Christ Church Dingley, helping a lot with our practical needs. We didn’t own many possessions, so they gave out of the generosity of their own hearts, which was a great relief.

You leave part of your heart with the people on-location, and that’s where part of you will always stay. But there are loving people here, in our churches and support communities, who genuinely care; and their help makes a genuine difference.

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