Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | April 27, 2023

A Trek to Irian Jaya

I first learned the story of Don Richardson in 1978. Don and his wife Carol, Canadian missionaries, traveled to Irian Jaya in 1962 to serve among the cannibalistic Sawi people. A linguist, Richardson set about to learn the Sawi language, create an alphabet, and then translate the Scriptures into the Sawi language.

As cannibals, the Sawi regarded betrayal as a high virtue. Like other cannibalistic tribes, they looked for opportunities to befriend people of other villages with the intent of later betraying, killing, and eating their victim. So, when Richardson shared the story of Jesus, he was hindered by a seemingly insurmountable obstacle — Judas Iscariot.

To the Sawi, Judas became the hero of the gospel narrative because he exemplified what they valued most — treachery and betrayal. Richardson was stumped, not knowing how to proceed with the gospel story.

Later, a terrible and bloody war broke out between the tribes in the area. Richardson told the leaders of the Sawi that unless they found a way to end the war, he and Carol would leave the area. That led to the unexpected breakthrough that Richardson needed.

A meeting was called among the warring tribes. In order to call for an end to the war, a leader of one of the tribes took his only infant son and presented him to a leader of the enemy tribe to raise as his own. As long as the child lived there would be peace among the tribes.

Richardson used that deeply-rooted cultural tradition as a redemptive analogy to explain how God had sent His only Son to reconcile His enemies. Jesus, Richardson explained, was God’s peace child. Judas, previously the hero of the story, betrayed the peace child and was thus no longer regarded as the hero.

I have longed to visit Irian Jaya, today known as Papua, since first learning about the peace child story. Last year, in His own providential way, God connected me with Dr. Miguel Lopez, a dentist of Colombian descent, serving in Papua. Miguel and his wife Laura raised their family on this beautiful island inhabited by stone-age tribes like the Sawi.

The more I learned about Miguel’s compassionate service among several people groups on the island, the more I felt led to explore the possibility of a partnership. Last week, I made the long trek to Papua — two twelve hour flights, one five hour flight, and fifteen total hours of transit layovers one way — to visit Miguel and Laura.

As soon as I landed, Miguel picked me up at the airport and we were off on a road trip to minister at a remote fishing village. Miguel’s dental platform gives him opportunities to show God’s love in a practical way and to share the story of God’s love with his patients.

The next day, we boarded a Missionary Aviation Fellowship flight to a remote jungle village where I had the opportunity to see the work of a family that has spent twenty years doing what Richardson did — learning and putting a language into writing and then translating the Scriptures into that language.

Three days later I met with yet another young family doing the same thing in a remote jungle village — accessible either by a float plane or a multi-day journey by dugout canoe. Hearing their story of answering God’s call to take their young family to such a hard place touched me deeply.

While there I joined Miguel and Laura on a trek to an island to offer dental services to the people whose houses on stilts line the beaches. Once again, I saw the beauty of Miguel and Laura’s work and how their acts of kindness open hearts to the gospel.

As a result of what I learned, we will adopt a new people group from the island. More on that later. We will also challenge our VBS kids to raise funds to underwrite the purchase of a vehicle to make a mobile dental clinic to help Miguel serve many more people in need.

There is still much work to be done among the 400 language groups in Papua. So many people in remote areas are still waiting to hear the story of God’s peace child. As I write these words on my final flight home, I remain humbled by the commitment of those serving in Papua and their determination to show and to share the beauty of Jesus.


  1. I knew they had cannibalism in their history, but I had never heard the peace child story. It was very cool that it provided a pathway into their hearts, to accept Christ as their savior!
    – Dan Attaway

    • God indeed made a way for Richardson to tell the story of Jesus.

  2. Thanks Omar for sharing and it just brings my heart back to thanking God for missionaries and praying for their needs and the needs of the people groups unreached.

    • Amen, Nancy. We must remember these previous workers in our prayers. Thank you for praying for them and those they serve.

  3. I love this!! I had the privilege to get to know Dr Miguel and Laura while I was at Grace Fellowship. We were on a weekly prayer call for years to encourage the workers in Indonesia. Glory to God that Kingsland will help with much needed resources for their ministry! May the fruit be abundant!

    • Thanks, Cathy. Excited to help Miguel and Laura and to add our next people group from the island.

  4. Well Done! Again…. Bringing us to the nations and giving us a window into their lives. Beautiful partner and people.

    • Really beautiful people deserving of an opportunity to hear the good news about Jesus.

  5. Thanks Omar for “Going Beyond” to help share the good news. Very interesting story about your trip and I’m excited to hear it in person.

    • Thanks, Mike. Look forward to sharing more soon.

  6. Amazing! Thank you for sharing what has happened and is happening to reach the people of Papua Pastor Omar.

  7. Thanks for going and encouraging the workers there. It is so good to see and hear what God is doing around the world. Miguel and Lauras work sounds amazing! What a great way to meet needs and proclaim the Gospel. Thanks Omar for all you do in partnering with Gods work going on around the globe!

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