When Maria Weya thought about what she wanted to do someday from her village in Papua, Indonesia, she knew she wanted to help people. She considered teaching, but didn’t want to be in a classroom all the time. A nurse maybe? But she didn’t want to spend all day in a hospital.
One day Maria was looking through a college catalog with Paraclete associate Jacinda Basinger. Basinger serves as a school counselor at Weya’s alma mater, Papua Hope School (Sekolah Papua Harapan -SPH) in Indonesia.
A particular course description jumped out at Weya.
“What about global development?” she said to Basinger.
With a degree in global development, Maria could help her fellow Papuans with clean water supplies, education needs, and health concerns. It was a big dream—one that would require her to leave her village and move to the other side of the world to go to college…in the midst of a pandemic.
Fellow Papuan student, Gerpatius Bagau, joined Weya and 18 other students on a journey in early 2021 from Papua to Corban University in Oregon. The university has a partnership with the Papuan government: the government provides full scholarships to students, and Corban provides focused-programing and intentional support to help students be successful in their global transition. Some of these students who arrived at Corban in January are SPH’s very first graduates—at a graduation that almost didn’t happen due to COVID limitations. Their parents couldn’t fly in from their remote villages in Papua because flights had been cancelled. After petitioning for special permissions, the government allowed for a small, 50-person graduation gathering.
“It was very disappointing to the students and to us all that the graduation time looked so different from what we had expected,” Basinger said. “And we simultaneously felt thankful that the Lord had provided a way for us to celebrate it. We videoed the event so we could send the recording to the parents. And we made it as memorable and special and honoring of the class as we could.”
That graduation was just the first of many steps that were filled with uncertainty and required flexibility. When they couldn’t leave for Oregon in 2020 due to the pandemic, the students started their studies online from Indonesia. Then in December, a small window of opportunity opened for them to try again for visas to America. They quickly rushed to Indonesia’s capital city of Jakarta for quarantining, interviews at the U.S. embassy, COVID tests, and finally…a flight to the States.
“When I saw the airport, there was a train, it was clean, I said, ‘wow, guys this is America,’” Bagau said. “I felt happy and proud. We can make it.”
They arrived in time to experience their very first winter.
“I played in the snow for the first time,” said Bagau. “It was nice to go sledding.”
New Heights church in Washington provided them with coats and gift cards to stores and coffee shops. Other Papuan students welcomed them and showed them the ropes. And they adjusted not only to America, but to COVID limitations that continue to sometimes require some online learning, some cancellations of activities.
It’s all worth it for Bagau’s dreams of serving his community someday as a politician in Papua.
“After I finish college, I will go back and participate in government in Papua,” he said.
The SPH teachers back in Papua have big hopes their students will be the next generation of leaders for Papua. But now they face a post-pandemic world and all its concerns and changes.
“I think that our students have seen that we don’t have control over a lot of things in life in terms of what we encounter,” Basinger said. “But we do have opportunities in terms of how we’re going to respond. At Papua Hope School, we talk about character and attitude. ‘How do I respond in a way that is constructive and healthy and look for the opportunities and be tenacious?’ Those are things that I see our students growing in.”
They’re also adjusting to America. Weya has enjoyed many things about studying in Oregon, and has made some close friends there. But she hasn’t been able to talk with her parents on the phone. There are no phone lines or Internet connections where her family lives. Also, she likely won’t be able to go home before her education in the U.S. is finished.
“Of course God takes care of them, so I’m not really worried,” she said. “My parents are really proud of me.”
Look for more info on the Papua Hope School graduates and other great stories of connection and celebration in the 2021 Summary of Ministries…coming out this week!