WRITTEN BY LUKE HAMER
The call came like any other. Chris, our Medical Director answered. The person on the other end explained that a 10 year old boy had fallen out of a tree. A tall tree at that. After Chris hung up the phone, I knew we had a flight, but it would have to wait. The sun was just setting behind the horizon. We all felt a little anxious as we wanted to get this boy as soon as possible.
The last child our team had brought in who fell out of a tree passed away.
We planned for departure as soon as we got a weather report confirming the usual Sepik River fog had lifted. Chris and I were wheels up at 8am sharp and within 40 minutes we were circling the village of Amboin. A low pass to check for debris on the small tributary called the Karawari River told me the water was high enough to land, but a few sunken logs that I could see would not allow me too much room for error.
After the plane slowed to an idle on the water, we pulled up and beached the plane on the mud bank. A village health worker and the boy, along with his father, were already sitting there in a dugout canoe awaiting the arrival of the “Saman Balus.” I asked some young men along the shore to hold the ropes of the plane and make sure to not let go as the current was especially swift that day. The boy’s father skillfully paddled his canoe to the other side where we opened the rear doors of our Cessna 206 and where Chris was waiting to evaluate the boy and see what his future might hold.
The boy was awake. Good. Speaking? Yes. His name was Nehemiah.
It wasn’t long before Chris knew he had a few broken ribs and a collapsed lung.
“Can you tell me what happened” Chris asked. “I fell out of a tree, Masalai pushed me.” Nehemiah replied.
Less than a minute later, Chris had lifted Nehemiah onto the stretcher and his father was sitting in the backseat of the plane. Chris started an IV for him while I went to the other side to explain to the men how to release the plane on my cue.
The current was swift, and if the engine didn’t start on the first try, it wouldn’t be long until we swung around and hit the bank behind us. Chris gathered everyone around and we all bowed our heads as we asked God to protect us in flight, to give the doctors knowledge, and that Nehemiah would come to learn about Christ and how Jesus came to save him.
It was a pretty standard takeoff from the Karawari River. As I worked to dodge debris, we began to accelerate and make our way down-river. As we climbed out over the trees, I could hear Chris on his headset.
“If you can fly low on the way back, that would be best with this little guy’s collapsed lung.”
It was a beautiful, clear morning and even from a thousand feet I could see the mountains of Wewak from 60 miles away. We stayed low, but I knew it was only a matter of time before I would have to gain some altitude to go over the mountains to land at the airport at Wewak.
I started to think about how little Nehemiah fell out of the tree.
“Who’s Masalai?” I ask Chris
“He’s an evil spirit” He replies.
“Like the devil?”
“Sort of, just very animistic.”
It dawned on me that we were flying in a world not like our own. Nehemiah seemed to be doing fine at first, just short of breath. All of a sudden I heard Chris in the back talking to Nehemiah. Not conversational talking, but more like trying to get him to wake up. I look back as Nehemiah’s eyes start to roll back and his body goes limp. Soon I hear Chris over the headset.
“Anything you can do to make this thing go faster would be great.”
I rolled the prop speed a little higher and pushed the throttle. By Chris’ voice I could tell that every knot we could possibly gain might make the difference. Chris was giving me minute by minute updates.
“His oxygen is dropping.”
We were getting closer to Wewak so I sent Chris’ wife, Sarah, a text that we would be landing in 15 minutes and that Nehemiah needed a quick escort to the hospital. Time seemed to be slowing down as I can heard Chris talking louder to Nehemiah.
“C’mon buddy stay with me!” Chris exclaimed. “We need to get on the ground ASAP.”
I turn to catch a glimpse and see Chris grab the Ambu bag as he begins to resuscitate Nehemiah.
“Oxygen’s at 55%” Chris murmured in the mic.
“Is that bad?” I asked, knowing nothing when it comes to medical savvy.
“I’m not sure how he is still alive, but he’s slowly coming back,” he replied.
We descended quickly, and I started to see the threshold of the runway. As I went down my landing checklist, I heard Chris tell Nehemiah that he would feel the wheels touch down soon. I went as fast as I could for as long as I could before slowing the plane down to land. We turned off the taxiway and Chris told me that Nehemiah’s oxygen levels had almost returned to normal! I looked back and sure enough, I could see Nehemiah looking out the window.
We pulled up to the hangar and loaded Nehemiah into the ambulance. I jumped in the driver’s seat. Nehemiah was smiling now and seemed to be intrigued with something out the window.
“Have you ever seen the ocean before?” asks Chris.
“No” little Nehemiah replied.
“Well when you get better you can come out here and go swimming in the ocean.”
Nehemiah underwent surgery later that day. He ended up with two tubes in his sides to help drain fluids and relieve the pressure. For 12 days, our Samaritan staff was able to go and see Nehemiah. We took him an adventure Bible in Tok Pisin and things to color to help occupy the time spent in the hospital. Every day the staff got to pray with him and talk with him and his father.
Chris got to sit down with them and talk about Masalai and how, with Jesus, there isn’t a need to fear Masalai anymore. Nehemiah’s lives in a village called Amboin, a place we fly to quite regularly and have done vaccination outreaches before. Chris told Nehemiah that whenever he sees the ‘Saman Balus’ fly overhead and come to land, that he must come down to the river so we can visit with him. The best part was before Nehemiah left the hospital; he told us how he was going to go back to Amboim and tell everyone what Jesus did for him.
Not every story ends like Nehemiah’s. In fact, the reality is most don’t. We get to share the Gospel with all of our patients, however, not all are excited to go back and share their experiences while giving God the glory. We take no credit for Nehemiah’s outcome, as we know God is sovereign over everything, but I share this story because it has been a huge encouragement to us and to all of the Samaritan staff. I am very humbled to be a small part of Nehemiah’s story.