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December 27, 2013

Papua: Overcoming Deep-Rooted Tribal Fears

Addressing felt needs through healthcare, nutrition education, and other programs enables a community with long-held tribal superstitions to break away from fear.


  • Felt Needs

    Nutrition is part of the Hubert’s healthcare ministry. When they wanted to help improve the diets of the students, families were given two chickens and a rooster.

Imagine being a pregnant woman going into labor in Papua. Because of your tribe’s belief that anyone who touches the afterbirth (blood) will die, you leave your home and head into the jungle or a secluded area. You bring your own supplies, including a cloth to wrap the baby and a knife to cut the umbilical cord.

For generations, this is how women have given birth in tribal Papua. When TEAM missionaries Dan and Louise Hubert arrived at Roesler Memorial Bible School on Papua’s south coast, they heard a story about how one wife of a student gave birth in the bathroom on campus. “When the baby hit the concrete floor, the impact caused the death of the infant,” said Louise. “I was not going to let that happen on my watch.”

Louise, a nurse, provides basic medical care to the families of Bible School students through a clinic on campus. She and other teachers at the school have made a concerted effort to teach people that their fears of touching blood, which is rooted in animism, are unfounded. It’s paid off. Louise has now assisted three of the student’s wives while they were giving birth. “Since I work with them on a daily basis, they were able to trust me,” she said. “In fact, the first baby I helped deliver was named after me. That shows a tremendous amount of respect for the help they received.”

In recent years, Louise has seen the mindset of Papuans change. When a wife of one of the Bible school students went into labor, her husband and a friend helped with the delivery. The woman didn’t go into the jungle, as she had done with her previous children. She stayed in her dorm room, and both her husband and friend touched blood during the delivery and clean-up afterward. “I asked them if anyone who had touched the blood had died, and they said, ‘No’,” Louise said. “It was tremendous progress.”

“It is my hope that the families will see that the deep-rooted fears from many generations can be eliminated by the power of Jesus Christ,” she said. “It takes faith to believe in the power of Jesus Christ. By witnessing these three deliveries on the campus with no death from touching the afterbirth, it shows that this deep-rooted fear can be erased forever by believing in the power of Jesus.”

The Huberts had another idea to improve the quality of life for the seminary students and to teach them entrepreneurial skills. Since the students’ diet consists of mainly rice and fish, which they have to catch each day, they consume very little protein. “When the students come to the school, they are the poorest of the poor of Papuan society,” Dan said. “We noticed that some of their medical ailments were directly related to lack of proper nutrition.”

They provided each student family with two hens and rooster (made possible by donor gifts) with the understanding the families could keep all the eggs and all the new chickens, but when they left the school, they must repay the Huberts with two hens and one rooster that the Huberts will then pass on to other students. “We then thought that if we provide hens and a rooster, they would be able to raise additional chickens and have a constant supply of eggs to eat,” he said.

At first, the families were simply breeding the chickens for more chickens but not eating the eggs, which aren’t a typical part of the Papuan diet. But after some education and training, the students realized the nutritional value of the eggs and have started eating them.

“The primary goal of everything we do, in our interaction with the students and the whole community, is to show them God’s love,” Dan said. The Huberts are making great strides with both projects, providing much needed nutrition and medical education to their community.

-Written by Cara Davis
-Photo by Robert Johnson