World Team's History
World Team is a global missionary fellowship which began in 1995 as the fusion of two existing mission organisations with a combined legacy of 200 years of missionary service - Regions Beyond Missionary Union (RBMU) and West Indies Mission. You can read more at World Team International's web site about the history of these two organisations. Today, World Team has 400+ personnel working in 28 countries among 59 distinct people groups.
The Early Days
Papua has a rich heritage of missions, with many organisations contributing from different parts of the world. Later, national converts also become evangelists travelling to different tribes - sometimes their former enemies - to spread the Good News. The first missionary work in Papua dates back to 1855, when the pioneers Ottow and Geissler were sent by the Netherlands Missionary Society to what was then called Dutch New Guinea. Other Dutch Reformed missionaries followed, focusing on the coastal areas. In 1884, Roman Catholics came, concentrating on the extensive swamplands of the south coast region.
In the early days, spiritual progress was slow, with no more than 100 converts to show for over 50 years of labour. However eventually a people movement occurred, bringing thousands into the church. In the mid 1900's many more mission organisations arrived in Papua, penetrating the Bird's head peninsula and the rugged mountainous central region.
RBMU's History in Papua
RBMU's history of missionary work in Papua dates back to 1949, when its leaders began negotiations with the Dutch government for permission to work in Dutch New Guinea. The first two RBMU missionaries, the Gesswein and Widbin families, arrived by boat to Hollandia town in 1954. After much preparation, by 1957 an interior base was established in the Toli (also known as Swart) Valley among the Dani tribe. In 1962, there was a great movement in the Dani people to burn their fetishes and weapons of war and put behind them their old ways of life involving witchcraft, fear and the continual cycle of war and revenge killings. In 1963 the first baptisms took place.
Over the next 10 years, RBMU grew and launched evangelistic thrusts to the Yali, Hupla, Kimyal, Sawi, Kayagar and Momina tribes, as well as other tribal groups of the Lakes Plains regions. Dani converts were heavily involved in these efforts. In 1968, Stan Dale and Phil Masters, two RBMU missionaries were martyred when attacked by members of the Lugwat tribe.
RBMU also worked together with other mission organisations such as UFM, APCM, MAF and the Australian Baptists in their pioneer efforts to build airstrips, teach literacy, and open Bible training schools. Through also the essential link of early aviation it was a coordinated effort to bring the Good News to the people of Papua.
In later years, RBMU opened new outreaches in the villages of Biri, Obukain and Tokuni. They started an aviation wing to help support church planting and allow transportation of evangelists and health workers. In 2000, the Yali Bible was dedicated, the first complete Bible in any Papuan language. The Dani Bible is now also complete, and translations continue in many other languages. Today's Bibles can be distributed by helicopter to the most remote regions!
This brief summary does not give justice to the full stories of hardships, faithfulness, sacrifices, perseverance as well as triumphs experienced in these early years. Accounts of these pioneering years in Papua have been published in a number of books, including "Lords of the Earth" and "Peace Child", by Don Richardson, a former RBMU missionary.
The Story Today
World Team continues to be committed to a policy of planting indigenous churches - ones not dependent on foreign missionaries but who are self-supporting, self-governing and self-propagating. This policy has helped lead to the emergence of a national church which today is vibrant and maturing in Papua.
There is still need however, for outside missionaries to assist the national church in discipleship, training, Bible translation and working together to reach the isolated parts of Papua which are yet to hear the gospel. There are also practical needs such as literacy and health care and education. Papua is experiencing incredible change to the modern world in a very short period of time. World Team has nine families in Papua today, obeying the great commission and serving God's church. Will your heart be stirred by the many needs and come and join the team, or partner with us?