I stepped outside of the faded weatherboard classroom, past the line of children waiting for immunisations and check-ups, and gazed over the neat rows of ferns and orchids across to the grassy airstrip nearby. The village of Bungawat sat on the edge of a grand valley, and when it was clear you could see clearly 5000 feet to the verdant valley floor below, with what appeared to be a rolling carpet of green rainforest, interspersed with small patches of brown and tan villages and gardens. Today, however, it was all white, as the thick cumulus clouds rolled up from the ocean and covered everything they touched. I could see a small patch of blue, seemingly no bigger than my hand, in the distance. Even as I gazed at it, it began to shrink away. I let out a silent prayer, praying that the little patch of blue would not disappear completely before our helicopter arrived. Patricia, the Principle of Bungawat Primary School, had earlier confided in me that the clouds always came in thick during the afternoon. She had almost seemed a little excited at the prospect of our primary health care team being stranded for another night, and was quick to tell me that the village would love to host us, feed us and let us sleep in their homes.
Earlier in the week my patrol team had experienced a somewhat sudden and unplanned overnight stay in Indagen Village, and had been reminded of the amazing generosity of the Papua New Guinean people – the local health care workers had shared their homes, their food and even their own blankets to keep out the frosty highlands air whilst we waited for the helicopter to return the next day after the weather had cleared. Today, however, was different. It was Friday, and our mother-ship, the MV YWAM PNG was anchored 100km away at Kanzarua on the North Eastern edge of Morobe Province. It was imperative that we be back on board that evening so that the ship could sail to a new anchorage, in order to prepare for a long queue of patients needing eye surgery on the island of Siassi. I continued praying as I stepped back into the clinic, and checked to see how the team was going. The eight people in our medical team were incredibly diverse, from an Australian nurse in her early twenties who was young, innocent, effervescent and enthusiastic; through to a 70 year old Israeli doctor, veteran of three wars and yet still striving to see what was beautiful and good in everything that was around him. Even though most of us had only known each other for one week, we shared a camaraderie and a common purpose that transcended age, nationality, gender and creed.
Bungawat had not had an aid post, a health worker or immunisation patrols for some time, and as a team we knew that the health care that we were providing met many essential needs. More importantly, our visit showed the isolated locals that they were valued and loved, both by us and by God. As I looked around the room at the team, diligently working to fit in as many patients as they could before we left, I thought back on the journey that had brought me to this point, and chuckled silently to myself. They say that hindsight is always 20/20, but sitting on a mountain in one of the most awe inspiring, beautiful and remote places on the planet and looking back I could see how so many of my previous experiences had equipped me for this role. I had only been in YWAM for three years, and spent the 18 years prior as a soldier in the Australian Defence Force. I could see how the time I had spent training and leading teams in the military had set me up to train clinic leaders and lead medical patrol teams with YWAM here in PNG. I could also see so many other traits and characteristics that had grown in me through the years and had made me the man that I was, things like resilience, mental toughness, endurance, determination, honesty and a sense of humour.
Even though I had not followed God closely through most of my military career, I could look back now and see Gods providence, and his gentle hand guiding me, shaping me, building me and preparing me for what was to come. “Should we start to pack up the first group?” My reverie was interrupted by one of the team. “Do you think the chopper will make it?” she asked. “Lets start getting ready,” I responded. Suddenly feeling a deep peace in my soul. “Can you organise the first four – the midwife, media, one of the doctors and yourself, and get your equipment out to the airstrip? I will pack up all of our reading glasses and then round up some kids to help you carry everything. The last message I received was that the helicopter was on its way, and it should be here in another 15 minutes. I have a feeling that everything is going to work out just fine.”
After spending over 15 years in the military, Ben joined YWAM Townsville in 2016. A fun fact about Ben is that he starred in a lawn-care ad campaign as “Bradley the Lawntamer”. Bradley the Lawntamer (complete with fake chest hair) was featured on TV, the side of buses, and in magazines. These days, when he’s not leading teams onboard the medical ship, Ben enjoys tending to his 10 chickens, and his wife, Jennifer.