A crocodile hunter finds new souls
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Erik Tryggestad | The Christian Chronicle
"If you will come teach us, we promise not to kill you.”

Missionary Duane Morgan remembers those words, uttered by a village chief from an enigmatic — and feared — people in the remote jungles of New Guinea.

The chief, called an ondoafi, had journeyed from his remote village to Morgan’s home in the Sentani province. Sitting on the missionary’s couch, the ondoafi, named Isak Sasbe, made the offer.
Phyllis Morgan, left, wife of missionary Duane Morgan, visits with Isak Sasbe and his wife as Sasbe retells the story of his first meeting with the missionary in 1990. (PHOTOS BY DUANE MORGAN)
“Any meeting with previously unevangelized, animistic people is an eerie experience,” said Morgan, who has served souls in Indonesia for nearly a half-century. Though he didn’t know what to expect from the chief, “all I saw from him was an invitation to begin the challenging process of communicating. I had no illusions about the difficulty of the challenge.”

Nonetheless, “we left the next day to go there,” Morgan said, “and the rest is history.”

That encounter — 27 years ago — was Morgan’s first with the Orya, a tribe isolated for generations in the mountainous rainforests on Indonesia’s side of the island, about 50 miles west of the border with Papua New Guinea.

The tribe had slaughtered a government contingent sent to them in 1968, Morgan said. For the next 20 years they kept to themselves, often fighting each other. By the late 1980s, when a Korean logging company began building roads into their lands, the Orya’s infant mortality rate was high, and their life expectancy was low.

Then Daud Tokoro, an Indonesian Christian who worked with Morgan, left his home near Lake Sentani to journey into the Orya’s lands.

Baptized in 1987, Tokoro and his wife, Alfrida, had become stalwart believers, the missionary said. A church met in their home — and had endured violent opposition from a gang of men who beat and threatened their preacher. Undeterred, the church kept meeting, praying and baptizing.

Daud TokoroBut Tokoro wasn’t in search of new souls as he walked the riverbanks of the rainforest. This real-life crocodile hunter was looking for skins he could sell to merchants — who would turn them into handbags to sell in Hong Kong or boots to sell in Bastrop, Texas, Morgan recalled.

Tokoro lived off the land as he hunted, eating tree kangaroos, lizards and whatever edible plants he found. He sweltered under a tarp in the tropical downpours.

One day, a group of Orya men came upon Tokoro.

But they didn’t kill him.

New Guinea tribesmen, Morgan explained, “know what it is to live in fear of enemies, tropical diseases, malevolent spirits in animals, inanimate objects and disembodied spirits — all controlled tenuously, futilely, by practitioners of sorcery and animistic ritual.”

They saw Tokoro as a friend in need — not a threat. They invited him to their village and gave him shelter. In return, Tokoro told them about a benevolent God, one more powerful than all the spirits or sorcerers they’ve known. The village’s ondoafi, Sasbe, wanted to know more.

Thus the journey to Morgan’s home — and the promise of safety.

Months later, the village, Uhli, was home to a Church of Christ. In the years that followed, the church sent about 20 men to train in a ministry school overseen by Morgan. They shared the Gospel with other villagers, who built houses of worship with funds they received from the logging company in return for land usage. The newest is in the village of Salib.

“Although we had no idea how God would bless the new work when Daud brought the ondoafi to my house in 1990,” Morgan said, “we now see that his providential care has exceeded our expectations.”

Tokoro, now 82, continues to share his faith. Recently, he told Morgan than an ondoafi from the village of Taja — 70 miles from where Tokoro first encountered the Orya — made a 150-mile trek to Tokoro’s home and asked the Christians to teach them about Jesus.

A few men from the Orya tribe, with their wives and children, pose for a photo outside a Bible school operated by Duane Morgan. The school trained 20 Orya men.

 This time, Morgan said, there was no need for a promise of safety.

“Graduates of our school have already spent some time there,” he said, “and the hospitality is pure joy.

“Many who became Christians in that area 27 years ago have long since gone to be with the Lord. Many of their children and grandchildren have finished high school. Some have graduated from university, becoming government employees, teachers, entrepreneurs.

“The folks at Taja are saying, ‘Please come teach us what you taught them.’”
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