Jessie’s house of needles, and the Green State of West Papua

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An array of former and current missionaries joined supporters of West Papua’s liberation for the launch of John Algate’s Jessie’s House of Needles and Jacob Rumbiak’s introduction of West Papua as a Green State. Forty on-line participants (including 20 from West Papua, and Jessie’s sister Thelma Minto in Sydney) joined the crowd in the Docklands office, which included Jessie’s sister Pam and sister-in-law Joan, Pastor Danny Hunt (New Hope Baptist Church, who presided over Jessie’s funeral in 2014), Rev. Peter Woods (a missionary in West Papua 1978-1982), Uniting Church Minister Dr Robert Stringer (who has visited West Papua twice in recent times), Jerry and Carolyn Moyer (Baptist World Team, who Jessie worked for), with apologies from Ted and Liz McMillan (Baptist missionaries who worked with Jessie in West Papua).

After John Algate’s articulate and inspiring recollection of writing Jessie’s House of Needles Pastor Hunt led a prayerful candle ceremony for the courageous missionary-nurse. Jacob Rumbiak from the United Liberation Movement for West Papua then explained the rationale and workings of the WP Transitional Government’s ‘Green State’. Bernie Goulding, a Fiji-Australian author, then presented the case for Indonesia to drop its charge of treason against a West Papuan student, Roland Levy, who wrote a story in her recent publication Children of the 12 tribes. The Open Day concluded with Dr Joe Toscano, Convenor of the West Papua Rent Collective (that dissipates the rent on the Docklands office), outlining how a small assembly of enlightened Australians has, since 2014, enabled the arguments for West Papuans’ emancipation from Indonesia to be megaphoned around the world.

Key online and face-to-face participants (2′ video)

Jessie’s House of Needles by John Algate

Jessie’s House of Needles is the story of Jessie Williamson AO, a remarkable Australian missionary nurse who worked in the highlands of West Papua for thirty-five years, from 1966 until 2001, a tenure that coincided with Indonesia’s notorious New Order military regime (1966-1998). Jessie faced challenge, restriction and adversity in her clinics in the Dani village of Karubaga and the Kimyal village of Korupun in the cool highlands, and as a flying nurse in the hot swampy lands of the northern lowlands. Further complicating her mission to heal the bodies and convert the souls of those who became her patients, friends, and colleagues were the earthquakes, landslides and droughts that impacted so heavily on a people already burdened with a hostile government that provided no services.

Jessie’s House of Needles is a skilful combination of narrative and excerpts from Jessie’s letters to her family and supporters who were a key source of the money she needed to buy regular and emergency supplies. John Algate, a veteran Brisbane journalist and experienced political analyst, incorporated other people’s recollections of Jessie and their reflections on West Papua during the time she worked there. His careful construct is a captivating and inspiring read.

West Papua Womens Office apologises profusely for not video-recording John Algate’s articulate addres. Jessie’s house of needles can be bought ($30) from the author (jalgate@bigpond.net.au) or the WP office in Docklands (frwpwomensoffice@gmail.com).

Review of Jessie’s House of Needles

[click to read/download PDF] Review, Jessie’s house of needles

Kimyal-language bibles landing in Korupun (8′ video)

After retiring in 2001, Jesse stood amidst excited locals on the dirt runway in Korupun in 2010 to greet boxes of Kimyal-language bibles that had been translated, produced, and flown in by Jessie’s employer Regions Beyond Missionary Union (called ‘World Team’ since 1995).
[click to view] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BmbTFo1cR6I

Pastor Danny Hunt, Candle Ceremony

Address (edited) Well it’s really good to be here. I didn’t know there was a West Papua office, and wasn’t quite sure what I was coming to, but it’s getting better by the minute, so thank you for inviting me. I’ve learned a lot.

Danny Hunt (New Hope Baptist Church); Babuan Mirino (FRWP Womens Office); Jeremy Moylan (World Team)

Today is a great reminder of the difference that one person can make. That one can make a difference means every person counts, including every person in West Papua, every person here today, and their network of relationships. They all celebrate the fact that this story continues. It’s not over, is it? And we want to trust in that.

Jessie was somebody I got to know towards the end of her life but will never forget. She was a very inspiring lady, and a hero of the church community that I was part of, so I got to know her sisters and other family members who are here today. We’ve heard a lot about Jessie today, but what we can all take from today is what the commitment of one person can do.

Jessie was a very gracious lady and had an amazing dignity. A single woman, on her own in so many ways, in a very strange environment, who was so ready to just take a day at a time, and do what she needed to do.  Her humility was wonderful, and so was her perseverance, and her willingness to keep on going. She was cheerful, had a sense of humour and a twinkle in her eye, and could always see the fun side of things. She didn’t draw attention to herself, but certainly did things that I would not be able to do.  So I think Jessie is an inspiration, and I think today we need to be inspired, not just by Jessie, but also by Kenny and what has happened in West Papua, and what is still happening, and what will happen around all the issues.

What I want to say today is that we are all together. It doesn’t matter about our angle, or our ideas about lots of things, or the way that we use use words, or think about politics and religion. I really believe that God can use one person. And if he can do it with Jessie, he can do it with you, and he can do it with me, and he can do it with us together. So let’s keep going, and not give up.

To light a candle is to say thank you, and to remember as we look forward. So I invite Pam, Jessie’s sister, and Joan, her sister-in-law, to join me in lighting this candle, alongside Kenny from Korupun and Peter Woods, who was working on the north coast during Jessie’s time in West Papua. We also need to remember that Jessie didn’t work on her own. She was part of a commitment by lots of people from different parts of the world to work together, including the World Team represented here in this office today and also online from West Papua.

So it’s not just one person, nor is it just one organisation, but the doing of things together. A candle is a good reminder that every person counts. There is a verse in the bible where Jesus says ‘I am the light of the world’ and also ‘You are the light of the world’, so we have the light of the one who made us, and we reflect that, and Jessie certainly reflected that.

Jacob Rumbiak: West Papua’s Green State

Jacob Rumbiak details the formation of the ULMWP Transitional Government’s ‘green state’, a far-sighted and inspiring project that necessarily involves considerable dieback of Indonesia’s rapacious wreckage of the environment in the past two decades. The ULMWP Transitional Government is obviously buoyed by the Pacific Islands Forum’s commitment to West Papua’s liberation in the form of a fact-finding mission (most recently to the UN Human Rights Council on 24 February 2021), but the Indonesian Government’s use of COVID-2020 to so dramatically escalate its military presence from the ‘normal’ 9,000 to 60,000 (many of these highly trained commandos) can’t be ignored.

Bernie Goulding: Roland Levi, Papuan student incarcerated

Address (edited) Bula everybody. I am a Fiji-Australian nurse, and a Health and Safety Manager. In August 2019 I went to East Timor for a Diplomacy Training Program. There were many Pacific people in the course, including three West Papuan students. Unfortunately at that time there was an uprising and then a blackout in West Papua, and people were being threatened and killed. The Papuan students didn’t sleep for three days, trying to find out if their families were dead or still alive, and I was wondering ‘How can this be happening in Australia’s closest neighbour?’  These students were the same age as my kids. So I tried to work out what I could do, and decided to write a book to show how we in Oceania are all connected.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are connected directly to West Papua and Papua New Guinea (rising seas ten thousand years ago drowned the lower lands of ‘Torres Strait’). And from there, the Melanesians are connected to the Lapita people who are often called the ‘ocean wayfarers’. That’s who we are: Micronesian, Polynesian, Melanesian, all connected in that space. The Pacific Ocean is the biggest thing in the world. So although we are twenty-four small nations, Australia being the biggest, and PNG and West Papua being second, it is really important that we see all those connections and acknowledge that we all have a part to play.

As an Australian I have to ask some forgiveness, because we sit quietly and ignore what is going on up there. We have resources that we have managed to acquire from a lot of the Pacific, but expect Pacific people, including West Papuans, be compliant and quiet and also come up with the answers to climate-change and to their own independence. It is amazing that they have stayed committed to their church. For many of us it is hard enough to get to church once-a-week on a Sunday, but in those communities where you are at risk all the time, it is horrifying.

I stayed in contact with Roland Levy, one of the West Papuan students in East Timor, and we became good friends. He wrote a story in my book Children of the 12 tribes and helped me with some of the translations. The book seeks to show just how old our indigenous communities really are. Some us have been sixty-five thousand years in the making; West Papua more than thirty-five thousand years. I wanted to document all that, and Roland wrote a really good story for me. He called his story ‘Where else shall I go?’ It talks about how when he was young he and his family were all connected to their land and their community, but that has all been taken away, and now they live in fear, when all they want to do is be allowed to live.

A week-and-a-half-ago, in the early hours of 3 March 2021, this really bright young peaceful student was arrested; taken from his university dormitory in Jakarta by fourteen plain-clothed police to a police station and interrogated for some time. I have just found out that he is now in prison, sick, and locked in a cell with seventy other people.

So I have been trying to work out what I can do for him from Australia to make sure that people know his name, that his voice is heard, that he has legal assistance, that he stays alive and doesn’t disappear as so many others have. I think it is so terrible that in a place so close to Australia that this could happen to a bright young twenty-three-old. So I have reached out to our Foreign Minister Payne and to different communities that I know, but I know that my communities are really limited. So I am thrilled today to have at least have Roland’s name heard around the world. And to all those other people in West Papua who are prisoners, or being detained, or tortured. If it brings a little bit of peace to know that we stand in solidarity with you, and are trying in our fragmented ways to do our little bit. Thank you very much for listening and for your time.

Children of the 12 tribes is available at FRWP Womens Office in Docklands (frwpwomensoffice@gmail.com)

Dr Joe Toscano, The West Papua Rent Collective

Address (edited) I’d like to pay my respects to the Kulin Nation on whose land we stand, to Dr Rumbiak and the other West Papuans here today, the FRWP Womens Office, and members of the West Papua Rent Collective.

I have been an atheist since I was fourteen, but I do clearly remember that moment in the service when the plate went around, and you would have to put some money in. Dad would look at me to make sure I put my five dollars in the plate and not in my pocket. Well this is that moment, when we talk about the West Papua Rent Collective and encourage you to donate to dissipate the rent on the West Papuan independence movement’s office in Docklands. This five-star energy office has now been operating for six years, which is a remarkable achievement.

The Rent Collective had a very simple beginning.  In 2014, I met Jacob and Louise and a number of other West Papuan activists in a dingy little lounge room. And I went home to my wife, my late wife Ellen José who died in 2017, who was a very formidable woman, and she said ‘Well, it’s not good enough. They need an office of their own. Why should they meet in their homes? This is an independence movement. These people are seventy kilometres from the coast of Australia. They need an office”. So that’s where the idea of the Rent Collective was born.

The Rent Collective is unlike any other organisation, which is why it has lasted for six years. All we do is provide the money for the rent of the office. We have no say in how the office is run, nor in how the independence movement runs its struggle.  In most organisations, and some of you in the smaller churches will understand this, ninety percent of the time is spent raising money to ensure that congregation can continue to function.  It is because we pay the rent on this office, West Papuan activists in this country, and around the world—because this office plays a pivotal role in this struggle, not just here in Melbourne, or in Australia, but around the world—can spend 90% of their time agitating for independence rather than trying to raise money to pay the rent.  Members donate $30 a month, or $360 year, into a Commonwealth Bank account, online or at a bank, and completely anonymously if you want. $30 is actually the price of a cup of coffee a day.  We use an honour system, we don’t ever hound you and say ‘you haven’t put in your $30 this month’.

Most of our members are not rich or powerful.  Most are on disability or old age pensions. The problem that we have is that our members inevitably die.  One of our foundation members, Rick Simpson, died last year. Others lose interest.  Some lose that financial independence they have to give that dollar-a-day.  We need seventy members to pay the rent and currently we are fifteen members short.

Why this luxurious, five-star energy office? Because it is inspiring, and a good environment to work in. It is secure—the doors are locked at night and there are CCTV cameras-which is necessary because people here are targeted by the Indonesian government and their agents in Australia. And provides this incredible capacity for a small group of people to be involved in activity which creates major concerns for the Indonesian government and its occupation of West Papua.

It is a privilege, and a very small sacrifice, to provide the infrastructure for some of the most oppressed people on the planet, who have lost more than half-a-million lives in the last sixty years.  So I want to thank Jacob for giving us the honour and the privilege of being involved in your struggle for independence.  If people really understood how difficult things have been for West Papuans for the past sixty years, I think we would have more members of the Rent Collective, and we would have offices all over Australia.  Thank you.


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