About the People
Flowing 700 miles on its way to the sea, the Sepik River drains 30,000 square miles of Papua New Guinea’s northwestern frontier and is home to some 240,000 people who speak more than 300 Languages. The Ama people live along a small tributary of the Upper Sepik River in a very remote area, accessible only by plane or days of river travel in a dugout canoe. Except for a grass airstrip, Ama territory has none of the advances of modern life, and is surrounded by swamps, jungle and small mountains. The climate is very tropical with high temperatures and humidity and approximately 20 feet of rain a year.
The Ama people are semi-nomadic hunter gatherers who rely on the natural resources from the rivers, swamps and jungles around them for almost everything they need to survive. They obtain their staple food, sac-sac, from sago palms by cutting them open, scraping out the center and pouring water through the pulp. Then they collect the milky white runoff, allow the starch to settle out, dry it and later reconstitute it into a thick sticky paste that they flavor with jungle meat or fish.
Due to the lack of nutritional value in sac-sac and their other food sources, the Ama people often suffer from malnutrition. The Ama also suffer from many devastating diseases and medical conditions such as malaria, pneumonia, dysentery, diarrhea, skin fungi, tropical ulcers, injuries from accidents and birth complications.
The Ama people are animists who live in fear and bondage to demons, masquerading as departed ancestors and nature spirits. Every aspect of their life experiences, beliefs and culture is dominated by fear of these spirits.
About the Project
On November 26, 2012, John Lello, AFM missionary to the Ama, died in a tragic accident while felling trees near his project site. Pam, Alissa and Abby have returned to the States. Please join us in surrounding his family in prayer. In his first article in Adventist Frontiers, John wrote, “Friend, will you lose your life for Christ? It’s your only hope of really living. Won’t you join us in answering God’s call? Perhaps He is calling you to give your life for the unreached. . . . But one thing is certain—He is calling you, calling you to give your all.”
Below you can read how the Lellos accepted the call to the Ama people and the great need this people group still has.
The Ama people were waiting for a missionary, but no one knew about it. They were ready. They had built a church building, and they began meeting and reading from the Bible. But they greatly desired a teacher.
In March of 2012, John and Pam Lello and their children took the two-day journey by plane and, later, another day by canoe to reach this indigenous tribe. There they met Michael, who had learned of the Adventists through his father, contacted 50 years earlier by a Seventh-day Adventist missionary.
Dale Goodson, AFM assistant training director, narrates the story.
Our last visit in the May River area was to Ama. It was a difficult journey that took all day. The river was low, and we had to cut our way through several log jams along the way. When we landed near Ama, village women met us and helped carry our bags over the muddy trail.
The first man to greet us in Ama was an elder named Michael. He immediately walked us over to a brand new Seventh-day Adventist church. It was cobbled together with scrap iron, leaves, and an assortment of other bush materials, but it was more or less water-resistant, had pews to sit on and sported a raised podium and pulpit. Michael assured me there was a healthy, faithful group meeting there regularly.
I hadn‘t been expecting this at all. If there was already an established church in Ama, did they really need a missionary to come?
Michael explained that back in the 1960s, the Adventist Church went to Ama and built an airstrip so they could provide support for a missionary. The missionary didnt stay long, but the people learned enough that they came to consider themselves Adventist Christians. They wanted to be ready when Christ returned. They waited for another missionary to come. Decades passed. Eventually, a group of Bible translators from another denomination arrived and translated the Bible into the local language. Michael was a young boy at the time and helped with the translation.
Michaels father was getting old. He had waited his entire life for the Adventist missionaries to return, and they never had. What would become of his boy? Solemnly, he told Michael he had a major choice to make. I am an Adventist, said the old man, and I will die an Adventist. What are you going to be? You will have to make that decision. Will you be an Adventist as I am, or will you be something different? You need to make a choice. Not too long after this, Michaels father died.
Michael was still wondering what to do as the Bible translators prepared to leave. One of them took Michael aside. We won‘t be needing the old roofing iron on our building anymore, he said. Why dont you take it and build an Adventist Church? Build the church and then begin preaching.
But I am not an Adventist! Michael countered. I dont even know what they believe. How can I preach in an Adventist Church?
The wise translator replied, Just read the Bible and teach people what it says. Then send a message to the Adventist Church and ask for a pastor. When he comes, he will teach you the rest.
Michael was inspired to move forward. So that is what I did, he told me. I built the church. I requested a pastor. I am reading the Bible and teaching people what it says until he gets here. I hope he comes soon.
Two years later the Lello family journeyed to Ama, the missionaries they have been awaiting for almost 50 years.
Adventist Frontier Missions send missionaries to some of the remotest places on earth to share the Gospel with people who are hearing it for the very first time. So how just how remote are the Ama people? The nearest hotel is located some 340 kilometers away.
Under the leadership of John and Pam Lello, the church received further instruction and lay workers began spreading the Gospel to the surrounding villages. Sadly, John Lello died in a tragic logging accident and the gospel work suffered another setback. Today, other missionaries have taken up the cause and continued the work of John Lello.
- Population: Under 1,000 with an outreach population of up to 10,000
- Language: Ama. Their language reportedly has only four vowels, though for translation, more are used.
- Trade Language: Tok Pisin
- Religion: Majority of population is animist