Twice, the Lord prepared the way through dreams and visions to village elders high above the coastal city of Palu in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia. One dreamed that God’s true religion would come to the mountain, and the day of worship—the day between the sixth and first day of the week—would be a defining factor. The other had a vision of a man, along with a white bird called “Tonji,” who would give her village the truth about salvation and hope for the future. Both the dream and the vision (mostly) came true more than 40 years ago when men with the gospel message and seventh-day Sabbath truth reached the top of the mountain. But Tonji the white bird was never seen. That is, until just recently! But first, the story as it began some 40 years ago.
Steep, muddy paths in dense jungle crags make the trek dangerous to Wawujai and Sadakanjai, villages near Palu, which sits at the mouth of a mountain river. And in the 1970s, travel meant days of hiking up slippery slopes to reach the isolated mountain villages of the “tree dwellers” who spoke Da’a, a local dialect.
Brave men brought the message of hope, the message of Jesus, to the villagers, after an initial survey of the area in March 1975.* Pastor F. P. Langingi, a former Muslim who became a pastor wondered about the people who lived in the mountain jungle high above Palu. He took Lukas Dasingan, a student at that time, with him. They traveled up the mountain and found villagers who had been visited by another Christian group for 50 years, but still knew nothing of the Bible, and still practiced spirit worship. These people, who live in houses on stilts, were known as tree dwellers because of their treetop homes built atop 45-foot poles and perched high above the jungle floor.
After meeting with some of the people, Dasingan, without hesitation, said he’d work among the mountain people. He used a picture roll and learned the Da’a dialect during his first three months there. The first village he worked in was Wawujai, where a village elder named Ranteuwa dreamed 25 years before of the seventh-day Sabbath. Some of the older villagers clearly remembered Ranteuwa’s dream; they accepted Dasingan and the stories he told about Jesus. About seven months later, 130 tree dwellers were baptized and a brand new chapel constructed of lumber, zinc roofing, and cement was built.
The young pastor didn’t stop with Wawujai. In 1977, after meeting a group of small-statured people who’d come down to Palu specifically to tell Dasingan that their madam elder had received a vision that they would meet him, Dasingan and a few others climbed higher up the mountain on a four-day trek, often through heavy fog and soaking rains, bearing scars from leeches and briars, to reach the remote village of Sadakanjai. In a region a bit farther up the trail, Dasingan was greeted by young villagers and dragged to meet their elders. When he arrived, the madam elder confirmed that this was the man she had seen in her vision, who along with a white bird called Tonji would tell them the truth about salvation. He would give them hope, and tell them about the future. Sitting around the split-bamboo floor of a jungle hut, eating rice and bananas, the madam elder asked all of them to listen to Dasingan as he preached. Many Da’a people accepted Jesus as their Savior, including the elder. “But where is Tonji’?” she wondered for her vision had very clearly included a white bird. She and the villagers didn’t linger on this detail—they knew that God had sent Dasingan, and they eagerly learned about Jesus and the Bible.
Today, the growing communities and active churches high above Palu don’t seem as remote. Some villages have grown into cities, and there are some modern conveniences such as plumbing and electricity.
Incredibly, in these remote regions are congregations who worship in mountain churches and chapels. Of the approximately 8,500 Da’a people who live in the lush mountain area, 2,500 of them are Seventh-Day Adventist Christians. These church members are scattered throughout more than 30 congregations, served by two pastors assisted by two young, assistant pastors.
The devoted Christians who call this verdant mountain jungle their home are deeply rooted in their faith, having long given up their superstitions and spirit worship. But they still remember madam elder’s vision from decades ago, and when Hope Channel recently did a video shoot with a white drone camera in five villages, many people gathered to watch the drone fly high above in the skies. In astonishment, they shouted, “Here is the white bird, this is the Tonji we’ve been waiting for!”