Ninfa Guillem’s childhood dream was to become a missionary doctor on the island of Papua New Guinea. Inspired by reading missionary books such as Impaled and Yesterday’s Tears, Ninfa longed to minister to these island people.
Born in the Capiz Province of the Central Philippines, Ninfa spent her early years in the Southern Philippines before attending boarding school at the West Visayan Academy in Iloilo. She then studied biology at Mountain View College, hoping to pursue her dream of becoming a physician.
After graduating from Mountain View, Ninfa wanted to go to medical school in Iloilo, but she was impressed that “God had other plans.” Instead, she was invited to teach at the Layman’s High School in the town where she grew up, and so decided to accept the challenge for a year. The following summer she worked as a literature evangelist in Manila before pursuing graduate studies at Philippine Union College (PUC) in 1988.
MEETING IN THE LIBRARY
It was while studying at PUC that Ninfa met her future husband, Yotam Samuel Bindosano. Yotam, who was from the Irian Jaya Mission (Indonesia, but sharing the same island as Papua New Guinea), was studying theology and spent many hours in the graduate library. Ninfa, who worked as a graduate assistant in the biology lab, would hurry to the library after work. Interestingly, she always found a place reserved for her across the table from Yotam! The two also noticed that they attended classes in the same building, went to the same church on Sabbath, and both were members of the International Graduate Choir. After a year of spending time together and asking for God’s guidance, Ninfa and Yotam were married on May 31, 1990, in the Finster International Church on campus.
SERVING IN IRIAN JAYA
Following their graduate studies, Yotam was called back to his home mission in Irian Jaya, where he served as a district pastor and Church Ministries director for the mission.
“To keep me busy and not think of going back home to the Philippines, the mission decided to let me teach English in the academy,” remembers Ninfa. The following year, enrollment at the academy doubled because so many students wanted to learn English!
In 1995 Yotam was called to be Global Mission director and teacher at the Global Mission missionary training school in Irian Jaya. During that time Ninfa cooked in the training center’s cafeteria, feeding over 60 students and staff each day. She also helped accommodate visitors from the jungle, including those who were ill.
“Our home became the shelter of those who were working in the jungles of Irian Jaya Mission when they came to get supplies in town, or when a family member got sick,” recalled Ninfa, who often hosted these families alone while her husband was “walking across the dark jungle for days, supervising volunteers, building churches, and holding evangelistic meetings.”
By then, the family had grown to include the couple’s two eldest children—Bryent Samuel, born in 1991, and Cherish Lovely Jo, born in 1994.
Eventually, three more children would arrive Chilsea Julianne in 1997, Rose Jennifer in 2003, and Grace Allyn in 2005.
Coming from the Philippines, Ninfa was used to large Christmas celebrations every year. However, some of her warmest memories were when her family would spend the holiday times participating in evangelistic meetings, so that she would not feel homesick. “It brought many blessings to me,” she said, “spending those moments with the people who do not know Jesus yet.”
AN ACT OF KINDNESS
However, one of her most striking memories of ministry comes from a time when she had no idea how a seemingly small act of kindness would one day save the lives of her entire family. She shares the story in her own words:
“One sunny day in 1999 as I was hanging the clothes on the line in front of our house, a rugged man came carrying a bunch of young bananas. He approached me, asking if I would buy his bananas. Looking at those bananas, even if he had intended to give them to me I wouldn’t have accepted them! But when I looked at his face, compassion filled my heart.
“He was dirty, perspiring, and from the odor about him you could tell that he had not bathed for days. I asked him to wait while I finished hanging the clothes, so he put down the bananas that he was carrying on his shoulder and waited.
“I invited him to come inside our house and offered him bread and soy milk that I made that morning. He ate like he had not eaten anything for days. I gave him another glass of soy milk and asked him how much I needed to pay for his bananas. Sweating profusely, he told me the cost was Rp. 15,000 (US$ 1.67). I gave him Rp. 20,000 (US$ 2.23). The man told me that he didn’t have any money for change, but I told him that it was all for him.
“Then he looked longingly at the leftover bread on the plate and asked if he could have some for his wife. I went to the kitchen, got a plastic bag, and filled it with more bread plus his leftovers. He was so happy and told me that his wife had been sick for days and they had no money to buy food or medicine. His wife had malaria and he needed to buy her medicine, so that was why he had to sell the bananas even though they were not yet ripe. Malaria is very common in Irian Jaya, and I always keep supplies of medicine on hand, so I gave this man chloroquine, paracetamol, and vitamins. He was so glad and went home running. Many months passed. I forgot all about that incident and did not see the man anymore.
A DANGEROUS JOURNEY
“The following year our visas (mine and our two eldest children) expired, and we had to exit the country to renew them. The nearest and cheapest place was to go to Papua New Guinea (PNG), but on December 1, the day we needed to leave, the West Papuans who were against Indonesia decided to fight for their freedom and they were assembled at the border between Irian Jaya (Indonesia) and PNG.
“Government officials warned us that we could not go to the border since the Indonesian military post had been withdrawn. We prayed and prayed, but going to PNG was the only way we could afford to renew our visas. My husband told me to stay home with the children while he went alone to renew our visas because he has the same color of skin as the rebels. But I was not at ease. I said that it would be better for the whole family to travel together so that if anything would happen, like taking us hostage, at least we would all be together.
“That morning we prayed for safety and God’s protection and headed for the border. Our friend from PNG would be there to meet us and take us to the nearest town, Vanimo. On the way, we stopped to buy food, and I bought sacks of fresh corn, bunches of bananas, oranges, vegetables, and goodies to eat so that in case something would happen my kids would not starve.
“The road was quiet on our three-hour ride, but when we reached the border it was crowded with armed rebels. They stopped our car and asked my husband to go with them. Before going out of the car he told us to pray for him and not to ever open the car door until he returned. The rebels interrogated him and asked him to support them. While they were arguing, he saw me get out of the car. He was so scared, but he could not come near us. He did not understand why I was getting out of the car.
“While we were waiting for my husband, another rebel came near to our car and knocked on the window. It was the same man who had come to our house to sell his young bananas a year earlier! He called me “mama” (a title given to a respected person even if they are younger than the person addressing them) and asked me to come out of the car. He introduced me to one of the rebel captains, who spoke in English. He told their captain that “mama” helped him and was the only one who invited him inside the house and offered him bread and milk. He told the captain that this “mama” was very kind so they should let us pass and should protect us!
FEEDING THE REBELS
“After we talked for a while, I opened the trunk of our car and distributed the fruits and gave them all the food they needed, since they had been camping there for days. Everyone came to have a share of the goodies I brought. They offered to give us tents if we would stay with them until things became peaceful. My husband, along with the officer who had been interrogating him, came back, and how glad he was that the rebels had become friendly to us.
“We were allowed to cross the border but were told to be sure to return before 4 p.m. because they were going to burn the houses and kill people on the way. We arrived back home safely after getting our visas, just as we saw smoke rising up from the burned houses and buildings of the town we had passed, but we thanked God for preparing the way for us.
“At home, we wondered at how God leads. I was filled with awe at the knowledge that God had prepared our way long before we knew it. What would have happened to me and my family if I had turned that man away, spoken unkind words to him, and did not offer any help? If I did not listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit within me that day then it would be a different story.
“But what I dread to think of is that someday when Jesus comes, will He say, ‘I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me water to drink’? Or will He say, ‘Depart from me’?
“This experience taught me to be kind, compassionate, and loving to everyone, especially to those whom we don’t know, because they may be angels in the form of a dirty, rugged, old, and smelly beggar. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding, In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths” (Prov. 3:5, 6, NKJV).
The Bindosano family now live in Manado, where Yotam is the Secretary of the East Indonesia union Conference and Ninfa serves as the director of the Health Ministries and Women’s Ministries departments, and is the Shepherdess coordinator for the union.