Berni Fallery Kunu, a 24-year old health worker (medical missionary) serving as part of a two-man team in a remote area of the Star Mountain regency in Papua, Indonesia, was killed on March 29, 2018.
Kunu was a medical missionary serving with Adventist Aviation Indonesia (AAI), a service of the Southern Asia-Pacific Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (SSD). A nursing graduate of Mount Klabat Adventist University near Manado, Indonesia, he intended to devote his life to serving unreached people in remote areas without health care access.
He was violently killed on Thursday, March 29, 2018 by what is believed to be a group of people from an area three-days-walk away. It appears to be a case of mistaken identity. His body was found the next day in a shallow grave near the river where he was believed to be bathing when attacked.
His fellow health worker was unharmed and accompanied Kunu’s body to the AAI headquarters a day’s journey away. Other Adventist medical missionaries and teachers in the region were evacuated on Friday. At this time, work in the region is halted.
According to those who knew him, Kunu had a passion to serve God in the most challenging and remote areas. He was engaged to be married in January 2019. He and his fiancée, a nurse currently serving as a teacher in another area, planned to serve as medical missionary team in a remote area after their wedding.
He understood the dangers of working in remote areas, but trusted his life to God and planned to dedicate his future to such service. Known for his laughter and good humor, “he loved his job [and was] full of his love for his Lord,” according to his family. When they expressed concern for his safety, he would reassure them “with words of faith”.
Police are currently investigating the incident. It has garnered widespread attention up to the highest levels of national government. "We are deeply sorry for the death of our child, Berni Fallery Kunu," said Indonesian Minister of Health, Nila Moeloek, in a written statement in Jakarta.[i]
Kunu’s funeral was on Sunday, April 1 and was attended by an overflowing crowd. Condolence messages continue to flood in with an emphasis on how Kunu’s life of whole-hearted service to God is inspirational. “An exceptional devotion, [such an ]…example for anyone when calling for God's work. Don't just find a comfortable [place]. …Bern is an example to follow,” posted one commenter on social media. A “life and death for God,” wrote another. “Truly noble and valuable life and death,” added another.
In a message to the family, SSD president Samuel Saw wrote:
“Through inspiration, Ellen White mentioned that Christians are set as light bearers on the way to heaven. They are to reflect to the world the light shining upon them from Christ (Steps to Christ, 116). Berni, who was inspired to light the world in Papua, committed his life, his gifts and his knowledge for this ministry that he fully believed in. He believed fully that life is not about discovering yourself for your own sake, but to be who God created you to be.
This tragic and sudden death of Berni might cause many of us to wonder, “Why Lord?,” As human beings, we must admit that we have no control over our lives nor can we fully comprehend what happens in our lives sometimes. But we have the assurance that God is not unjust as Paul mentioned in Hebrews 6:10 and we have the providence of the “Blessed Hope”. I know that the Lord will reward Berni on the day of His return.
Berni Kunu will be always be remembered by us and Southern Asia-Pacific Division as a young man who lived with a sense of mission and purpose.
Thank you to the Kunu family for raising this precious son, who was young but mature in spirituality, who responded to God’s love with his whole life.”
At first glance, it may seem that this incident would discourage people from serving as Kunu did. Instead, numerous young people and others have stepped forward since his death to say that they also want to serve God as he did and wish to commit their lives to God in the most challenging areas of service.
Most touchingly, Kunu’s father commented that *this death is a very big burden for us as parents, but we know that Berni died as a martyr in the glory of God. I would like also to follow God [with my whole heart and life] in the way that Berni did.”
Due to the current unrest in the area, it is uncertain when Adventist workers will return there. However, when they do, it would seem they might include a number inspired by Berni Fallery Kunu.
AAI leaders ask for your prayers for the Kunu family and the ministry to which their son devoted his life.
*Note: Due to the ongoing investigation, certain details such as locations and names are not available for publication.
Additional reporting by Darron Boyd and Wesley Szamko