Young minds: Papua’s most valuable resource
MATT BASINGER ’03 AND JACINDA WILEY BASINGER ’02 seem like typical parents of college students: helping the young adults get settled in dorms; fielding frequent calls to talk through classes, finances, and friends; reuniting on much-anticipated breaks.
In reality, the Basingers have two young sons who are years from college. But through their education work as missionaries in Papua, Indonesia, Jacinda and Matt are helping prepare a generation of young Papuans to study at U.S. universities, including four who are enrolled at Seattle Pacific this past year.
The couple’s deep investment in these young lives doesn’t end with a high school diploma. Matt and Jacinda happily continue to minister to these students as they navigate college demands and adjust to life nearly 7,000 miles from home.
It’s work the Basingers believe will reshape the remote island they call home. “I think a decade from now, these students will be leaders in Papua, bringing kingdom values and changing Papua in an amazing way,” Matt said.
Indonesia is the world’s fourth-most populous nation. A Southeast Asian archipelago, Indonesia consists of some 13,000 islands stretching more than 3,000 miles from coast to coast. The western half of its most-eastern island is Papua, Indonesia. While Indonesia comprises the world’s largest Muslim population, its eastern islands, including Papua, are mostly Protestant.
Situated on the second-largest island in the world, Papua has spectacular wildlife and natural beauty, as well as a rich, cultural heritage and more than 250 unique languages. It is home to the largest gold mine and second-largest copper mine on the planet.
“This is a really important place for us strategically to work to empower the local community,” Jacinda said. “Because of the resources this island holds, there’s a lot of national and international attention, and many, many people are flocking to Papua for opportunities.”
Despite its natural bounty, Papua lacks basic infrastructure, modern health care, and education. Roads — where they exist — are riddled with potholes. Electricity and internet access are spotty and prone to go out for hours or days at a time. Infant mortality is over 18%. HIV rates are 15 times the national average. This conflicting existence of poverty and wealth stems from a complex history of colonialism, national agendas, and local tribalism.
On any given day in a Papuan public school, most principals are absent, and half of all classrooms lack teachers, often for months at a time. The government-run system, scant on teacher support and accountability, has left 56% of Papuans with less than a primary education. About one-third of Papuans are illiterate, the highest rate in Indonesia. Less than 1% complete college.
Despite its natural bounty, Papua lacks basic infrastructure, modern health care, and education.
“Without a basic elementary education, students don’t have access to higher education,” Jacinda said.
Jacinda, who was born and raised in Indonesia, is a third-generation missionary kid who loved the sense of adventure and purpose she experienced growing up. Her parents, Wally and Joan Wiley, still serve on Papua with Mission Aviation Fellowship, a group that works to share the Gospel and serve people in isolated regions of the world.
“My dad saw a huge need for education because Papuans were not getting opportunities to be leaders in their own context,” Jacinda said. Wally helped start eight schools and five clinics on Papua, including the Papua Hope schools where the Basingers now work.
After graduating from high school in Indonesia, Jacinda applied to colleges and took a gap year to train and serve through Youth With A Mission in India. Cut off from communication, she left the college decision up to her parents.
“On a rainy night in Mumbai, I took a rickshaw to an internet café and finally contacted my parents. They said, ‘We have a surprise for you. You’re going to Seattle Pacific University.’ They selected SPU because of the communication, the support, and knowing that I would have a friend there. One of my best friends from childhood, Ailie [Daniels Dukes ’02], was a year behind me in school, and she applied to SPU. We were roommates all through college.”
Jacinda threw herself into college life in Seattle, earning a degree in theatre and theology and certification in elementary education. She worked as a student coordinator for the SPRINT program, helping to organize student-led service trips.
During her senior year, she met Matt, a chapel worship leader, who also worked in the Student Ministries office. He checked all of her boxes.
“We had back-to-back cubicles, and I saw this incredible young man who was playing guitar and loving Jesus and wanting to work overseas,” Jacinda said.
Matt grew up in near Boise, Idaho. SPU was an easy pick for him with his passion for music, interest in electrical engineering, and attraction to Seattle.
A University Scholar, Matt studied great Christian thinkers through his honors curriculum and began to doubt the safe, comfortable direction of his career goals.
“I started to feel this tug toward ministry, to do some active service as a full-time job. But I didn’t know what that meant. I thought I’d have to study theology and be a pastor, which wasn’t that exciting to me,” he said.
“I went to see Anthony Donaldson [then-director of SPU engineering], almost in tears. I was explaining this dilemma about needing to enroll in theology and not do engineering. I finished spilling my guts to him, and he got this big smile on his face. He said, ‘Matt, I was a missionary in India as an engineer. And I’ve been working for the last few years to get a new program started — engineering and applied science with a mission focus — so that people who want to do technical service overseas can get an education really founded in that.’
“It was one of those Holy Spirit goosebumps moments,” Matt said. “That was it — I was in.”
Matt and Jacinda dated for two years, marrying after his graduation in 2003. They lived and worked in Seattle for a couple of years while pondering grad school.
Matt applied to various universities, including a renowned, sustainability-focused program at Columbia University. “You always need to apply to one school that you have no chance at,” he said. “Amazingly, I got accepted.”
He and Jacinda moved to New York City, where she pursued a master’s degree in counseling at Nyack College, and Matt completed his master’s, doctorate, and post-doctoral fellowship in earth and environmental engineering. He worked on a variety of field research and technology development projects in both East and West Africa focused on biofuels, solar power, and water management for remote, resource-limited communities.
In 2012, the Basingers moved to Papua with the support of their sending organization, Mission Aviation Fellowship, and, with MAF’s blessing, transitioned to Colorado-based Paraclete Mission Group in 2017. Jacinda became an administrator and counselor at the dual-language (Indonesian & English) Sekolah Papua Harapan School, established by her father in 2008. SPH began with two teachers and eight students. A grade was added each year, and today, it has 84 teachers and staff (all nationals except Jacinda and her brother, PE teacher Jared Wiley ’07 — married to Teresa Chally Wiley ’06) and more than 350 students from preschool through grade 12. A small percentage of the students live in on-site, family-style dorms.
“It’s such a special place to be, and there’s so much love and care from our teachers to our students — faithful, predictable, ongoing teaching that happens every day,” Jacinda said. “We use global best practices in the classroom so our students aren’t just doing rote memorization, but real, interactive, critical thinking that prepares them to be future leaders.”
SPH also emphasizes character development and positive habits and holds morning devotions and weekly chapel to promote spiritual growth. A hot-meal program, mental health counseling, and a medical clinic ensure low-resource students have their physical needs met as well.
Their first class graduated in 2020, including Maria Weya, a student who started at SPH at age 5 and now attends Seattle Pacific. The track record of the first three graduating classes speaks volumes about SPH’s effectiveness: Every SPH graduate is currently enrolled in national or international higher education programs.
Katarina Krueger ’15, a former Fulbright scholar in Central Java, Indonesia, taught at SPH in 2019. She praised the Basingers’ huge hearts for Papua. “Matt and Jacinda are incredible people,” she said. “They are really dedicated, and they are so good at equipping and empowering Indonesians.”
While Jacinda worked at SPH, Matt co-founded and operated a small, business-as-mission company, Electric Vine Industries. “We grew our team to 95 employees across three provinces. We installed over half a megawatt of solar-powered microgrids to bring physical light to unelectrified, dark places in Indonesia,” Matt said. The solar power decreased dependence on generators and fossil fuels and allowed small businesses to flourish.
But unwavering integrity had its costs: “We were not paying bribes to get permits, and in 2018, we stopped being able to get permits. At the point we could no longer build, we had to close up the company,” he said.
The business’ demise came just as another opportunity arose. The mining companies extracting resources from Papua are required by the Indonesian government to share some of their profits with the province. These funds have been used, in part, to establish a full-ride college scholarship program for local students. The decade-old program, while well intentioned, often missed the mark.
“A lot of students were not successful because they would get a few months of language school in Papua, and sometimes not even that,” Matt said. “It’s crazy. They would be sent to the U.S. with no language or culture training. The attrition rate was so high.
“There was a lot of attention on SPH within the Papuan government,” he said. “It was so clear that the school was head and shoulders above any other educational institution in Papua.”
Government leaders asked Jacinda’s father if he could take the lessons learned from SPH and create a post-high school language program to better prepare students to study at U.S. universities, where the caliber of education is considered among the best in the world. Papua Hope Language Institute was established in 2019, with Matt as its director. While the provincial government partners with multiple language institutes, only PHLI is distinctly Christian (although welcoming to students of all faiths).
PHLI’s initial mission is to equip the best and brightest of Papuan youth to prepare them for higher education — perfect their English skills, sharpen critical thinking, and help students grow spiritually mature in their Christian walks. The majority of the founding class of 60 students are currently studying in the U.S.
“International students bring the world to SPU, and when they return home, they have a new global perspective and a new level of biculturalism that is equally valuable to the degree they have received.” Lisa Hirayama
Papua Hope Language Institute is preparing the best and brightest Papuan youth for higher education. Follow the language institute on Instagram @Papuahope.phli.
Matt believes PHLI will become far more than a language institute as it grows and increases its partnerships with universities abroad. “Papua Hope focuses on education and discipleship, teaching students that they must hold in one hand the richness of Papua, and in the other, the unique challenges faced,” Matt said. “In this tension, they are called to use the blessing of their education to bless others, becoming servant leaders.”
Matt is a hands-on leader, serving as a de facto parent to his university-bound students. He accompanied 27 students from his first class on a five-hour flight to the U.S. embassy in Jakarta, where he spent a week organizing their visas, and then he joined them for 40 hours of flights and layovers to the U.S. to help them get oriented as they began their studies.
Administrators at both schools have been strategic about selecting U.S. partner institutions to send their students. “We wanted to choose places where we knew the students would be cared for well, equipped both academically and spiritually,” Jacinda said. “So, of course, with our positive experiences at SPU, it was on the top of our list as a partner school.”
Lisa Hirayama, SPU’s assistant director for international admissions, recruited at Papua Hope schools in 2019. “The students are wonderful and had lots of questions for me,” said Hirayama, who was particularly touched by the boarding students who must live far from their families to attend school. “The dedication and sacrifice required of both those students and their families in the pursuit of education is remarkable.”
She has continued to visit prospective Papuan students virtually during the pandemic, and is excited by the SPU alumni at the schools who can represent the University in such a personal way, as well as by the possibility of future study abroad opportunities for Seattle Pacific students and faculty in Papua.
Hirayama also loves how international students broaden perspectives for American students, and vice versa. “International education and exchange are powerful forces for change and growth,” she said. “International students bring the world to SPU, and when they return home, they have a new global perspective and a new level of biculturalism that is equally valuable to the degree they have received.”
PHLI is also working closely with the government and university partners to move toward a U.S.-accredited associate’s degree path to continue to prepare Papua’s top students to go abroad. They also hope to create a local teacher’s college that trains and equips Papuan teachers and administrators to fill the island classrooms that sit empty today.
During a six-month furlough to the U.S. last year, Matt collaborated with two partner institutions in a different way: He was an adjunct professor at SPU for a quarter, teaching development engineering; and at George Fox University, he taught micro-grid engineering.
He’s laid the groundwork for a future SPU class where U.S. engineering students would come to Papua to work on projects, staying in the dorms with
PHLI students. “It would just be this really neat weaving together of the two worlds,” he said.
Their U.S. furlough also gave Matt and Jacinda proximity to help their students get settled on various campuses throughout the Northwest and to visit and encourage the 40 or so young Papuans currently studying in the States.
While the Basingers made the most of their furlough, they were anxious to return to Papua.
“It’s our joy to live in this multicultural community,” Jacinda said. “To live life together like this has been an invaluable opportunity that has shaped us and allowed us to be a part of shaping others’ lives, too. Being able to learn and grow together … that’s where the most life transformation happens.”
“Whether I’m doing engineering or working at a school, the calling is to serve Papua,” Matt said. “So, five years from now, I may wear a different hat, but the calling is clear.”
For Jacinda and Matt, Papua is where their love for people and their love of God meet. “How do we enter into systems that are not just and pursue justice?” Jacinda asked. “How do we empower people who have less opportunities? And how do we help people understand who God is and how God sees them and what opportunities they have to be a part of this kingdom work? To be a part of that, no matter how hard it is, is the most fulfilling, exciting work.”