This year, Corban University was set to welcome the largest class of Papuan students in school history, with over 50 Papuans ready to begin their academic journey on campus. Prior to 2015, Corban only received two to three Papuan students each year until Associate Provost of Global Engagement, Dr. Janine Allen, generated a dialogue with the Indonesian government concerning increased educational access, equity, and inclusion among native Papuan groups.  

Corban has an established history and partnership with the country of Indonesia, welcoming students from across the nation’s islands, many who come on government scholarships, to study on campus each year. While there were many scholarship opportunities for students from Papua’s larger towns and cities, the population of more remotely located Papuans has often been overlooked.  

Culturally, Papua is the most remote and isolated of Indonesia’s provinces. As the eastern-most island, Papua is far-removed from the national commerce center of Jakarta, and very few Indonesian nationals or government officials from the larger islands have visited. As a result, Papua lacks vital infrastructure—roads, health care, and access to education.  

As Allen’s dialogue with the government continued, they were able to identify that, even among Papuans, there was a disparity of access to education. “Students that had historically received this scholarship funding from the government were mainly from the larger cities of Papua,” says Allen. In Papua, there are over 300 tribal groups, living mainly in the remote highlands, some over 8,000 feet above sea level, with most villages only accessible by small plane. “They have not had the same access to education as the students that live in the cities.” 

Though government schools are available, many Papuan children must walk long distances or move in with other households in order to attend. Even when attendance is possible, a lack of educational accountability for these national schools and their teachers often make students’ educational experiences uneven at best. In fact, it is more likely for a 16-year-old Papuan high school student to contract AIDS than to graduate high school.  

In partnership with governor of Papua, Bapak Lukas Enembe, and the Indonesian government, Corban has been working hard to help shift this narrative. As more government scholarships are granted to Papuan students, Corban has helped to make their experiences more equitable through the establishment of the Corban Language Institute and Pathway program at Corban University, and an English language learning institute in Papua, set up in partnership with local university, Papua Harapan. “Our students come at all different levels,” says Allen. “But many know four, five, even six languages. They are very rich in their cultural understanding and linguistic ability.” After beginning their English language training in their own home country, once on campus, Corban’s Pathway program helps to bridge the gap from English language learning to full-time academic studies. 

In 2019, four years after the government’s shift toward more equitable educational access for Papuans, Corban graduated seven Papuans with full bachelor’s degrees. “That was really exciting,” says Allen. “We had the governor out and had a huge bakar batu, which is a pig roast, out by the soccer field.” Corban expects to graduate 17 Papuan students in 2021. “These students are part of the nearly 1 percent of Papuans who will earn a university degree,” Allen says. “It’s exciting that, of all of the private Christian universities in the United States, Corban has received the highest enrollment of Papuans.” 

Corban’s newest class of Papuan students was set to be the largest in school history, with over 50 students expected to enroll. But when news of COVID-19 outbreaks circled the globe, embassies began to shut down. Allen did not give up on her Papuan students, however, working tirelessly with local legislators, calling Washington D.C., and contacting the government in Jakarta. “I was on the phone all the time trying to get access to the emergency protocol for US study visas,” Allen says. “But because COVID was still so new, I wasn’t able to network my way into the US embassy.”   

With plans for on-campus education on hold, Corban shifted its focus toward meeting Papuan students where they were at. The Pathway program pivoted toward a live-remote model of synchronous learning which heavily utilized live-streaming, face-to-face instruction rather than purely passive online learning. “Because they were learning English, it was very important that it wasn’t just asynchronous learning,” says Allen. “It was the first time we had ever done it, and it was highly successful. We were thrilled with it.” 

All 50 Papuan students were able to take courses via this live-remote online learning option, gaining access to vital face-to-face instruction. This fall, 39 of these Papuan students have continued English language instruction, or have begun full-time undergraduate coursework remotely in Papua, utilizing the same live-remote hybrid option that Corban offered to all students in the wake of the pandemic. Even more are participating in English language learning through Corban’s partner language institute at Papua Harapan.  

While Allen and her colleagues at the Corban Language Institute are hopeful for students to arrive on campus for the Spring 2021 semester, they acknowledge the likelihood is not high in light of the ongoing pandemic and travel restrictions. In spite of these difficulties, Allen remains encouraged by her students’ response, and by the attitudes of those who have been through the Pathway program and currently reside on campus as undergraduate students, having remained here through the lockdown. “I feel that God has entrusted Corban with this very important Kingdom vision to preserve Papua for the gospel Kingdom,” Allen says.  

Papua is uniquely positioned within Indonesia as one of the only predominantly Christian population amongst one of the world’s largest Islamic nations. “Many of these students will be Christian thought leaders in Papua and then potentially immigrate and spread the message to other islands, and be sound leaders throughout all of Indonesia,” Allen says. “I believe God has chosen these students to go back to redeem and bring reconciliation to Papua, and Indonesia broadly.”  

Part of that reconciliation is already happening on Corban’s campus among the diverse collection of Indonesians who study together in the Pathway program. “Just like our nation wrestles with a sinful past and prejudicial and racial bias, the same concept and the same dilemma is in Indonesia,” says Allen. In Indonesia, broadly speaking, Chinese-Indonesians sit at the top of a rigid and discriminatory ethnic hierarchy. Papuans are at the bottom.  

“You wouldn’t often see a Chinese-Indonesian befriending a Papuan,” says Allen. “And yet, when these students come to Corban, students from families with millions, and students from the tribal highlands, and they form relationships, you see gospel reconciliation happening right before your eyes.” 

Through the connection fostered by Corban’s community, these students have the opportunity to fulfill Corban’s mission of making a difference in the world for Jesus Christ not only through their vocation, but through the cultural reconciliation they will bring back home. “I’ve been impressed by their focus on their home nation and on equitable support for the people of Papua,” says Allen. “That is something we have intentionally kept bringing back into their training and English language courses through the Pathway program.” 

Allen is quick to point out that the cultural education happening at Corban has been a mutual process. Corban faculty are eager to become culturally educated themselves, alongside their Papuan and Indonesian students. “They’ve not only had to look at how they can bring in different ways of teaching to meet the needs of our English language learners, but they’ve also had a learning posture, wanting to learn more about our students’ culture,” says Allen. “That learning posture has been so important for cultivating a culturally intelligent classroom and figuring out how we can better reflect that diverse, multilingual, multicultural, gospel church that is described both in Acts and Revelation.” 

Corban’s unique community can be a blessing and place of refuge for many Papuan students, but challenges still remain at home. Along with poor infrastructure, equity disparities, and racial prejudice, much of the island’s rich and largely untouched native resources are under increasing risk of exploitation, especially by large foreign companies.  

“If international companies come in and provide jobs, many of the Papuans would not be employable because their education level is so low,” says Allen. “As a result, many Javanese are moving in to occupy these jobs and bringing Muslim thought with them.” Allen hopes that the education her Papuan students receive at Corban will prepare them to be advocates for their island, their people, and their faith. 

The potential for impact begins with the kind of equitable access to quality education that Corban provides. “For our students, as they graduate with a deep Christian commitment and high standard of education, they are going to rise quickly into leadership positions with the government and even with these international companies that are coming in,” says Allen.  

From only receiving two or three Papuan students each year, to prayerfully anticipating a class of near 50, Corban is continually entrusted with the education of an increasing number of Papuan students. The conversation may have begun with Dr. Janine Allen and the Indonesian government, but for Allen, she believes that the dream of equitable access for all Papuans can only be effectively realized by the students themselves. “My prayer is that they stay rooted in their commitment to Christ and rooted in the thought of equitable access to all the tribes of Papua, and really lead from the mind of Christ. And I have high confidence that they will.”