Daughter of martyr, Phil Masters, reflects on his legacy after MAF delivers Bibles to remote Papuan tribe

Published: 29 Oct 2020

The Masters family in Korupun. Phil and Phyliss (back) with (L-R) Curtis, Becky, Rob and Crissie

MAF US Mobilisation Manager, Crissie Rask, was just 13 when the Southern Yali Tribe murdered her father – missionary, Phil Masters. MAF’s Claire Gilderson caught up with Crissie who recalls the heartbreak of losing her dad and the joy of the Yali eventually turning to Christ…

This summer saw MAF deliver more than 1,100 Bibles and 1,400 children’s Bibles to the Southern Yali villages of Holuwon, Oakbisik and DeKai in the Papuan highlands. This is the second time MAF has flown Bibles to the Southern Yali in their own language. 

Today the Yali treasure God’s word, but 52 years ago, it was a very different story. On 25 September 1968, World Team missionaries and MAF partners, Phil Masters and Stan Dale, were hiking in the Seng Valley to share the Good News, but they were ambushed, killed by bow and arrow and cannibalised by the Southern Yali.

Phil’s widow and Crissie’s mother, Phyliss, was three months pregnant at the time with her fifth child.

Decades later, the Yali’s transformation is nothing short of a miracle. Thanks to her father’s and Stan’s sacrifice, others dared to follow in their footsteps to share the love of Christ. As a result, there are now over one hundred churches amongst the Yali today.

‘We were such a curiosity’

MAF continues to support the work that Phil and Stan started all those years ago. Crissie – who went on to work for MAF Papua for 16 years - recalls what it was like growing up in remote Papua as a child:

‘We went when I was about 6 years old. It was a natural, normal childhood to us – very happy.

We lived in pretty simple housing conditions especially when we moved to Korupun. Our house had a thatched roof and a dirt floor. My dad built us beds. We had mattresses flown in by MAF and our windows were opaque screens.

The people would crowd around us because we were such a curiosity and as I got older, that got more difficult.’

Crissie describes her father as a ‘fun, gregarious person who loved people, but he was quite strict as well.’

Phil Masters sets up camp in Korupun

‘There was tremendous spiritual resistance’

Phil was an incredibly tenacious person too. He was determined to share the Gospel with the world’s most forgotten and unreached people, no matter what the cost. Tragically, it cost him his life. Crissie explains the extent of their spiritual battle:

‘There was an area between Ninia and Korupun, which had been very resistant to the Gospel - the Seng Valley. Stan had already been shot at once trying to reach that area and two Yali Christians had been killed trying to go south from Ninia toward Korupun.

The Yali were fearful of their ancestors’ spirits. They were dominated by them and didn’t want to embrace Jesus. There was tremendous spiritual resistance and they were blind.

My father and Stan felt that if they approached the area from the other side, perhaps the people would be more receptive. They just had a real zeal for areas that had no access to the Gospel.

Because Stan had already experienced opposition, people often ask: “What were they thinking? Were they fool hardy?” but I have to say that the Holy Spirit compelled them to do it. They thought it through - they didn’t just rush in.’

‘We just cried and cried and cried’

As was the practice back then, MAF would plan and execute an aerial survey in conjunction with partner missions. Once a new community had been detected, missionaries would hike in with a view of setting up a new base and airstrip. It was on one such hike that Phil and Stan lost their lives. Crissie explains what happened on that fateful day:

‘As they hiked, people gathered from villages all around the Seng Valley. They started to follow them. My dad and Stan each had around 75 to 100 arrows in them, so it wasn’t just one single killer - it was the intent of the whole community.

Some of the evangelists from my dad’s group escaped to the northern Yali mission station of Angguruk. They reported that the missionaries had been killed and radioed MAF.

I remember the day when we first got the hint that something was wrong - me and two of my siblings were at boarding school. Aunt Betty told us that dad was missing. A day later MAF flew us to the main mission station to be with mom.

We hoped against hope that they had escaped into the jungle. MAF coordinated the search and requested a commercial helicopter from Papua New Guinea to conduct a proper investigation.

A couple of days later we got confirmation that they had been killed. We just cried and cried and cried. I wondered how our lives would go on without my dad.’

'I forgave you when it happened. The Lord has forgiven me for my sin and, in turn, I forgive you.'

Phyliss Masters addressing the Southern Yali Tribe

Forgiveness in the face of injustice

Others in Phyliss Masters’ tragic position – a widowed mother of four children with another one on the way – might have fled the country but incredibly, Phyliss felt compelled to stay.

She continued to do God’s work amongst the indigenous tribes for another twenty years and set up a women and children’s ministry.

In 2010, Phyliss attended a New Testament dedication ceremony for the Kimyal Tribe in Korupun, during which time the Yali sought Phyliss’ forgiveness. Crissie shares that poignant moment:

‘The Yali leader didn’t know that my mom would be there and was moved to tears. He arranged a special meal for my mom with all the pastors and made a formal apology on behalf of his people and asked for her forgiveness.

My mom never held it against them as she knew they were in darkness. Mom quoted Ephesians 4:32 and said: “I forgave you when it happened. The Lord has forgiven me for my sin and, in turn, I forgive you.”

God’s transformative power

As for Crissie, coming to terms with her father’s death is a continuous journey through hills and valleys:

‘I don’t think I was looking for justice. We knew those people were in darkness, but I don’t want to say that everything is smooth either.

Ultimately though, I’ve had the privilege of growing up seeing the transformative power of the Gospel at work. What a huge privilege that, in our suffering, we can somehow bring glory to God the Father and bring others to know him.’

Luliap Pahabol, was the first member of the Yali Tribe to become a Christian. He also helped to translate the book of Mark into Yali - the first ever book of the Bible to be translated into his own language. Crissie became friends with Luliap:

‘I knew him as an adult and he and his wife are friends of ours. With Luliap as a Yali representative, I can easily say that I love those people and I would love to sit among them and rejoice with the Yali about what God is doing.’

Crissie and Dave Rask

40 years with MAF

Despite the tragedy which befell Phil Masters, Crissie always knew she wanted to be a missionary like her father:

That was always in my heart, but I didn’t quite know how it would be achieved. God gently kept me on course, but it was my mom who stayed on in Papua as an encouragement to both the Yali and Dani believers, which was a huge influence.’

Crissie met and fell in love with pilot and mechanic, Dave Rask. Crissie returned to Papua with her husband in 1983 and began working for MAF:

‘I knew it was God’s gracious way of bringing me to my calling. I knew MAF growing up – they were my heroes. I may have played a little part in steering Dave toward MAF as opposed to another mission organisation!

Me coming back to Papua meant something to the people. God used it so that I would once again invest my life in the people of Papua.’

Crissie has been working for MAF US for nearly 40 years.

During their 16 years in Papua, Crissie and Dave were based in Sentani, Manokwari, Mulia and Boma. There are 250 different language groups in West Papua alone.

Since 2006, they have been based in Nampa, Idaho. As MAF US Mobilisation Manager, Crissie recruits much needed MAF missionaries and places them all over the world. Dave is Operations Support and Fleet Manager for MAF US.