674) Seeing Jesus in India

     On November 2, 1845 four German Lutheran missionaries arrived in the province of Chotanagpur in the jungles of northern India.  They were sent there from Berlin by their professor and superior, Rev. Johannes Gossner.  They settled in the city of Ranchi and began their work among the Oraons and other area tribes.

     Hinduism was the religion of most of India’s population, but the indigenous tribal people of the jungle people have their own primitive religions.  These tribes had, for the most part, resisted many centuries of attempts at conversion by both Hindus and Muslims, and were quite set in their traditional ways.

     The Oraons also resisted the work of these four missionaries.  Years of preaching fell on deaf ears, and eventually the Germans were convinced that their continued presence would be a waste of time.  Not only were there no conversions, but there was no response of any kind.  Certainly, they felt the time and energy of four eager and willing missionaries could be put to better use in some other area.

     Finally, they wrote to their old teacher, Rev. Gossner, and asked permission to either reassigned or return home.  They did not get the answer they wanted.  “No,” replied Rev. Gossner, “you do not have permission to leave Chotanagpur.  You were sent to preach the Gospel and you are to stay there and continue preaching the Gospel.  Leave the results to God.  You may or may not succeed, but if you leave, there will be no Gospel proclamation at all among those people.”  So they stayed and continued their work.

     In their preaching they described the man Jesus who lived long ago, was killed, rose from the dead, and is still alive.  Eventually, they received a response.  Four men of the Oraon tribe came to them and said, “We want to hear more about this man Jesus.  Did you say he rose from the dead and is still alive?”

     “Yes,” said the missionaries, excited about this new interest in their message, “Jesus is alive, and you can know him as your Savior and friend.”

     “Good,” said the Oraons.  “We would like to meet this Jesus.  Take us to him so we can see for ourselves.”

     “Well,” stammered the missionaries, “you can’t meet him in person.  He is in heaven.”

      “How then can we know he is alive?,” the tribesmen asked.

     “We believe in Jesus by faith,” replied the missionaries.  “We don’t see him either.  Someday we will see him in heaven, but not until we die and we too are raised from the dead.”

     “We don’t understand these things you are telling us,” said the seekers.  “But if Jesus is alive, and if we could see him, then we would understand and could believe.”  The discussion went on like that, with the Oraons continuing their diligent seeking, and the missionaries doing their best to explain their faith in things unseen.”

     The tribesmen knew that the missionaries worshiped each Sunday.  They thought that this could perhaps be where the white men saw Jesus, but for some reason they were unwilling to let anyone else see him.  So they showed up unannounced at worship one Sunday to see for themselves.  They were invited to stay, but were disappointed again when they did not see Jesus.

     One day, the four frustrated tribesmen came to the four frustrated missionaries and said, “We have done enough talking.  Today is the last day for talk.  If we do not see Jesus today, we will not return.”

     The missionaries were sad to hear this and said, “We have told you all that we know.  We don’t know what else to tell you to help you understand.  But if this is your last day with us, let us at least pray together.  We believe Jesus hears us even if we can’t see him.”

     They all knelt in prayer.  The missionaries prayed earnestly that these seekers with such open hearts might somehow come to faith.

     At the end of the prayer, as soon as the missionaries said, “Amen,” all four tribesmen jumped up excitedly and said, “We have seen Jesus!”  The missionaries saw nothing, but the four tribesmen did, and they immediately believed in Jesus who had appeared to them.  On June 9, 1850, they were baptized.  They were the first converts after almost five years of work.

     The church began to grow, and in a short time it was growing rapidly.  The believers faced persecution almost immediately, and after some violence in 1857 the missionaries were forced to leave.  But the church was already firmly established, and it continued to grow even without the missionaries, and, in the face of continued persecution.  Its steady growth has continued to this day.  

     This church among the Chotanagpur tribes has grown not by mass conversions, as is sometimes the case among tribal peoples.  Rather, it has grown one by one, as believers share the Gospel with their families and friends.  The church has received much praise, even from unbelievers, for enriching the local cultures and not destroying or replacing them.  

     The spiritual descendants of those first four converts in 1850 now make up the Northwestern Gossner Evangelical Lutheran Churches in northern India, with over 400,000 members.

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     Nijhar Ekka is a fourth generation Christian from the Oraon tribe.  Nijhar and her husband Neeraj are both ordained Lutheran pastors.  I met them in 2005 while they were studying at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.  As they told me this story, I thought the name Johannes Gossner sounded familiar.  I was then serving Redeemer Lutheran Church in rural Henderson, Minnesota, which was started in 1855 (referred to in yesterday’s meditation).  I reread the history of the church and learned that its first pastor, August Wolf, had been trained in Germany by that same Johannes Gossner.  In the same decade that Gossner sent the four missionaries to the remote jungles of India, he sent August Wolf as a missionary to the remote American frontier.  Our two churches, on opposite sides of the world, were started by men sent “to the ends of the earth” by the same mission-minded pastor and professor in Berlin 160 years ago.

The Ekka family in India

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John 12:21  —  They came… with a request.  “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.”

Isaiah 45:22  —  “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.”

Acts 1:8  —  Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth.”

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Day by day,
Dear Lord, of thee three things I pray:
To see thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
Follow thee more nearly,
Day by Day.

–From the 1971 musical Godspell; by Stephen Schwartz, based on a prayer by St. Richard of Chichester (1197-1253)

673) Going to Faraway Lands… Then, and Now

     My family has been Christian for many generations.  For a time I was the pastor of a small rural congregation that my ancestors were members of after immigrating to Minnesota from Germany in 1875.  My great-great-great grandfather, Johann Christian Frederick Stier is buried on the hillside east of the present church building.  He had been baptized in Roebel, Germany in 1808.  There, my ancestors worshiped at St. Marian’s Lutheran Church, which was built in the 12th century– four centuries before the Reformation.  My roots in the Christian faith go back a long way.

     But my roots in the faith do not go back all the way.  There was a time when a missionary had to leave his homeland and bring the Gospel to my ancestors, the wild Germanic tribes, those who had defeated the great Roman Empire and destroyed ‘the eternal city’ Rome in 410 AD.

     Boniface was an English monk who, until the age of 42 lived in a monastery near Winchester.  Then he went to Rome, where on November 30, 722 AD, he received a promotion from Pope Gregory II.  Boniface was consecrated as a bishop; but he was given authority over no priests or existing congregations.  Rather, he was declared “Bishop of the German Frontier,” and sent north as a missionary to the pagan German barbarians.  He was told to proclaim Christ as Lord, start congregations, and build churches.

     So off he went, and before long Boniface had the opportunity to become very well known.  

     He learned of a sacred area in Geismar, west of what is now Berlin.  In that place was the Sacred Oak of Thor, the chief object of faith for the religion of the people in that region.  One night Boniface cut down that revered tree.  He then waited for the deed to be discovered, after which Boniface cheerfully admitted to being the culprit.  The angry worshipers of Thor were ready to kill Boniface on the spot.  But Boniface reminded the people of their own firm belief that if anyone tampered with that tree, Thor himself would kill the evil-doer.  

     “So,” Boniface said, “if Thor is such a great and powerful god, let him kill me himself.  That should be easy enough for the mighty Thor.  But I am here to tell you,” continued Boniface, “that there is no Thor; and that my God, Jesus Christ, is the one true God, and He will protect me from all harm.”

     The people listened; and then watched, and then waited.  No harm came to Boniface.  The people came to be convinced that Boniface was right, that the God they came to tell them about was indeed stronger than the god of their fathers, and they were converted to faith in Jesus.  Then, with wood from the Sacred Tree of Thor, Boniface built a Christian chapel in honor of St. Peter.

     Boniface’s work in Germany continued for many years, and God blessed his efforts with much success.  Boniface worked tirelessly to organize the many new converts into established congregations and dioceses.  

     Many years later, when Boniface was in his 70’s, he was on the missions frontier again, even farther into Germany, proclaiming the Gospel where the name of Christ was not yet known.  He was again very successful, but this time there was violent opposition.  On June 5, 754, Boniface and some companions were awaiting the arrival of several newly converted Christians who were to be confirmed.  They were suddenly attacked by an angry mob, and Boniface and all who were with him were killed.  Boniface’s earthly life was thus ended by those to whom he was attempting to bring the hope of eternal life.

     Boniface was not a German.  Like missionaries today, he was called to a distant and dangerous land to proclaim Christ.  Boniface has been called the “Apostle to the Germans,” and is considered by some to be the greatest missionary of the Dark Ages.

     I know Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior because Boniface and others like him gave their lives to bring the Gospel to the land of my ancestors.  In my family I have a long heritage of faith; but when I trace it back far enough, I find a missionary telling my people about Jesus.

     In my years as a pastor I have tried to encourage and inspire my congregations to be obedient to Christ’s command to bring the Gospel to all the nations of the earth.  Almost all of the members of my congregations have been of Northern European descent– Germans, Norwegians, Swedes, and a few Danes.  One of the things I have often reminded them of is that Jesus was not born in Germany, Norway, Sweden, or Denmark.  In fact, Jesus did not even visit any of those places.  Jesus was born, lived, died, and rose from the dead in Israel– and that is a long way from Northern Europe.  We all must remember that somewhere back in our family tree, a missionary sought out our ancestors, told them about Jesus, and they were converted.

     For Germans like myself, it has been a long time– almost thirteen centuries.  But that long heritage is a reason to give thanks, and must not ever be taken for granted.  Today, Christians of northern European descent have the hope and promise of eternal life because years ago some missionaries were sent out, and some people back home supported them. 

     May we be ever grateful for that mission work; and may we continue with that work, committing ourselves to doing our part to fulfill the Great Commission in our brief time on earth.

shutterstock_135958526

St. Boniface  (675-754)

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The story of Boniface was adapted from A History of Christian Missions, 1964, by Stephen Neill, pages 74-77.

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Matthew 28:19-20  —  (Jesus said), “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”   –THE GREAT COMMISSION

Acts 1:8  —  Jesus said to them, “You will be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth.”

Romans 10:13-15a  —  “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?  And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?  And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?

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Merciful Father, your kindness caused the light of the Gospel to shine among us.  Extend your mercy now, we pray, to all the people of the world who do not have hope in Jesus Christ, that your salvation may be made known to them also and that all hearts would turn to you; through Jesus Christ, your Son our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978, page 45

579) “To Bring You to God” (part two)

     

     (…continued)  I Peter 3:18 says, “Christ died for sins once and for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”  To bring you to God, it says, and that brings to mind all the things that have been done over the centuries by the many different nations and peoples and cultures and religions on earth in order to get to God.  The knowledge of God is in every person, says the Bible, but not everyone knows how to get to God.  So all sorts of things have been done in order to reach God; even terrible things like human sacrifice.  Our own Holy Writings (in the Old Testament) contain page after page of elaborate rules and rituals and instructions on the proper way to do animal sacrifices, all in an attempt to get to God, and, all commanded by God at that time.  But here in one simple verse in I Peter God’s perfect plan of salvation is made clear:  “Christ died for sins, once and for all, to bring you to God.”  One thing is clear says Romans chapter one, everyone, everywhere, deep down in their heart knows they need God, and the way to God, says Peter and the rest of the New Testament, is through Christ.

     At the most basic level, there are two reasons that people look to God.  First of all, it is obvious that we are limited in our power, and so we look to God for power and control.  This may be power to influence the weather, to win battles, or to heal diseases.  But most of all, religions look to God for power over death.  Death is the universal enemy, and it is for an answer to the problem of death that people have always looked to some sort of God.  And the second reason that people have looked for God is because it is obvious that there is something wrong in this life.  Things are not right in this world, people always are hurting each other, there are always disagreements and fighting; and everyone knows it should not be this way.  And so people have always looked to God to make it right– by sacrificing something or someone to appease the gods, by purifying themselves from sin and wrongdoing, or by prayers or rituals or priests.  Somehow, the attempt is made to get God to set things right again.  You will find these basic religious impulses in all the great religions of the world, and you’ll find them in the world’s most remote places, whether it be the deepest and darkest jungles of Africa or South America, or the isolated Hawaiian islands.

     The impulses and desires behind all of these religious beliefs are true and good and a part of what it means to be human.  When Christ died on the cross it was to meet all of those needs, of everyone, everywhere.  Now, all need to hear about this salvation in Christ Jesus.  That is why Jesus sent the disciples into all the world, so that all may know the truth about God, and have their hope in Him.  Christ came with a message of forgiveness to speak to the need in everyone for things to be made new and right again, and Christ rose from the dead with the promise that we too might rise from the dead.  Thus, God speaks to that most basic need of everyone, everywhere.  We all need God, and God is just not whatever we imagine in our minds god might be.  The true and only God is the God that revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ; and in Christ, all may come to God.  Once again, as the Bible in I Peter says, “Christ died for sins, once and for all, to bring you to God.”

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2 Corinthians 5:19a  —  God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself…

Ephesians 2:13…17  —  Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ…  He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.

1 Peter 3:18  —  For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.  He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.

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O God of all the nations of the earth, remember the multitudes who, though created in thine image, they have not known thee, nor the dying of thy Son their Savior Jesus Christ; and grant that by the prayers and labors of thy holy church they may be delivered from all superstition and unbelief and brought to worship thee; through him who thou hast sent to be the resurrection and the life to all men, thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Francis Xavier, Missionary to India, Japan, and Borneo (1506-1552)

578) “To Bring You to God” (part one)

     Hawaii is the most remote place on earth.  Nowhere else in the world is a piece of land so far from any other land.  About fifteen centuries ago some Polynesian islanders headed out into the open sea with their little boats, and somehow made it to these small islands 2500 miles away.  It is incredible that they made it at all.  In the 1970’s there was a modern attempt to replicate the journey on similar small watercraft– a 60-foot canoe.  The small group perished in a storm at sea after only a couple weeks.  By whatever miracle those first settlers got there, they were pretty much left alone for the next twelve centuries.

     In 1778 the islands were discovered by Englishman James Cook.  When Captain Cook arrived the Hawaiians knew right away just who he was.  He was God.  The Hawaiians were sure of that because he had a ship larger than any they had ever seen before, and, he had guns and metal tools and pots and pans and mirrors and so much more; and all of that most certainly must have come from the heavens.  The Hawaiians had never seen anything like it.  What’s more, Captain Cook arrived just as they were celebrating a great feast to the god they called Lono.  Therefore, this certainly must have been Lono who had come to visit.

     This raises a question: how did those Hawaiians know anything about God?  No missionaries had ever been there, and there had not been the meeting of cultures and religions that had always gone on back and forth between places less remote.  The Hawaiians were pretty much alone for all those centuries, yet they had their own highly developed religion with priests and holy places and holy days and rituals and festivals and everything else that goes with a religion.

     In Romans 1:18-20 Paul describes how God’s invisible qualities, his ‘eternal power and divine nature’ have always been evident to all people since the creation of the world, being clearly seen by all that God has made.  This universal knowledge of God has been discovered by all world explorers.  No matter where people have been found, no matter how remote, they have all had some concept of God and some kind of religion.  No people anywhere have been more remote or more isolated than the Hawaiians, and they too had been trying for centuries to approach and to satisfy their gods.  Their knowledge was limited.  They were fooled at first even by Captain Cook.  But they knew that there had to be someone greater than themselves, and at the direction of the priests they submitted their lives to this greater power, even when that meant death.  And it often did mean death because human sacrifice was a big part of the traditional Hawaiian religion.  Being selected for sacrifice by the kings or the priests would mean instant death if you were lucky, or it could, at times, mean being sacrificed to the gods by being buried alive.  The gods the Hawaiians believed in were harsh and demanding.

     In the early 1800’s, Keopuolani was the favorite wife of King Kamahamaha, and thus was the queen of the islands.  As a young woman, she became very ill.  The priests interpreted this to mean that the gods were angry and must be appeased.  Ten men from the community were selected as human sacrifices.  They were to be killed, one by one, until the gods were satisfied and they allowed the queen to recover.  After the first three men were killed, the gods were apparently appeased, and the queen became well.  The other seven men were then allowed to live and return to their wives and children.  Such was the religion of the old Hawaiians.  If you were selected to be the next human sacrifice, there was nothing you could do.  The power of the kings was absolute, and only the priests knew how to appease the gods.

     Then came the missionaries– self-righteous and stubborn old New Englanders.  They were embarrassed by the scant clothing of the natives (who were dressed for the weather), and the more modest missionaries insisted that the Hawaiians wear for worship what was worn in Massachusetts– black suits and ties, long sleeves and long dresses.  The missionaries made many other mistakes, some very damaging to their own purposes.  But they did one thing that was very right.  They brought to the Hawaiians a fuller knowledge of the God– God that the Hawaiians always knew was there and who they were already worshiping.  The missionaries brought to the Hawaiians the knowledge of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, who a long time ago had made the most perfect sacrifice for all sin, making the old system of human sacrifice not only unnecessary and obsolete, but absolutely forbidden.  And the Hawaiians, beginning with Queen Keopuolani herself, responded positively and enthusiastically to this fuller knowledge of God.  Within a generation, a large percentage of the Hawaiians had converted to Christianity.  There is so much more to this story, but the human sacrifices were ended and Christ became known as the fullest and truest way to know God.   (continued…)

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Romans 1:18-20  —  The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

Isaiah 51:5  —  My righteousness draws near speedily, my salvation is on the way, and my arm will bring justice to the nations.  The islands will look to me and wait in hope for my arm.

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Merciful Father, your kindness caused the light of the Gospel to shine among us.  Extend your mercy now, we pray, to all the people of the world who do not have hope in Jesus Christ, that your salvation may be made known to them also and that all hearts would turn to you; through Jesus Christ, your Son our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978, page 45.

347) Eaten by Cannibals? No Problem.

     

     In 1606 a chain of eighty islands in the South Pacific was discovered by Fernandez de Quiros of Spain.  In 1773, the islands were explored by Captain James Cook who named them ‘New Hebrides’ because of the similarities with the Hebrides Islands off the Northwest coast of Scotland.  In 1980, the New Hebrides gained its independence from Britain and France and was named Vanuatu.  The population today is about 190,000.

     To the best of our knowledge, the New Hebrides had no Christian influence before John Williams and James Harris from the London Missionary Society landed in 1839.  Both of these missionaries were killed and eaten by cannibals on the island of Erromanga on November 20 of that year, only minutes after going ashore, and in full view of the crew of the ship that had just dropped them off.

    Nineteen years later Scottish pastor John G. Paton (1824-1907), then 33 years old, expressed to family and friends his desire to go to these same New Hebrides islands as a missionary.  The tragic fate of Williams and Harris was still fresh in everyone’s mind, and all thought he was crazy to consider such a mission.  A certain Mr. Dickson said to him angrily, “The cannibals!  You will be eaten by cannibals!”  But to this Paton responded:

“Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is to die soon, be laid in the grave, and there to be eaten by worms.  I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by cannibals or by worms; and on the Great Day, my Resurrection body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.”  (The Autobiography of J0hn G. Paton, p. 56)

     On April 16, 1858, John Paton and his wife Mary sailed for the New Hebrides, arriving at the island of Tanna on November 5.  In March of the next year both Mary and their newborn son died of ‘the fever.’  Paton then served alone on the island for the next four years under incredible circumstances of constant danger, until he was driven off the island in February, 1862.

     For the next four years Paton did mobilization work for the Presbyterian mission to the New Hebrides, travelling around Australia and Great Britain.  He married again in 1864.  In 1866 he and his wife Margaret went back to New Hebrides, this time to the smaller island of Aniwa.  They labored together for 41 years, until Margaret died in 1905.

     When they came to Aniwa they saw the destitution of the islanders.  Paton wrote:

“The natives were cannibals and occasionally ate the flesh of their defeated foes.  They practiced infanticide and widow sacrifice, killing the widows of deceased men so that they could serve their husbands in the next world…  Their worship was entirely a service of fear, its aim being to propitiate this or that Evil spirit, to prevent calamity, or to secure revenge.  They deified their chiefs, and so almost every village or tribe had its own Sacred Man.  They exercised an extraordinary influence for evil, these priests, and were believed to have the disposal of life and death through their sacred ceremonies…  Their whole worship was one of slavish fear; and, so far as ever I could learn, they had no idea of a God of mercy or grace.”  (Autobiography, p. 69, 72, 334)

     Paton admitted that at times his heart wavered as he wondered whether these people could be brought to the point of weaving Christian ideas into their lives.  But he took heart from the power of the gospel and from the fact that thousands on the island of Aneityum had come to Christ.

     Paton learned the language and reduced it to writing.  He built orphanages and schools.  They “trained teachers, translated and printed and expounded the Scriptures, ministered to the sick and dying, dispensed medicines every day, and taught them the use of tools.”  They held worship services every Lord’s Day and sent native teachers to all the villages to preach the gospel.

     In the next fifteen years, John and Margaret Paton saw the entire island of Aniwa turn to Christ.  Paton published the New Testament in the Aniwan Language in 1897.   Even to his death he was translating hymns and catechisms and creating a dictionary for his people for when he could not be with them any more.

     In 1887 Paton wrote:  “On our New Hebrides, more than 12,000 Cannibals have been brought to sit at the feet of Christ, though I mean not to say that they are all model Christians; and 133 of the Natives have been trained and sent forth as teachers and preachers of the Gospel.”

     Today, about 85% of the population of Vanuatu identifies itself as Christian.

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Psalm 65:5  —  You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas.

Isaiah 42:10  —  Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the ends of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it, you islands, and all who live in them.

Isaiah 45:22  —  Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.

Matthew 9:36-38  —  When (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

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God of truth and love; Father Son and Holy Spirit, hear our prayer for those who do not know you; that they may come to a saving knowledge of the truth and that your name may be praised among all peoples of the world.  Sustain, inspire and enlighten your servants who bring them the Gospel.  Bring fresh vigor to wavering faith; sustain our faith when it is still fragile.  Continually renew missionary zeal in ourselves and in the Church; raise up new missionaries who will follow You to the ends of the world.  Make us witnesses to Your goodness; full of love, strength and faith; for Your glory and the salvation of the entire world.   Amen

–Orthodox Christian Mission Center

23) Judas, The Hero

     I completed my seminary education in December of 1979 and was ready for my first congregation.  I was called to Christ Lutheran Church in Lignite, North Dakota.  Lignite is in the far northwest corner of that wind-blown, barren state.  On a windy, 30 degree below zero day in January, my wife and I and two small children moved into an old parsonage that would be torn down not too many years later.  I remember we felt a little bit sorry for ourselves way out there in the middle of nowhere; but it turned out that the people were wonderful, and pretty soon we felt very much at home.

     Several years earlier, in 1962, Don Richardson began his ministry in a place even more remote than North Dakota.  Don was called to serve as a missionary to the Sawi tribe whose home was far up river from civilization, deep in the jungles of Dutch New Guinea.  The Sawis had not yet advanced beyond the Stone Age, and, they were cannibals and headhunters.  But still Don went there, taking along his wife Carol and their seven month old son.  The Sawis did not eat the Richardson family, but they did continue to make war on their neighboring enemy tribes, feasting on their slain foes and lining their huts with enemy skulls.

     Don and Carol worked hard to learn the complex language of the tribe, and they began to teach them about salvation in Christ Jesus.  There are always barriers to communicating the Gospel to cultures very different from one’s own, but the Sawi presented some particularly challenging problems.  For example, the Sawi culture placed a high value on treachery and deception.  It was a mark of distinction for a warrior to be able to deceive an enemy into thinking he was a friend, and then, when they least expected it, betray and kill and eat them.  So when the Sawi heard the story of the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus they were impressed, especially by the part about the betrayal of Jesus by Judas.  But it was Judas, not Jesus, who was their hero.  To them, Judas was a clever deceiver to be admired, and Jesus was a fool to be laughed at.

     It appeared this would be an impossible barrier to overcome, but then one day Richardson learned of the Sawi concept of the ‘Peace Child.’  Even the Sawis and their enemies would at times get tired of killing each other, and for those times they had a ritual for making peace.  War had broken out while the Richardsons were living with them, and after weeks of fighting, the Richardsons began to talk about leaving.  The missionaries had been helpful to the Sawis in many ways, and they did not want to see them go.  Thus motivated to stop the fighting, the chief of the Sawi tribe paid the traditional price for peace.  In an agreed upon ceremony, the chief took his own infant son and placed him in the arms his enemies.  The child would live with the enemy tribe for the rest of his life, and as long as he lived, there would be peace between the tribes.  The chiefs of other tribes then also did the same, giving up a Peace Child of their own to their enemies.

     Don wrote: “If a man would actually give his own son to his enemies, that man could be trusted!”  Through this analogy of Jesus being the ultimate Peace Child who will never die, Don was able to reach the Sawi with the truth of the gospel.  They came to believe that this God and this Jesus could be trusted.  Eventually the New Testament was published in their language, and many villagers placed their trust in Christ.

     Don Richardson wrote of his family’s work with the Sawi’s in a book called Peace Child.   The story has also been made into a movie.  Not long ago Don Richardson, now 77, and his three sons, returned to the tribe that he and his wife went to over 50 years ago.  An incredible 15 minute film of this visit titled Never the Same can be viewed at:

http://www.pioneers.org/Connect/Media/MediaArchive/tabid/149/PostID/531/Never-the-Same.aspx

     This film is a tremendous testimony to the transforming power of God’s grace.

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Romans 5:10 —  For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

Matthew 28:18-20  —   Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Acts 1:8  —  (Jesus said), “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

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Merciful Father, your kindness caused the light of the Gospel to shine among us.  Extend your mercy now, we pray, to all the people of the world who do not have hope in Jesus Christ, that your salvation may be made known to them also and that all hearts would turn to you.  In the name of Jesus we pray.  Amen.  (Lutheran Book of Worship, p.45)