Saturday, October 29, 2005

Recommended Books-Missionary Tales by Don Richardson

By Don Richardson

Don Richardson is a missionary and author of books about the missionary experience. These books are all interesting, well-written books that bring out the adventure and drama- as well as the every day aspects- of missionary work. Even more importantly, they show God’s providence as He builds His Kingdom.

ETERNITY IN THEIR HEARTS is an overview type of book. It takes its title from Ecclesiastes 3:11 and contains stories of how various peoples came to hear and believe the Gospel. Many primitive cultures in the world have something in their past that has prepared them for the Gospel-some even seem to indicate a possibility their ancestors had contact with Christians at some point in the past.

While Richardson never seems to assume any of these tribes are already Christian, sometimes he does seem to assume too much. Other times I think he reads too much into things, possibly motivated by zeal for the Lord and the Gospel. But, overall, I still recommend this book for reading about how God can work in His creation. Richardson indicates they need salvation and he does not credit God with unbiblical behaviour.

Two of the tribes Richardson writes about in ETERNITY also receive full book treatment. LORDS OF THE EARTH tells of Stan Dale’s mission to the Yali tribe of Irian Jaya in Indonesia. PEACE CHILD relates Richardson’s own experience with the Sawi, also of Irian Jaya. While I do recommend the books-I would also caution the squeamish. These books relate, in some detail, violent acts of savagery and cannibalism.

Stan Dale had a vision and drive to go to Irian Jaya-where missionaries had already reached the coastal tribes. He was convinced God had called him to go further inland to reach the people there. He encountered the Yali, a tribe of superstitious pagans, who lived at the whim of very odd gods. Their lives included degrees of cannibalism and ancestor worship. They also held to a form of re-incarnation.

God’s providence in the timing of Dale's arrival is clear. At a different time, the missionaries may very well have been killed instantly upon arrival. But God had other plans that not only protected them from harm, but also led to their gaining the trust of many among the Yali.

Dale didn’t just have to deal with the Yali’s sin, superstition, and suspicion. He also had to deal with their rivalry with a neighbouring tribe-and warfare involved cannibalism. At the same time, he also had to learn the language, set up his family’s home, and he built a landing strip for the supply plane. The landing strip was built with the help of very curious Yali tribesmen. They were not fully aware of the extent of the danger-or the degree of God’s protection until much later.

One of the key events in reaching the Yali was the discovery of their concept of sanctuary, which he could relate to the cities of refuge for Israel in the Old Testament, and from there to Jesus Christ. Even then his work was not done.

PEACE CHILD introduces the Sawi, for whom treachery and betrayal are a way of life. The more treacherous and deceitful among them are the more honoured. They had a phrase which translates as, “to fatten with friendship”, to describe how they set up their victims for the eventual attack.

As with Stan Dale, Don Richardson also had to learn a new language while building a new home and setting up his new ministry. His setting was less remote than Stan Dale’s was-as he had easy river access, but he was still remote enough that help was still far off.

In both books the missionaries receive assistance form the Dani tribe, which was one of the first tribes encountered in Irian Jaya. But the Dani were often very reluctant helpers-partially due to the Yali and Sawi being cannibalistic.

A roadblock encountered by Don Richardson also lead to the breakthrough in sharing the gospel. Due to their love of treachery and betrayal, they saw Judas as the hero. He was left with a feeling of hopelessness of how to get around this. The answer to his problem came when he discovered the Sawi concept of the “peace child”.
This didn’t lead to instant success, but it was a major breakthrough. It started when two of the three neighbouring Sawi groups were about to go to war. Deciding he was in part responsible, as he brought them together, Richardson announced his decision to move on and live in another village. They did not want him to leave as he provided medicine and tools. There was also a certain prestige they enjoyed having him there.

The next day he saw something remarkable. After several false starts and protests by mothers, one Sawi presented his child, in this case his only child, to the other group-who in return gave him a child. The two groups of Sawi would raise each other’s babies-and as long as the children lived there would be peace-for the worst thing to a Sawi was to be one who violated this treaty, and especially one who harmed or killed a “peace child.”

Curious what had transpired, Richardson learned what was happening-and while he knew the analogy wasn’t perfect, he also knew he had way to get around his roadblock. He showed how God gave His only Son as the ultimate “peace child”, no further one was needed. When they heard this the Sawi reversed their view of Judas-seeing him as the biggest villain-as he had betrayed the ultimate peace child. From there it wasn’t a piece of cake, but he had opened a door, and eventually many Sawi believed the gospel.

The stories of the Yali and the Sawi reveal to us God’s mighty work and His grace. We look at those people and often see savage heathens. We may even feel better about ourselves-but God, in many cases, sees His children-and He sends His gospel to them.


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