Saturday, April 4, 2009

in his own tongue

"The greatest barrier to successful evangelism is not theological but cultural. We don't have to look very far to see what he means. We have our own upper middle-class, American pop culture. We talk a certain way, dress a certain way, hang out in certain places with certain people at certain times, doing certain things, wearing certain clothes. We even have a special vocabulary; we can refer to fecal matter with some words but not others and we only use the proper words. We don't smoke, and we avoid parties where people drink alcohol. We say grace before all our meals. (Granted, we might gossip, look askance upon others, and overeat, but we think all our good "gospel" culture stuff makes up for it.)Missionaries often learn this the hard way. In 1962 the Sawi people of New Guinea still lived in relative isolation. They were head-hunting cannibals. Their culture could not be more different from that of Don and Carol Richardson and their infant son Steven. And yet these missionaries strove to become an incarnate presence among the Sawi. In fact, three Sawi tribes, fascinated by the Richardsons, moved their villages right around the missionaries' jungle home. After a long and trying period of learning the language, Don Richardson finally climbed the ladder into the Sawi man-house. Surrounded by the skulls of victims they had cannibalized, he began to share the gospel with them. He began by telling them about the Jews, the promised Messiah, and the sacrificial Lamb of Judah. The Sawi were bored.

Don became frustrated, discouraged by his inability to communicate and find a point of contact. He was also discouraged by the fourteen civil wars he had already counted right outside his door now that the two rival Sawi tribes lived side by side. Such fear and frustration finally led the Richardsons to plan to leave. However, the Sawi response surprised them: "If you'll stay, we'll promise that we'll make peace in the morning."

The next morning the Richardsons awoke to see the most amazing ritual, the most passionate ceremony they had ever witnessed. The two tribes were lined up outside their house, on either side of the clearing. An air of tension floated between the two tribes. On one side, people milled about nervously waiting. Finally, one husband standing there dashed into his hut while his wife looked away. He grabbed his newborn baby, took the child in his arms and ran across the meadow. His expression betrayed absolute agony. His wife ran after him, screaming and begging him to give the baby back to her. When she couldn't catch him, she fell to her knees in the mud, moaning for her baby. Her husband ran up to the other tribe and presented the baby to them. "Plead the peace child for me. I give you my baby and I give you my name," he said. Shortly, someone from that tribe performed the same agonizing sacrifice with the same intensity and passion. Richardson found out that as long as those peace children remained alive, the two tribes were bound to each other. They were bound not to war but to peace for the lives of those children. If the children died, then literally all hell would break loose-cannibalism, murder, civil war.

While this amazing scene unfolded before him, Don suddenly realized that this was the point of contact, the redemptive analogy. This was their altar to an Unknown God. When Don climbed the second time into the Sawi man-house, still surrounded by skulls, he told the elders of the perfect Peace Child. The Peace Child given from the God to mankind. They sat riveted on his every word. That very day some of the Sawi became Christians. Richardson went on to develop an entire theology based on the Peace Child in Sawi tradition. As he and his family modeled the person of the Peace Child, droves of Sawi came to know the Lord.

This continued until one day, hundreds of Sawi from every tribe (tribes that had warred and cannibalized each other for many years) gathered together for a feast for the first time. A Sawi preacher stood up and read in his own language what few people in the history of the world have ever understood so well and so clearly: "Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; And the government shall be upon his shoulders; And he shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6). It was the best Christmas day the Richardsons had ever experienced.
--Joseph Aldrich


  1. I think I recognize Bethany somewhere in there.


  2. Irene's Mustache wishes to thank Ms. Bethany Richards and her family for posing for the photos in this entry. We think it really "dresses up" a blog to have illustrations like these for people who lack the patience to read. You, go "girl."