Marlowe's Shade

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Euaggelion: Part 3

One of the main aspects of missions that has piqued my interest so much is how linguistically and anthropologically sophisticated some missionaries have become. This however seems to be more field proven "trade expertise" than academic knowledge. The shining example of this is the work of Don Richardson.

Don Richardson began preparations to sail half way around the world to a stone age people in Irian Jaya. Eugene Harder sailed across the Strait of Georgia to start a church in Nanaimo. From that point on, all similarities cease.

Don went to a tribe of headhunters who were unable to read or write. They knew nothing about iron.
All their axes and knives were made of stone. These people believed that treachery was man's highest virtue and the best feast was to eat your enemies.

Shortly after Don settled with this tribe, an enemy tribe up the river befriended a warrior from the tribe where Don lived. Let's name the warrior Adam. The enemy tribe convinced Adam that he could be the peacemaker between the two tribes

Adam became proud of his exalted status with the enemies up the river. They would receive him with great pomp and circumstance and listened to every word Adam had to say. One day at a special feast Adam was killed, roasted and eaten.
Treachery was their highest virtue.

Don and Carol Richardson worked hard to learn the language and customs of the tribe they lived with. They were frustrated that they couldn't get them to understand the story of Jesus coming to earth to die for their sins.

The tribe loved the story of the crucifixion of Jesus, especially the part about Jesus betrayal and crucifixion. At this point they hung on Don's every word, waiting with eager anticipation for the part where Judas gave Jesus the kiss of betrayal. They shouted with glee and clapped for Judas.

Don and Carol prayed that God would show them a way to convey the true message of Christmas in a form these people would understand. Then one day the opportunity came in a manner they didn't expect.

The tribe up the river attacked the tribe Don was living with. For weeks they fought and killed each other. Finally Don said to the leaders of the tribe, "If you don't stop fighting we will leave your tribe."

That was a serious threat to them. They liked Carol's medical care and Don's steel implements. Plus, the presence of the white family gave them status. The chief of Don's tribe realized that he had to pay the price of peace.

One day Don watched the warriors of the warring tribes form a line opposite each other. The chief of his tribe took his newborn son from the arms of his wife. She sank to the ground wailing in uncontrollable grief.

Then the Chief walked down the line of his warriors and each of them put their hands on his little first born child. With determination and resolve the chief walked across the open space between the two warring tribes. He stood face to face with the enemy chief and placed his son in his enemies arms.

With the baby in his arms, the enemy chief walked down the line of his warriors. In full view of the father and the father's tribe, each enemy warrior placed his hands on the baby boy, Next the warriors turned and disappeared in the bush with the infant. The baby was gone, never to be returned to it's grieving parents.

The Richardson's wondered what the ceremony meant. One day the chief said to them, "I offered my son as the peace-child for our tribes. As long as my son lives there will be peace between our tribes. If he dies, war will resume. Anyone who kills a peace-child will himself be killed."

Don pondered the significance of the ceremony. In a flash of insight he realized the Chief was giving him the cultural key that would open this stone-age people to the truth about Jesus Christ.

One day Don gathered the elders together and told them the story of God's peace-child. Don spoke of the war that rages between the kingdoms of this world and the Kingdom of God.

Paul said, "The mind of the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be." (Romans 8:6-7 ASV) The truth is, we don't want to do what God tells us to do. We want our own way.

Next Don shared how God our Heavenly Father sent Jesus to this earth as His Peace Child to make peace between God and man. "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6 NIV)

Just as the warriors put their hands on the Chief's little son as a sign that they accepted this little boy as their Peace Child, so we by faith receive Jesus into our lives to show that we are at peace with God. The difference in the stories is that God's Peace Child lives forever.

If the chief had not given his son the tribes would have kept fighting and warriors would keep on dying. Death is the wages that sin pays. The Apostle Paul reminds us, "For the wages of sin (disobedience & rebellion) is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23 NIV)

Peace with God is not something that we earn through our good deeds. It is a gift that we freely receive. The Bible says, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God." (Ephesians 2:8 NIV)

Peace among those tribes in Irian Jaya was bought by the gift of the Peace Child. Each warrior indicated his willingness to receive the gift by placing his hands on the peace child.

Missionaries have noted that these "redemption analogies" seem to exist in every culture. Those who have seen how powerfully they can be used to express the Gospel can't help but see them as being there by design. Bruce Olson, who we met in the first installment of this series, independently discovered the same principle.

Olson was walking in the jungle with his best Motilone friend, Bobarishora, (whom he affectionately called, Bobby) when they came upon men driven mad by their grief and despair. It took Olson a long time to discover why one man was screaming from the top of a tree while the other dug a hole screaming and weeping into the ground. It turns out they were "looking for God." Their oral history had taught them that someone had come into their tribe and deceived them and led them away from God and now they felt compelled to try and find him. All Motilone men went through this ritual many times. When Olson asked why they were looking for God in the ground and screaming to the sky, they replied that it was as good as place as any to look for God.

Olson, looking for connects to explain grace, sacrifice and incarnation, asked if they had other ways they had looked for God. "Yes. We look for God to come out of a banana stalk." Olson couldn't understand this explanation so Bobby walked over to a banana tree which was growing nearby. He cut off a section and tossed it towards Olson. One of the Motilone men reached down and swatted at it with his machete, accidentally splitting it in half. One half stood up, while the other half split off. Leaves that were still inside the stalk, waiting to develop and come out, started peeling off. As they lay at the base of the stalk, they looked like pages from a book.

Suddenly, Olson understood. "Book! Book!" He grabbed his pack and took out his Bible. He flipped through the pages and held it toward the men. He pointed to the leaves from the banana stalk, then back to the Bible. "This is it!" He said. "I have it here! This is God's banana stalk." One of the men ran to the Bible, tore pages off and began to eat them. "I want God inside of me." Olson explained that when you read the words they went inside of you, bringing God.

He also used the story of a Motilone who tried to help the ants by magically becoming an ant himself to explain how God became a man to save mankind. Missionaries are now using redemptive analogies to great effect all over the world. In China the layered meanings of Chinese ideograms are used to teach lessons of Christ's redemptive love. For example, the character that means "righteousness" when broken down into the simpler characters that compose it reveals the characters for "hand", "knife" and "lamb". This is a dramatic way to illustrate the concept that the sacrifice of the "Lamb of God" takes away the sins of the world and makes the believer righteous.

According to Don Richardson, there is only one culture that he has encountered that has no embedded redemptive analogies. It is, of course, Islam
papijoe 6:16 AM