Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: CHALLENGE (08/17/17)
- TITLE: Pick a Challenge – Any Challenge...
By Noel Mitaxa
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Don and Carol Richardson embraced this challenge in 1962. With their seven-month-old daughter, they left their college on Canada’s Prairies to follow God’s call to work as missionaries among the Stone Age Sawi people.
The Sawi were less than ten years into relinquishing thousands of years of head-hunting cannibalism; though any threat of instant violence with potentially-fatal consequences was only part of this alien environment. To live among these people – isolated from their own comfort and culture – also meant that malaria, dysentery and hepatitis could also muscle their way into the neighbourhood at any time.
Despite those risks, they sensed the people opening their hearts to them; thanks to Carol’s nursing skills and to Don’s obvious progress in mastering the daunting complexities of their language.
He was becoming increasingly fluent, and more confident of sharing the gospel with them; even when he was faced with almost twenty tenses for every verb, and a daily regime of eight- to ten-hour sessions.
What a contrast is waiting for them, he kept thinking: the freedom of new life in Christ releasing them from the weight of vicious memories and centuries of fear-filled superstitions...
Mastering their language was one thing, but he was yet to get a handle on their culture.
During his long-awaited first message, he sensed a meeting of minds. As he shared the story of Jesus, their interest was palpable. They were turning towards each other with nodding agreement and widening smiles, signs that became more enthusiastic as Don led up to the Last Supper and Judas’ betrayal of Jesus.
As he continued on to Jesus’ crucifixion, their enthusiasm quickly faded. Maybe I’ve gone on too long, he thought, so he quickly wrapped up with a promise that next time he would share more of the story.
He was excited to share news of Jesus’ resurrection in his second lesson, but he was puzzled by their subdued response. How could they lose interest right at the critical point of the story?
It was through seeking a tribal elder’s advice that he discovered the awesome depth of what was behind this invasion of apathy.
Centuries of head-hunting and cannibalism had sharpened the Sawi’s cunning; to a degree that the highest ideal of their manhood was shown by cultivating friendships with prospective victims. Flattery and favours were all part of these friendships; and the greater the victim’s surprise on suddenly facing death, the greater the honour the murderer would receive from his fellow tribesmen.
Were they suddenly wasting their time with people who viewed Judas as the heroic central figure in the gospel? For the Sawi could only see Jesus as the gullible dupe – the one to be ridiculed!
Wracking their brains, the Richardsons poured out their hearts to God, desperately seeking his guidance. When had this guidance ceased? Should they cut their losses and leave? After all, they were only in their early thirties - still young enough to start over in some new field…
Yet there was a wider backdrop to their internal wrestling; for three tribal villages were in constant battles with each other. However, learning that Don and Carol were considering leaving, the people from these villages decided to put an end to the hatred.
Don and Carol were amazed to witness ceremonies in which young children were exchanged between opposing villages. Then, as one man ran toward his enemy's camp and gave his son to his enemy, Don suddenly saw a parallel to Romans 5: 8 – where “God showed His love in while we were yet sinners He gave us His Son.”
Here was the doorway through his dilemma, as he reflected: "if a man would actually give his own son to his enemies, that man could be trusted!"
This event, and Don Richardson’s insights into it, opened the way for people to leave their darkness to find new life in Christ. And as hundreds of them joined a church that kept growing and replacing the fear-filled violence and death had ruled for centuries, he laboured to produce a Sawi New Testament to guide them in their new way.
“Every problem contains the seeds of its own solution,” declared Norman Vincent Peale; a statement that Don and Carol Richardson’s story embodies so clearly.
From seeing his hearers totally invert his gospel presentation, and then experiencing the tribal ceremonies, Don Richardson became aware that the Sawi already had a cultural bridge for the gospel to reach into their hearts. In a way that their first exposure to the scripture failed to do.
After fifteen years, he returned to the USA to train prospective missionaries to recognise how the seeds of the gospel may be found in the most unlikely scenarios. His book "The Peace Child" was published in 1977 to expose the wider Christian world to his dilemma and its remarkable solution. The book quickly hit the silver screen as an inspiring and challenging movie, to encourage us plain-vanilla people of God to recognise potential gospel bridges within our reach, available for us to cross with credibility for those around us who don’t yet know Him.
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