Cannibal tribe transformed by the gospel

Theme

It is God's purpose to restore, rescue and redeem His broken world through His Son Jesus. Turn on the news and the full impact of the fall will hit you. We hear of terrorist attacks, wars, famine, poverty, torture and environmental breakdown. God calls His disciples to preach the gospel to all creation (Mark 16:15). We have heard how George Cadbury and Randy Lewis brought the kingdom of God into their respective work places but missionaries are also part of this great commission. It comes as a shock to many people that cannibalism ran riot in some cultures. It is seldom recognised that cannibalism has found its most formidable opponent in the dedicated work of countless missionaries like Don and Carol Richardson.

Scripture

Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.

Mark 16:20

Story

If you were an aspiring Christian missionary, would you take your wife and three young children deep into the jungles of West Papua to a headhunting, cannibalistic tribe who valued treachery as a virtue?

In 1962, missionary Don Richardson felt called to preach the gospel to the Sawi tribe in western New Guinea in Indonesia. He set about learning the native Sawi language which was daunting in its complexity. There are 19 tenses for every verb! Don was able to become fluent in the language after a tough schedule of 8–10 hour daily learning sessions.

When Don and his wife Carol arrived among the Sawi people, they found a culture built on warfare, treachery and deceit between neighbouring tribes. Particularly galling was the process known as 'fattening the pig for the slaughter' whereby an apparent friendship was developed for the purpose of luring the victim into a sense of security, suddenly shattered when 'the pig' was suddenly killed and then eaten. The Richardsons were appalled by this brutal way of life. They agonised over how to make a breakthrough in their Christian communication.

Things got worse. When they told the story of Jesus to the committed cannibals, the Sawi made Judas their hero because of the way he had (in their eyes) 'fattened' Jesus for the slaughter.

Finally the Richardsons decided to leave and they watched with astonishment as the tribes, motivated to prevent this, made peace with a strange ceremony. Both tribes offered a baby into the care of their enemies, not, as the Richardsons feared, as a human sacrifice, but as a 'peace child'. As long as the peace child lived, peace was guaranteed. And the peace child was exempt from fattening the pig for the slaughter, for killing the peace child was the greatest sin.

At last Don and Carol had the key to unlock the Sawi culture. They explained that Jesus was God's peace child, and he was killed as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Judas was now no longer the hero and the Sawi became Christians in large numbers.

What a breakthrough for God's kingdom!

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