As I have mentioned before on my blog, I love missionary stories and have read  hundreds of them. Mostly they are interesting just because of the events chronicled, but the occasional missionary author can really write! I think the best of the best of these is Don Richardson. He has written two full-length missionary stories: “Peace Child” and “Lords of the Earth”. Both are excellent.

Let me back up and say that I, of course, have found the pagan cultures described by missionaries very cruel. They just are, without a doubt. What I did not understand until reading “Lords of the Earth” in particular was how the members of a society can abhor certain elements in their own culture as much as we do. But they feel they have no choice about participating in them. Their lives are lived in terror of ‘god’,and of evil spirits that they think will destroy them unless religious rituals are carried out in unvarying detail.

Let me tell you of just one episode in “Lords of the Earth”. Prepare for your heart to break!

The Yali culture in Irian Jaya was full of cultic secrets and taboos that only men could be initiated into, and only at a certain age. In the worst of all scenarios – if a female went onto the ‘holy ground’ where religious ceremonies took place – she would have to be killed before nightfall. The men deliberately made this place as inaccessible as possible so that this would be most unlikely.

However, a little girl named Nindik did just that several years before missionaries reached her tribe. While looking for her mother, she inadvertently stumbled onto the taboo property. Of course, her parents were told they would have to have her thrown into the local river – the very specific penalty for her ‘crime’. Virtually immediately. And they agreed.

Why? Because they did not love their daughter? Not at all. Their hearts were broken. Apparently the grief on her father’s face was never forgotten by any who saw it. Some could not bear to look at his face again. And her uncles, commissioned to actually do the deed, did it only because they had to, with weeping.

What exact penalty was hanging over their heads?

That Kembu (their god) would forsake mankind if they didn’t. As one man explained to his son:

“Gardens must yield less and produce less. Pigs will sicken and die. Children like you will grow up too weak and stunted to defend our villages. Heavy clouds and rain will blot out the sun, moon and stars until men begin to wonder of sources of light still exist. Earthquakes will make everyone afraid. Landslides will wipe out villages and sweep entire villages into the river! ….”

They didn’t have a choice, did they? Obedience or the virtual dissolution of the universe. Poor, poor parents. Poor, poor Yalis. One of Nindik’s uncles actually went mad under the stress of the incident and began to set fires in the village and shout out Kembu’s forbidden secrets. He himself then had to die. Satan has a heyday where the gospel isn’t preached, doesn’t he?

But the story doesn’t end there, of course. A tough-as-nails but poetry-loving Australian, Stan Dale, came to their village persuaded they needed the gospel and that he was called to give it to them. He eventually found many hearts ‘prepared’ with the recent traumas the villagers had faced.

In due time Stan laid down his life for the gospel, in that general area of Irian Jaya.

I think this is the first story that really helped me sense the burden prospective missionaries must feel when they are called by God to ‘go out’. I had always understood the desire to serve God, to bring him glory, by preaching where the gospel is not known. What I had not understood is the other side of the equation – the psychological and spiritual stress of people living without knowledge of God.

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery…”.Hebrews 2:14-15)

Remember my quoting the recent Asian? African? convert that asked his tribe’s missionary why his grandfather hadn’t come to tell the tribesman’s grandfather about the true God?

Same scenario. If only Stan had been there a few years earlier both Nindik and her uncle, Bukni, would not have died – at least, not in that way.

But God is God. His plan is being accomplished.

What a privilege it is, though, to support missionaries and – literally – in God’s sight, be fellow-workers with them. As though we were right on the field, too.

The body of Christ!