The 3rd Gift of Christmas in New Guinea, Indonesia, 1964

Peace Child by Don Richardson tells the story of Christian missionaries Don and Carol Richardson and their attempts in the early 1960’s to bring the gospel of Jesus to the Sawi people, headhunting cannibals of New Guinea. For the Sawi, treachery was an ideal, and the only way to make peace between enemy tribes was to give the sacrifice of a “peace child” to ensure the treaty between warring groups.

“You want Hurip to die?” I asked.
“Yes!” Amio hissed.
Anxiously I rose and faced Amio, “Why?”
Amio’s voice choked with emotion as he replied: “Remember I told you my father Hato once gave a tarop child to the Kayagar, only to learn later that they had killed the baby and devoured it?”
I nodded, and Amio continued, “The man lying in this canoe is the man to whom my father gave that child! He is the same man who killed and devoured my little brother! Tuan, I’ve been waiting for years for a chance to . . .”
Now I was trembling, too. The Christmas spirit was not coming easily to the banks of the Kronkel that day. . . . was I really being realistic in hoping they would forgive their enemies for Christ’s sake?
For a moment I stood speechless before Amio, praying for wisdom. Then an old memory stirred in the back of my mind. Reaching out with both hands, I gripped Amio by his earlobes. He was startled, but he did not draw away. He listened carefully while I said: “Tarop Tim titindadeden! I plead the Peace Child!”
Amio shot back, “The peace child my father gave to Hurip is dead! Hurip himself killed him!”
“But the Peace Child God gave still lives!” I countered. “And because He lives, you may not take vengeance against Hurip. Forgive him, Amio, for Jesus’ sake!”
My fingers still gripped his earlobes.

Today’s Gifts from Semicolon
A song: Moon River, music by Henry Mancini. OK, it’s not a Christmas song, but it’s vintage Andy Williams. Enjoy.

A booklist: Barbara H and 31 Days of Missionary Stories.

A birthday: Andy Williams, b.1930. We always used to watch Andy Williams’ Christmas special on TV, back in the day.
Joseph Conrad, b.1857.

A verse:
Moon River by Johnny Mercer.

Moon River, wider than a mile,
I’m crossing you in style some day.
Oh, dream maker, you heart breaker,
wherever you’re going I’m going your way.

Two drifters off to see the world.
There’s such a lot of world to see.
We’re after the same rainbow’s end–
waiting ’round the bend,
my huckleberry friend,
Moon River and me.

A Christmas idea: Redeeming Christmas, Kindness-Bombing by Juanita at Once Upon a Prairie.

Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff

World War II, in addition to being The Good War fought by the Greatest Generation, continues to provide a wealth of lessons, images, illustrations, and just good stories for authors to mine and for readers to appreciate. Lost in Shangri-La, subtitled “A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II,” is one of those many stories that can inspire and educate us today, some sixty odd years later.

The episode took place in Dutch New Guinea (later called Irian Jaya and West Papua, a part of Indonesia) in the waning years of the war, 1945-1946. Twenty-four AMerican servicemen and WAC’s boraded a transport plane for a sight-seeing trip over the Baliem Valley, also called by the service personnel that discovered, Shangri-La Valley because it reminded them from the air of James Hilton’s novel, Lost Horizon. The plane crashed, and three of the twenty-four miraculously survived the crash. However, the three were trapped inside a valley that was inaccessible to airplanes, and between them and the coast where Allied base were, was miles and miles of jungle, home to possibly hostile tribesmen and also possibly filled with Japanese soldiers who had yet to surrender. And to compound the problem of getting back to their comrades, the three survivors were covered with serious burns from the crash that were in danger of turning gangrenous.

The mountains were too high for helicopters. The valley was too narrow for planes to land, and there was no suitable runway anyway. The jungle was too thick fro planes to even spot the survivors from the air. How were the three to be rescued? The story of how and who did it and what the crash survivors encountered in the valley of “Shangri-La” is quite fascinating.

I was reminded of the missionary story, Peace Child by Don Richardson. Mr. Richardson worked with the Sawi people of Papua somewhere in or near the Baliem Valley where the people in Lost in Shangri-La were marooned. He was also in contact with the Dani and Yali tribes, the same peoples with whom the survivors of the Shangri-la plane crash found refuge. After the war, many of these isolated Papuan tribespeople were introduced to Christianity and prepared by missionaries for their inevitable encounter with Western culture.

It was fascinating to get a glimpse of these tribes in their pre-Western-influenced and pre-Christian cultures. Obviously, the coming of Western influences to these tribes has been a mixed blessing. Before World War II the Baliem Valley was largely unexplored and isolated from the rest of the world. Now, although the valley is still somewhat isolated because of its inaccessibility, most of the native people claim to be Christians, and the wars between villages that took place with regularity before are no more the men’s favorite pastime.

At any rate, if you’re interested in these sorts of things—isolated people groups and cultures, World War II stories of adventure and bravery, historic encounters between modern and prehistoric groups of people— Lost in Shangri-La should be just the ticket.

Similar and related books:
The Airmen and the Headhunters: A True Story of Lost Soldiers, Heroic Tribesmen and the Unlikeliest Rescue of World War II by Judith Heimann.
Peace Child by Don RIchardson.
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand.

What is your favorite (true) World War II story?

Peace Child by Don Richardson

40 Inspirational Classics for Lent

Don Richardson (born 1935) is a Canadian Christian missionary, teacher, author and international speaker who worked among the tribal people of Western New Guinea, Indonesia. He argues in his writings that, hidden among tribal cultures, there are usually some practices or understandings, which he calls “redemptive analogies”, which can be used to illustrate the meaning of the Christian Gospel, contextualizing the biblical representation of the incarnation of Jesus. ~Wikipedia

That rather academic introduction to the story of missionary Don Richardson and his work with the Sawi people of Western New Guinea in Indonesia makes it sound almost boring. Peace Child, a missionary memoir, is anything but boring. Richardson went to Western New Guinea with his wife, Carol, and their seven month old baby in 1962. There they worked with a people who as a culture glorified violence, cannibalism, and revenge. In fact, as they listened to the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection in their own language, the Sawi laughed at the poor fool Jesus and admired Judas for his ability to deceive and betray such a close friend. Richardson despaired of ever being able to teach the Sawi the truth of the gospel until he discovered in their own culture that the Sawi had a tradition that mirrored the substitutionary death of Jesus as a “peace offering” for our sins.

The entire idea of redemptive analogies placed within cultures by God for the purpose of giving people a deeper and more complete understanding of the gospel should be handled carefully. I can see how it could be misused and and lead to more misunderstanding than understanding. However, used prayerfully and carefully, I can also see how God could use the stories and educational tools of a people and a culture to bring about miraculous communication. Peace Child is a wonderful story of just such a miracle.

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:1-4

And The Word . . . Dwelt Among Us

The Kimyal people of Papua, Indonesia receive the Bible in their own language:

What a celebration. Do we even begin to know what precious truth God has entrusted to us? “To whom much is given, of him much shall be required.” We in the West are abundantly blessed. God forgive us for the misuse and waste we have perpetrated with the blessing He has given us.

And won’t heaven be grand as we all worship the Lamb together, from every nation and tribe?

My Hands Came Away Red by Lisa McKay

Immediately after finishing My Hands Came Away Red, I searched the internet to see what other books Ms. McKay had written. That should tell you something about the quality of this compelling story of a Christian youth missions team in Indonesia. Eighteen year old Cori decides to spend her summer in Indonesia, building a church, out of mixed motives. Yes, Cori is a Christian, and she wants to do something meaningful in God’s service. She also wants to get away from her confusing relationship with her boyfriend, Scott, and she just wants to experience her own adventure. Since the book runs to 386 pages, Cori obviously gets a lot more meaning and distance and adventure than she expected.

And I got a lot more than I expected out of reading this novel. The story represents really sophisticated and deeply significant Christian fiction. Ms. McKay is not afraid to tackle the hard questions: why does God allow suffering? Why do bad things happen to good people? How do Christians pray when it seems as if God isn’t listening? How is Romans 8:28 (“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”) true? Is it true? Really?
Not only does the book deal with these and other hard questions, the writing is also courageous enough not to give simple, easy answers. There’s no ending, or at least no ending that ties up all the loose doubts and uncertainties and issues and presents them to the reader in a neat little package.

But at the same time it’s not a hopeless diatribe on the stupidity of simple faith. Cori and her team of five more teens from the U.S. have a horrible encounter with evil and with danger, and they react in all the myriad of ways that a group of young, somewhat immature Christian young people would react. They cry, and they get angry. They are scared, and they sometimes manage to be incredibly brave. They do and say stupid things. They argue, and they support one another. They doubt and become angry with God, and sometimes they experience something that renews their faith in Him. Looking at faith in the face of atrocity and making fun of that faith is easy, but the reality is not that simple. In My Hands Came Away Red, the characters are not allowed to give up on life or on God, even when they do.

Lisa McKay has a degree in psychology, and that background shows in the novel’s vivid descriptions of the psychological trauma that the young people in the story experience. The author has also served on a missions team in the Philippines, and that firsthand knowledge of how Christians really do behave and talk and act like normal young adults also makes the book’s character portrayals authentic and engaging. As I judge in the young adult fiction category for this year’s INSPY Awards for “the best in literature that grapples with the Christian faith,” I will use use this book and a couple of other faith-driven books as the standard by which I judge the entries on the shortlist for this year. It’s that good.