Dave Scovill was a farm boy who grew up in Minnesota but after high school attended Prairie Bible Institute in Three Hills, Alberta, Canada. This was the school that my wife and most of her siblings also attended. It was there that, through the school’s missions emphasis, God spoke to Dave about going to the jungles of Papua (once named Dutch New Guinea and then Irian Jaya) to reach the Dani tribe who live on the western half of the island north of Australia. It has now been more than half a century since Dave and Esther Scovill first went to this mountain tribe called the Danis to learn the language and to share the Gospel. Prior to the Scovills’ arrival, other missionaries had gone into the jungle on foot to build an airstrip so that missionaries could fly in and out.
For years before the arrival of any missionaries, the Dani people had been searching for the source of eternal life. Occasionally a plane flew over the area and the tribesmen would shout at it to “come down, come down and help us.” Just before one of the Dani men died he told the others that he had a vision of a stranger coming in to teach them from a big book. He said to the others, “Don’t harm him. He will come to help us find the source of life.” Then, when the Scovills landed on the new airstrip in 1960, a twelve-year-old Dani boy was standing outside the fence surrounding the airstrip. In a vision, he had seen a big man who was carrying a big book getting out of an airplane. This man with his big book would help them find eternal life. When the plane landed and Dave Scovill got out, he was carrying his Bible, the “big book” the boy had seen in his dream. He offered to teach the Scovills his language in exchange for Dave’s teaching him from the book–and that is how the evangelization of the Dani people began!
So, why did these ignorant, savage tribesmen in the heart of the remote jungles of Papua even have a concept of eternal life? Why did they, in their culture, believe it was wrong to steal or to take another man’s wife? Where would that have come from? If evolution were true, as is being taught in our public education system today, and the Dani people, like the rest of us, are mere products of time and chance. How could they possibly have had an awareness that there must be a way to have eternal life? They couldn’t! But there is a little verse in the unique book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament of the Bible which explains why. It says that “He (God) has set eternity in their heart” (Eccl. 3:11). Life did not evolve from non-living matter over millions of years. We are not the product of time and chance. We are created by an all-wise, all powerful, self-existent, self-sufficient God who “set eternity in our hearts.” We were created by Him and for Him. Our life only takes on meaning and significance when we come to have a relationship with the Creator of the universe.
As the Scovills and others who joined them learned the Dani tongue and began communicating to them about creation and sin and God sending His Son to die for their sins, the response was totally amazing. God had already prepared their hearts. They just needed to hear about Jesus and what He had done for them and how through faith in Him they could find this eternal life for which they had been searching. The tribesmen would gather on the airstrip to hear the message from “the Book.” One day about a thousand Danis showed up and threw all their fetishes and idols in a huge pile which they spit on (a way of renouncing) and then burned. As a group they trusted in the Jesus of the Bible to find eternal life. The change in their lives was truly a miracle. Without being told, they began to clean up their bodies and to wear clothes. They sanitized their villages and stopped killing one another! They began a “witness school” to which many came for three days a week to be trained from the Bible, and would then go out to surrounding villages to share with others about the source of eternal life. They took the Gospel story to those whom previously they would rather have shot with arrows! The Gospel spread throughout the area. Today they have schools, churches and seminaries. What a beautiful demonstration of the power of the Gospel to change lives. As the apostle Paul said, “If any man be in Christ, He is a new creature; the old things are passed away; behold new things have come” (I Cor. 5:17).
Dave Scovill was at our church yesterday to share what has happened since their first trip to Papua way back in 1960. He emphasized that the greatest thing on the heart of God is missions. He shared with us “Three Divine Dynamics of Mission Work.”
1) God Had a Plan (a Divine Purpose). He created the heavens and the earth as a platform to unfold the plan of the ages, that all men everywhere would experience
His grace. Sin in the Garden seemed to have disrupted that plan, but we have the first promise, and prophecy of God concerning the coming of His Son to provide
a way of salvation through His sacrifice on our behalf, thus defeating Satan and sin (Gen. 3:15). Then God chose Abraham and made a covenant with Him,
saying, “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). When King Solomon dedicated the Temple, he prayed, “So that all the peoples of
the earth may know that the LORD is God; there is no one else” (I Kgs. 8:60). To the prophet, Malachi, God spoke these words: “For from the rising of the
sun, even to its setting, My name will be great among the nations…” (Mal. 1:11). Missions didn’t begin with the “Great Commission” (“Go therefore and
make disciples of all the nations…” Mt. 28:19). It began with God’s plan of the ages that all men everywhere would know that He is God and come to experience
His love and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. When we are saved through faith in Christ, we buy into this plan and are to be part of it.
2) God Has Placed Eternity Into Hearts. God had in many ways prepared the Danis for the Gospel of eternal life in Christ. He even gave them a longing for that
eternal life, which was reflected in many of their beliefs. As we saw in Eccl. 3:11, it is God who placed that sense of eternity in their hearts. There is no other
explanation. Their language was even beautifully put together. How did that come about? God did it, to prepare them for His Word.
3) God Wants to Partner With Us. God gives us the amazing privilege of partnering with Him in His great plan of the ages so that we can have a part in bringing
men and women to Christ. There is no greater joy on earth than to be part of that plan. You want to feel significant in your life? Then partner with God in His
wondrous “Plan of the Ages.” The greatest thing in the heart of God is missions, and He allows us the privilege of being part of it. In fact the moment you put your
faith in Christ for forgiveness of sin and eternal life, you become part of that team, an “Ambassador for Christ” (II Cor. 5:20).
The Scovills go back to Papua to the Danis a couple times a year. They now have the entire Bible translated into their language and can’t keep up printing copies. They are selling by the thousands to a people hungry for God’s Word (Would that were still true in our country!) This November, they will go back to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the church’s beginning in Papua among the Dani people. What an amazing story. What an amazing God we serve!
If you would like to read more about the Danis, go to Amazon and get a copy of “The Amazing Danis,” by Dave Scovill. There will also be a new book by Dave coming out this fall about another tribe in Papua. It will be entitled, “Out of the Dark Triangle.” Watch for it.