We had a very unique privilege and honor this past weekend—we had with us to share in our local churches, Don Richardson, noted missionary to Irian Jaya (Indonesia) and author of the amazing story, Peace Child (as well as its sequel, Lords of the Earth along with Eternity in their Hearts and other books). Living in a rural area of the northwest, you don’t get many opportunities to meet and hear folks like Don Richardson. The missions coordinator at Faith Bible Church in Libby, Montana, Joyce (Stuck) Grable (having served many years as a missionary in Ecuador), contacted Steve Richardson, president of the mission group called Pioneers, hoping he might be able to come as a speaker. He said he was too busy to schedule it, but said, “Why don’t you ask my dad. He might be able to come.” Joyce hadn’t bothered to even try to get Don, thinking there would be no chance! Well he came and what a blessing to hear how God has worked—and is working—throughout the world in such amazing ways.
Don emphasized that nearly every culture has some story, ritual or tradition that can be used to illustrate and to apply the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is incredible the way that God has prepared people to receive the truth. For example, when Robert Morrison, the Anglo-Scottish evangelist and the first Christian protestant missionary to go to China arrived there in 1807, he was quite discouraged when he saw the formidable language barrier that he would have to overcome, thinking, “Why, God, did you allow them to have such a challenging, confusing way of writing. We have 26 letters in our alphabet from which we form words. They have some 200 symbols—that look like chicken scratching.” But, as he began working examining these Chinese characters (the oldest written language in the world), he made some amazing discoveries, as many of the symbols showed an account of creation, God, the fall of man, etc. In fact he discovered about 100 such evidences of Biblical influence in the origin of their characters. He asked his translator what symbol they use for “righteous.” It was a picture of a man under a lamb! He was able to tell them who the “Lamb” is that “came to take away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29). For the word “creation” (zao) they had symbols of dust from the ground, God breathing into the nostrils and man becoming a living being with the ability to walk. Their word for “blessing” (tu) showed God creating a garden. For the word “ship” (chuan) they had a symbol of eight people in a boat (Noah and his family in the ark). For “covet” they show a woman making a decision between two trees (the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…Gen. 28:9).
Robert Morrison went from being discouraged by the overwhelming task of learning the language to excitement over what he discovered of the hand of God at work long before he ever arrive to share the Gospel. After 25 years of work he translated the whole Bible into the Chinese language as well as publishing a dictionary. When Morrison had first arrived in China, he was asked if he expected to have any spiritual impact on the Chinese and he answered: “No sir, but I expect God will!” And did He ever—and is He ever still today. Thousands of Chinese are coming to Christ monthly. Partly because of the way He had prepared them for the truth through the characters they use to make up their words and language.
In 1972, Don and Carol Richardson and their seven-month old son, Stephen, entered into the world of the head-hunting, cannibalistic Sawi tribe in Irian Jaya in the heart of the jungle of Indonesia. Though warmly received (because the tribesman knew that the white man could bring them metal tools like axes, and medicines to cure their sicknesses) there didn’t seem to be a way to convey to them the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Don and Carol spent 15 years among the tribe where he designed an alphabet, authored some 19 primers, taught them to read in their native tongue and translated the entire New Testament. But it was very frustrating sharing Christ with them. They were a warring tribe that believed in revenge killing and treachery. When told the story of Jesus’ betrayal by Judas, they saw Judas as the hero in the story! The Sawi were constantly warring with neighboring tribes, in spite of Don’s pleading with them to stop. It wasn’t until Don and Carol threatened to leave them if they didn’t stop fighting that a change came. They didn’t want the missionaries to leave, so told them about the one way the tribes could make peace and were willing to do it to keep Richardsons from leaving. They would offer a child to their enemy to raise and as long as the child lived, there would be peace between the tribes. One couple with just one child, an only son, took their child to their enemy and presented him as the “Peace Child.” The tribe accepted the offering and they stopped warring. Wow, what a breakthrough for the Richardsons—not just to see the fighting stop, but now to be able to share about God’s “Peace Child,” His only begotten Son that He, in love offered so that we could be forgiven of our sin and no longer be enemies of God, alienated from Him. Now the Sawi understood the meaning of John 3:16 and more than half the tribe trusted Christ as their Lord and Savior, and soon began sharing their new faith with the neighboring tribes with whom they had previously fought constantly.
In 2012, Don and his sons returned to the Sawi tribe for a 50th-year anniversary of their initial arrival in the jungles of Irian Jaya. They were greeted by about 3,000 exuberant believers from numerous tribes and had a wonderful time of reunion and celebration.
In his book, Eternity in their Hearts, Don relates about 20 stories like the two I have shared with you, of how “The Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts…” (Ro. 2:14,15). God, in amazing ways, prepares people to receive the truth. So, when you go to share Christ with someone, remember, God has been at work there before your arrival. Look for the ways in which He has prepared them, and use those as the bridge over which to carry to them the truth about Jesus Christ.