Peace Child – PNG: A story that impacted world missions

Papua New Guinea: A story that impacted world missions

Hidden among tribal cultures, there are practices or understandings which could be called ‘redemptive analogies’. These can be used to illustrate the meaning of the gospel, contextualizing the incarnation of Jesus.

This missionary principle is best illustrated in Don Richardson’s classic book Peace Child (1974). This great missions story, demonstrating the power of the gospel in a primitive tribal culture in Papua New Guinea, had a strong impact on many people around the world.

In 1962, Don, his wife Carol, and their 7-month-old son went to Dutch New Guinea to minister to the Sawis, a group of cannibalistic headhunters. Don immersed himself in learning the complex language, and began working to teach them about salvation in Jesus. But the cultural barriers made this seemingly impossible, especially because of the value the culture placed on treachery and deception.

As he learned the language and lived with the people, he became more aware of the gulf that separated his Christian worldview from the worldview of the Sawi. In their eyes, Judas, not Jesus, was the hero of the Gospels, Jesus was just the dupe to be laughed at. Eventually Richardson discovered what he referred to as a ‘redemptive analogy’ that pointed to the Incarnate Christ far more clearly than any biblical passage alone could have done. What he discovered was the Sawi concept of the Peace Child.

During this time, the village Don and Carol were living in was attacked by an enemy tribe. Weeks of fighting ensued, and the Richardsons were considering leaving. Motivated to stop the fighting, the chief of Don’s tribe paid the price of peace: in a ceremony, the chief took his own infant son and placed him in the arms of his adversary. The child would live with the enemy tribe for the rest of his life; as long as he lived, there was peace between the tribes.

Don wrote: “If a man would actually give his own son to his enemies, that man could be trusted!” Through this analogy of Jesus being the ultimate peace child who will never die, Don was able to reach the Sawi with the truth of the gospel. Eventually the New Testament was published in their language, and many villagers placed their trust in Christ.

Seven years ago Don Richardson, then 77, and his three sons returned to the Sawi tribe in West Papua, Indonesia. They found the Sawi still faithfully following Christ. We published about this in JNI 839. This reunion was captured on film and it’s exciting and moving to see. While they were there 250 people were baptized.

See 15-minute film Never the Same – their return 50 years later.

Don’s follow-up book ‘Eternity in Their Hearts’ documented how the concept of a supreme God has existed for centuries in hundreds of cultures around the world. This book soon became required reading in seminaries and Bible colleges. Christians worldwide were inspired afresh by the notion that God has “prepared the gospel for the world and the world for the gospel.”

In December 2018 Don Richardson passed away at age 83.

Source: Randy Alcorn, Mission Frontiers, Peace Child Legacy

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