In 1962, the Sawi people of New Guinea still lived in relative isolation. They were head-hunting cannibals. Their culture could not be more different from that of Don and Carol Richardson, and yet this missionary couple attempted to share Christ with them. In fact, two rival Sawi tribes, fascinated by the Richardsons, moved their villages right around the missionaries’ jungle home.
But Don became frustrated by his inability to find a point of contact. He was also discouraged by the 14 civil wars he had already counted right outside his front door now that the two tribes lived side by side. Eventually, the Richardsons decided to leave. However, the Sawi response surprised them: “If you’ll stay, we promise we’ll make peace in the morning.”
The next morning the Richardsons awoke to see the most amazing ritual they had ever witnessed. The two tribes were lined up outside their houses, on either side of the clearing. Finally, one man dashed into his hut, grabbed his newborn son, and began to run across the meadow towards the other tribe. His expression betrayed absolute agony. His wife ran after him, screaming and begging him to give the baby back to her.
But her husband wouldn’t stop. He ran over to the other tribe and presented the boy to them. “Plead the peace child for me. I give you my son, and I give you my name,” he said. Moments later, someone from that tribe performed the same agonizing sacrifice with the same intensity and passion. Richardson found out later that as long as those two children remained alive, the tribes were bound to peace. If they died, then literally all hell would break loose–cannibalism, murder, civil war.
While this amazing scene unfolded before him, Don suddenly realized that this was the analogy he needed to communicate Christ. The next time he spoke to the Sawi elders he told them of the perfect Peace Child, Jesus. Eventually, droves of Sawi became followers of Christ.
Several years later, on Christmas day, hundreds of Sawi from every tribe – tribes that had warred and cannibalized each other for many years – gathered together for a feast for the first time. A Sawi preacher stood up and read in his own language a scripture that few people in the history of the world have ever understood so clearly: “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulders, and He shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Later, the Richardsons would write that it was the best Christmas they had ever experienced. It was the best day the Sawi had ever known.
Source: Adapted by James McCullen from “Peace Child” by Don Richardson (Regal, 1976) in Mars Hill Review, Fall 1994. Pages 62-63.