The Christmas Peace Child

by Rubel Shelley

Don and Carol Richardson worked as missionaries among the Sawi people of Indonesia. When they went to these isolated, head-hunting cannibals in the early 1960s, they struggled to learn enough of their language to share the gospel. Finally Don climbed the ladder into a Sawi man-house and, surrounded by the skulls of cannibalized victims, began trying to teach in the terms and categories familiar to him. Richardson told about Abraham and God’s selection of the Jews. He explained about the Messiah and the Lamb of God. The Sawi were bored and unresponsive.

Although fascinated by the foreigners, the Sawi continued to fight each other. Tribal factions battled within sight of the Richardsons’ jungle home. Fear and frustration led the missionaries to make a decision to leave. When tribal leaders learned of their plan, they said, “If you will stay, we promise to make peace in the morning.”

Don and Carol Richardson witnessed an incredible ceremony the very next day. Two hostile groups were positioned opposite their house, on either side of a clearing. A tangible suspense wafted in the air between them. Finally, one man picked up his newborn child and dashed across the meadow. His wife ran after him, screaming and begging for her baby to be given back to her. Unable to catch him, she fell to her knees on the ground and sobbed for her infant.

The child’s father presented his baby to the enemy clan. “Plead the peace child for me,” he said. “I give you my son, and I give you my name.” Soon thereafter, someone from the recipient tribe performed the same agonizing ritual in reverse. For as long as those peace children remained alive, the missionary was later told, the two warring factions were bound to each other in peace.

Richardson had his analogy of redemption! He soon climbed into the Sawi man-house again to tell the story of the ultimate Peace Child given to humankind by the one true God. Chiefs who had been unresponsive to the gospel sat spellbound. Over time, he continued to develop a theology based on Jesus, the Peace Child.

A matchless Christmas for Richardson and the Sawi came as first a few and finally hundreds of the once-warring, once-cannibalistic souls received Christ. A large group of new believers gathered for worship, and a Sawi man stood and read these words in his own language: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Is. 9:6).

As you read these familiar words this Christmas season, try to hear them with the ears of the Sawi. See Bethlehem’s baby as the Peace Child. And receive the gift.

Via Thought for the Day

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