In 1962 Don and Carol Richardson, Canadian missionaries with Regions Beyond Missionary Union, began serving among the cannibalistic Sawi tribes of western New Guinea (modern Irian Jaya). The Sawi honored treachery as an ideal. They befriended people of other villages with the intent of later betraying, killing and even eating them. The first time Don Richardson shared the story of Judas Iscariot betraying Jesus, the Sawi admiringly proclaimed Judas the hero of the story!
The Richardsons ministered to a pair of neighboring villages, Haenam and Kamur, that were constantly warring against each other. When, after several months, the Richardsons were not able to convince the two settlements to stop fighting, they announced that they would have to move elsewhere to minister. The Sawi, not wanting to lose the benefits to be gained by having westerners living among them, suddenly declared that they were going to make peace with each other. The Richardsons wondered how such peace could possibly be established, given the long history of hatred, treachery and distrust that existed between the villages.
The morning after announcing their intention to make peace, first a leader from Haenam then a leader from Kamur started to carry one of their own infant sons toward the neighboring enemy village. But in the first case the father from Haenam was prevented from doing so by family members who snatched the child back from him. And in the second instance the Kamur father, obviously distraught, changed his mind and turned back to his own village.
Suddenly a young Kamur father named Kaiyo picked up his six-month-old son, his only child, and began running swiftly toward Haenam. Kaiyo’s wife chased after him, pleading with him to stop. But when she slipped and fell into a muddy bog alongside the trail, she was unable to stop him.
When Kaiyo arrived at Haenam he came face to face with a line of his mortal enemies. “Mahor!” he called out to one of them. When Mahor stepped forward, Kaiyo asked, “Mahor! Will you plead the words of Kamur among your people?” When Mahor stated he would, Kaiyo continued, “Then I give you my son and with him my name!”
Taking the baby gently in his arms, Mahor then announced for all to hear: “It is enough! I will surely plead for peace between us! Those who accept this child as a basis for peace, come and lay hands on him!” The men, women and children of Haenam eagerly filed by, each placing his or her hands on the Kamur infant. From then on Mahor went by Kaiyo’s name.
Presently an infant from Haenam was presented to Kaiyo, who made the same sort of pledge that Mahor had pronounced moments earlier. When Kaiyo returned to his village, the people of Kamur similarly placed their hands on the Haenam child as the basis for maintaining peace with that settlement. Kaiyo immediately assumed the name of Mahaen, the Haenam father who had given him his son.
Don Richardson feared that harm might come to the infants who had been given to the enemy villagers. But he was assured that those children would be carefully protected so peace could continue between the two settlements. When Richardson asked why all this was necessary, the Sawi answered, “You’ve been urging us to make peace. Don’t you know it’s impossible to have peace without a peace child?”
Richardson went on to use that deeply-rooted cultural tradition as a “redemptive analogy” of God’s having sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to reconcile His enemies (those who were opposed to Him and rebelling against Him) to Himself, thus establishing peace between forgiven people and holy God. That peace child analogy, in fact, served as the basis of the breakthrough in the Sawis’ understanding that led many of them to saving faith in Christ.
When the angels announced the birth of the Savior to the shepherds in Luke 2, they declared, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.” God was providing a Savior to make a way for human beings to come to be at peace with Him, to be reconciled to Him. By trusting in the Savior people could have their sins, which estranged them from God, forgiven. Christ Jesus was the ultimate Peace Child.
Romans 5:1, 10-11 also speaks of the peace and reconciliation God has brought to all who trust in Christ: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ … For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” See similarly 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 and Colossians 1:20-22.
God the Father and Christ the Son made a totally one-sided sacrifice to reconcile us; we sacrificed nothing. Christ bore on the cross the full judgment that we deserved for our rebellion against God. As a result, through Him we gain forgiveness and the countless other blessings that come through being in restored relationship with God. We rightly join the heavenly angels in giving highest praise to God for reconciling us to Himself in Christ.
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The full remarkable story of Don and Carol Richardson’s ministry among the Sawi is recorded in his excellent book Peace Child.