Title: Eternity in Their Hearts
Author: Don Richardson
Major Themes: Christian History, Christian Missions
Synopsis: A well-known missionary takes a look at how God prepares cultures around the world for the amazing news of Jesus before they’ve ever even heard of the Bible or Jesus Christ.
One of my most favorite poems of all time is in a little book called Word of God, Priceless Treasure. It’s about Sadhu Sundar Singh, and how he rescued a Tibetan man who was dying—and how God blessed him as a result. I’ve read that poem aloud multiple times (until I’m sure most of my family is sick of it!), but I still bring it out at times just because all those “shuns” are fun.
Anyway, in that book there is a story about the Wa people of Burma. And although there isn’t a lot of information given about them there, it is a fascinating story about how God prepared and then led a tribe to himself through the facilitation of a donkey. That story has always intrigued me, and several years ago Mom suggested I read Eternity in Their Hearts, as that expands on the story some and explains it in the context of several others. Well, I picked up the book once, but since I struggle to get through nonfiction, I didn’t end up starting it. I’m guessing that if I ever would have even tried starting it, I would have gotten bogged down in the first chapter—it seems to be well over a quarter of the entire book long!
I expected some pretty interesting stories in this book, and they were there. Seeing how God has worked in otherwise unreached tribes is truly fascinating! After sharing a couple stories, Don Richardson dives into the difference between Melchizedek (who seemed to know something about the true God, even though we don’t know of anyone who taught him), and the king of Sodom, who didn’t know about God. Drawing from these two men, Richardson illustrated how God can, at some places, plant truths about Himself even in cultures that have not had access to the full truth for years. Paul called this “the law of God written in their hearts”. Often, this law can be overruled as people become more and more distanced from God—but some cultures have been able to preserve at least portions of the truth, up through very recent history—and that is the focal point of Eternity in Their Hearts.
Seeing how God works, throughout wildly diverse cultures and many different settings, is very encouraging. However, Richardson also shared what happened when missionaries didn’t manage to get to those prepared for the gospel:
“Interest in the concept of one supreme God was at a fever pitch[in Peru just before the Spanish arrived.]Bearers of the gospel would have had nearly a century to reap a glorious spiritual harvest throughout the empire before the conquistadores struck! […] But compassionate Christian message-bearers, whoever they should have been, defaulted. In their place came a heartless political conquerer and commercialist—Pizzaro[.]” (from chapter 1, when discussing the Incas, emphasis mine)
Ouch. Reading this book has challenged me in areas I’d never even thought about, and brought out facts that I would have never otherwise considered. Such as his comment at one point, “God limited Himself to let His gospel spread by frail man” (that’s a paraphrase; I’m not sure I could find the actual quote). What a responsibility we have! May we, wherever we are, keep our eyes on our real job here on earth!
In all, this book is excellent. It definitely made it to the top of the list of best books read so far this year. I’d encourage anyone to take the time to read this, if they can find a copy of it somewhere!
WARNING: In chapter 2, headhunting is mentioned under the “Wa People” heading. Baby sacrifice is mentioned under “India’s Nga” heading. In chapter 3, cannibalism and headhunting is mentioned, as well as a disgusting description of cannibalism and human bones on pg. 118 (under “New Guinea’s Asmat People” heading). Also in that section, wife-trading and disgusting death practices are mentioned. Under the heading “The Yali and the Hawaiians”, a fight is mentioned where a man is killed.
Reading Independently—Ages 15 and Above, Adults