Title: Peace Child
Author: Don Richardson
Major Themes: Christian Missions, Missionaries, Irian Jaya
Synopsis: The amazing story of a young couple who tried, and without God would have failed, to bring Christ to headhunting people.
Peace Child is a book I’ve had a love-hate relationship with for many years. Probably five or more years ago, I listened to an audio version of this book, and although I was prepared for the gruesome first few chapters, it was still somewhat difficult to get through. However, I was excited when I saw it on the list for required reading material for school this year—and even more excited once I got into it. Despite the tougher portions of this book, it is an amazing story, and I’ve come away very encouraged!
For hundreds of years, the Sawi tribes have been living by their cultural ideal: Treachery. Violence and deception are glorified in almost all their folklore, and they even practice something occasionally that is highly respected: “fattening with friendship”. Which, literally speaking, is pretending to be friends with someone for a while until they trust you, and then betraying their trust, which ends in their death.
This was the culture Don Richardson, his wife Carol, and their young son moved into in 1962. As he struggled to come to grips with the language and culture, Don shared the story of Jesus—and the only thing the Sawi seemed to grasp was the part where Judas betrayed Jesus. According to the mandates of their culture, Judas was a hero! But this was the opposite of what Don was trying to share. How could he share the gospel if the villain was the good guy? How could he keep peace with those around him long enough to even attempt to get the message out? There was only one answer—God had to move. But would He?
With highs and lows and pretty much everything in between, Don Richardson shares the joys and sorrows of their lives among the Sawi people. He and Carol made many sacrifices, but the Sawi made many too. It wasn’t easy to have the responsibility of a “Tuan” living with them, and when he asked them to make peace—even though it went against everything they were used to—they did it.
Peace Child is the story of hope and near-despair, of faith tested to breaking points, and truth prevailing. It isn’t a story for the faint-of-heart or the one who doesn’t like violence. Life before Jesus came is shown in graphic detail, but the contrast with the gospel of Jesus Christ shines through this with radiant clarity. God is very good. He doesn’t always act in the way we expect or want Him to, but His presence makes the impossible possible.
I loved a quote from right before Don moved in with the tribe. Despite all the obvious drawbacks and dangers, he realized:
“This swamp also is part of my Father’s creation. His providence can sustain us here as well as anywhere else.”
And that realization—of the sustaining, upholding power of God—was what Don and Carol relied on throughout their time in the jungle. It’s what all missionaries, from the beginning of the Christian church, have relied on. And it’s what we rely on today. Because God really does care. And if we are in the center of His will, following His guidance, we will find that He works on our behalf in amazing ways.
In all, despite the things I struggled with (see the warnings below), this was an amazing book, and I’m thankful I had the chance to re-read it. It’s definitely worth taking time for!
WARNING: A skull is used as a toy in chapter 1. In chapter 2, there is a mention of a skull serving as a warning, and a man is brutally killed. That was very graphic, and there is some cannibalism as well. In chapter 5, a woman touches a man’s genitals; there is more treachery and betrayal, and more killing and cannibalism (pretty gruesome). In chapter 18, there is a mention of a baby being killed and eaten. In chapter 19, a man is killed when his child dies; Sawi teenagers are eaten, there is a fight and more cannibalism happens, and a canoe capsizes and several people nearly drown. In chapter 23, a disgusting tradition is acted out by the Sawi (pretty graphic). In chapter 24, there’s a mention of both a man and a baby who were eaten.
Reading Independently—Ages 15 and Above, Adults