The church has always sent missionaries—believers who God tapped on the shoulder and sent to other cultures to share the gospel. When we hear of their great deeds, the amazing way God used them to bring the gospel to hard places, we realize that God can use us, too.
For example, I’ve read fascinating biographies of both Hudson Taylor (1832 – 1905) and Gladys Aylward (1902 – 1970), each a missionary to China. There are at least two books—Shadow of the Almighty and Through Gates of Splendor—about Jim Elliot (1927 – 1956), who gave died at the hands of the Auca Indians of South America. And there are several engrossing biographies about Amy Charmichael (1867- 1951), who started an orphanage and mission station in India, and whose life inspired Jim Elliot’s widow, Elisabeth.
One of my all-time favorite missionary stories is Torches of Joy, by John Dekker. (If that name sounds familiar, it might be because he’s the father of the well-known Christian writer, Ted Dekker.) We know John—he and my husband, Pete, served together on the board of an international ministry. Talking to him and his wife, Helen, at a Christmas party one year, I had no idea that they’d spent 21 years among the Dani, a stone-age tribe in Irian Jaya!
Then I read John’s autobiographical account of how God used him and his family to bring the gospel to a people controlled by fear, superstition, and revenge—and how they learned their own lessons in return.
Imagine moving from the United States halfway around the world to Papua New Guinea. Once there, you don’t stay in the city, with its modern conveniences. No, you venture into the jungle with two young children: Paul, age 16 months, and Eva, only one month old! (Ted would come along a couple of years later.) There you live in a bamboo “house” on stilts, eat roasted bugs and grubs, and provide what medical care you can with Helen’s nursing degree and minimal supplies.
Talk about exciting! Just reading the opening lines make the book hard to put down. Here’s an excerpt from the first couple of pages:
“You are all wrong!” Wuninip’s brother spat out the words angrily. “They are demons, white demons. We must kill them before they bring trouble to us!” …
“What then is to be done with this man … and the woman and children he brings?” Another Dani impatiently broke the silence. “Are we to kill them?”
“My brothers,” Wuninip reasoned, “if we kill them, we will get no more shells, no more steel axes, no more sharp-tasting salt. They may bring us many other wonderful things as well!” …
“We can always kill them later.”
God blessed the Dekker’s obedience and their ministry thrived. Not only was a church born, but today the Dani send their own missionaries to neighboring tribes, spreading the gospel throughout the region.
My copy of the book was printed in 1985. The fact that it was reprinted in 2002, with a new cover and an expanded title, tells you that this story is timeless. Be sure to check out Torches of Joy: A Stone Age Tribe’s Encounter With the Gospel, by John Dekker and Lois Neely. It’s one of the International Adventures series published by Youth with a Mission (YWAM), and is available through Amazon and other sources.