"PEACE CHILD"

A. THEOLOGICAL INTRODUCTION

1. Entire Christian faith hinges on the figure of JC.
2. Some of the earliest credal sources are little more than a confession of Jesus as Lord, together with the story of the passion and resurrection (e.g., Phil. 2:6-11; 1 Cor. 8:6; 12:3, 15:3-7)
3. The creed tells the story of Jesus from birth, to death, to transformation.
4. Early Church Writers (two theological debates)
a) JC is not merely like God, but is in fact fully God, although not all there is of God.
b) Full humanity and divinity of JC, ONE person of two natures.
5. Christology: concerned with the person of JC, relation to God on the one hand and to humankind on the other.
6. Christology insists on the uniqueness and universality of Jesus Christ: Christ is the only one in whom God is incarnate, and is related to all persons--irrespective of race, sex, creed, culture or point in time--both as their God and their fellow human being.
 

B. SETTING (PEACE CHILD):

...you are the person of Don Richardson
...early 1963
...village in the interior of West Irian
...with elders of a Sawi village
...members of the village were headhunters and cannibals trained for violence
...for seven months, learning language and customs
...also urged village members to make peace and accept Jesus
...no sign of success, close to despair at times
 

C. THE STORY:  PEACE CHILD(1)

Don Richardson sat cross-legged facing the elders of a Sawi (Sä´w) village deep in the interior of West Irian in early 1963. These long-isolated people were headhunters and cannibals. Don lived among them for seven months, learning their language and customs. Much time had been spent pressing them to make peace despite their training for violence, and urging them to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and peacemaker. He had come close to despair of never reaching his goals, so pervasive was the hostility. Now he had another chance.

TheSawi
In June 1962 Don Richardson established a camp in Sawi territory. He built a house and moved into it with his wife and young son. The next few months were spent learning the Sawi language and customs, using advanced methods of linguistics. During this period the people of two Sawi villages relocated nearby. He believed that the novelty of the new family and the practicality of things like nylon fishline, machetes, mirrors, etc., had drawn them and overcome the normally warlike ways in which the villages were accustomed to relate. That belief was unfounded; fourteen fierce, intervillage battles were fought within sight of his house during the first two months he lived among them. After that he lost count of the hostilities.

A Sawi child is trained to get his way by sheer force of violence and temper. He is goaded constantly to take revenge for every hurt or insult. Parents give examples as they carry out violent retaliation for anything that offends them. The Sawi hear a constant recitation of stories and legends exalting violence and treachery as traditional obligations. Those devising new forms of treachery become legendmakers, and insure their names being passed down in honor in the main body of Sawi legends.

In the peaceful times between fighting, Don Richardson tried to teach Sawi men stories from the Bible. They were generally not interested. Only once did his presentation get a ringing response from the Sawi. He reported afterward: "I was describing Judas' betrayal of Jesus. About halfway through the description I noticed they were all listening intently. They heard how Judas had kept close company with Jesus for three years, sharing the same food, traveling the same road. That any associate of Jesus would conceive the idea of betraying such an impressive figure was highly unlikely.

"At the climax of the story, Maum (Moum) whistled a bird call of admiration. Kani (Kän´) and several others touched their fingertips to their chest in awe. Others chuckled.  "At first I sat there confused. Then the realization broke through: they were acclaiming Judas as the hero of the story. Kani leaned forward and exclaimed, 'That was a real tuwi asonai man' (T´w äsn´män)."  It took Richardson some time to understand the phrase. He later understood it to mean "to fatten him with friendship for an unsuspected slaughter." He realized that the Sawi idealized treachery as a virtue, a goal in life. Judas, to them, was a super-Sawi!

Don and his wife, Carol, discussed the problem over lunch as they always did. They had hoped together to bring the gospel to the Sawi while respecting Sawi culture. Now it seemed almost hopeless.  "God always has a way," Carol said. "There must be a way." They agreed to hope and pray for a key to the situation. Then the next day really serious fighting broke out again between Haenam (Hnäm´) and Kamur (Kämür´).  Reluctantly the Richardsons concluded that their coming and drawing two villages together had deprived these violent people of the mutual isolation needed to survive in relative peace. They determined that for the good of the people they would leave. Don told his decision to the chief men of each village. "Since you cannot make peace with each other, it is clear to us we ought to leave. If we stay here, it is only a matter of time until more are killed, and then you will be locked in a blood-feud which may take still more lives."

That evening a delegation of leading men from each of the villages came to the Richardson's home. "Don't leave us," one of them pleaded solemnly. "But I don't want you to kill each other," he replied. "We are not going to kill each other." The speaker steeled himself as he said, "Tomorrow we are going to make peace."
 

The Peace Child
On the following day the Richardsons watched as all the people of the two villages gathered. Emotions were at a high pitch and women were crying as two men from different villages approached each other, each with a tiny baby in his arms. Kaiyo (Ky´) and Mahor (Mächr´) stood face to face. "Mahor," Kaiyo challenged, "will you plead the words of the village of Kamur among your people?"  "Yes," Mahor responded, "I will plead the words of Kamur among my people." Kaiyo held forth his little son: "Then, I give you my son and with him my name." Mahor received him gently into his arms: "Eahaa! It is enough! I will surely plead for peace between us."  People of both villages thundered forth with shouts of triumph. People now began calling Mahor by Kaiyo's name. A man named Mahaen (Mähn´), from Mahor's village, appeared at the front of the crowd. He presented his baby son to Kaiyo. Again the exchange of a child and names took place. The shouts of triumph from the two villages were mixed with anguished cries from the mothers and close relatives of the children exchanged.

The ceremony continued. Mahor shouted an invitation to people of both villages: "Those who accept this child as a basis of peace, come and lay hands on him." Men and women, young and old, filed past the two newly exchanged babies and laid their hands on them.  The children were next carried to the manhouses of their respective villages and adorned for a peace celebration. A leading woman of each village then held each child, while rows of former enemies passed by the children to confront each other. They moved to the throb of drums, meeting each other and exchanging names and gifts. After the trade, a wild dance ensued, symbolizing that the people of the two villages had now embraced each other. As long as the peace children lived, no one who had laid his hand on one could work violence against those of the village who gave him.

Richardson was moved and puzzled at first by this sudden reversal of warlike patterns. All his efforts to urge peace in the name of his God had failed. Yet this tribal ceremony had apparently succeeded, and held great power. Should he now go or stay? Was there a way of sharing the gospel he believed with people whose traditions were so alien to his own, without comprising what he believed or destroying them and their culture?
 

The Christian Message in West Irian
After two months of reflection and questioning to learn more of the peace-child custom, Richardson returned to talk with the elders of the Sawi villages. "When I saw you exchanging children, at first I was horrified," he began. " I kept saying to myself, 'Couldn't they make peace without this painful giving of a son?' But you kept telling me, 'There is no other way.' " He leaned forward and, in accordance with Sawi custom, placed his right hand palm down on the floor. "You were right," he said.

Every eye in the manhouse was fixed on him as he continued. "When I stopped to think about it, I realized you and your ancestors are not the only ones who found that peace required a peace child. Myao Kodon (Mou´ Kodon´), the Spirit whose message I bear, has declared the same thing--true peace can never come without a peace child." There was silence. "Because Myao Kodon wants men to find peace with him and each other, he decided to choose a once-for-all peace child to establish peace forever."

"Whom did he choose?" asked Mahaen. Richardson answered with another question, "Did Kaiyo give another man's son or his own? "His own," they replied. "And, Mahaen, did you give another man's son or your own?" "I gave my own," he replied, remembering the pain.  "So did God," Richardson replied, looking sideways at the wall with a Sawi gesture meaning 'think about that.' He opened an English Bible and read a part of Isaiah's prophecy in Sawi: "Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end."

Mahaen looked at Richardson. "Is He the one you've been telling us about?" "He is," Richardson replied softly. "But you said a friend betrayed Him. If Jesus was a peace child, it was the worst thing anyone could do to betray Him," Mahaen continued. The room was quiet.

As he walked away, Richardson wondered about the future. He wanted to believe the Sawi could incorporate his message about Jesus Christ into their own traditions. Would the message of a once-for-all peace child be effective in changing the Sawi bent toward violence? And if it was, would the message be distorted beyond recognition?


D. THEOLOGICAL REFLECTION

...small group
...large group

Theological understandings (adapted from Kenneth Kantzer)

Questions raised by the story:

1) Should not Richardson have quietly withdrawn from the scene since humankind's healing from alienation would already have been satisfactorily achieved within the framework tribe's own religious culture?
2) Should R, at most, have supplemented the role of the peace child by encouraging the villagers to extend its benefits to other villages and ultimately to the total global village?
3) Could he have exhorted the tribesmen to faithful and vigorous application of the peaceful relationship and, even beyond a negative absence of hostility, to draw upon the peace child ritual/reality as a basis for positive good to those of alien tribes (e.g., "Love your (former) enemies!")
4) Was R's intervention an imperialistic imposition? Or is it a shift toward a universal Christian message (i.e., the Christ revelation is for all, is at the root of human fulfillment, has all that is essential to human existence...the conversion journey)?
5) Christian imperative stems from the living reality of the gracious God who meets us and redeems us in JC.
6) Christ brings true human life and ultimate meaning to each person who finds God in Christ.
7) The reconciling God who, here and now, meets us in the proclamation of the Holy Scriptures is not just the spirit of the Christlike God. The Christian Gospel is the good news of what God, in Christ, has done and will do for all persons everywhere who repent of their sin and commit themselves in faith to God, and to God's love and grace.
 

Movements in Sawi story, according to Gordon D. Kaufman

  1. teach Sawi basic Christian ideas
  2. faith, a matter of assenting to or "believing" certain verbal formulations or ideas about God, Christ, sin and redemption
  3. shift: to live in peace without the benefit of the Christian message (meaning of Christ related more with the quality of human life)
  4. traditional practices lead to a new understanding (myth & mystery)

  5.  
Dorothee Soelle
1. Sociological worlds: First and Third
2. White Christian world/naive cultural imperialism
3. Where is Christ in this story?
4. To which world does Christ belong?
5. Missionary has the truth (which is revealed in the biblical story); this can only be communicated after a point of entry is found.
6. Do I find Christ in the ritual of the heathen or in our own (possibly corrupted) tradition?
7. What does the story of the peace child of the Sawi teach us about Jesus Christ?
8. Do we bring Christ to the poor, or do we see Christ already there?
9. Christology will be inclusive, familial, historical, and social.
 

David Tracy: The New Testament conveys a plurality of Christologies--a plurality that continues to be enriched by history.

1. This story is taken from Christian Theology: A Case Study Approach, edited by Robert A. Evans and Thomas D. Parker (Harper Forum Books, 1976).