Several weeks ago at our ladies’ meeting one of my favorite people in all the world spoke to us. Margaret Stringer was a missionary to Indonesia (then known as Irian Jaya, now West Papua) for over 40 years. She’s been “retired” from the field for the last 2-3 years, but she stays more active than a lot of people half her age. When she retired she thought she would never have an opportunity to go back, but she was able to go for several weeks last November and December. She showed some video footage (24 minutes condensed from 5 hours) while she told us what was going on, interspersed with some history here and there of the people.I tell you — seeing footage of former cannibals and headhunters now singing hymns, hearing about the most powerful and feared witch doctor in the area who became a believer and whose son is now the head of the church — that just does something to your heart. The same God who performed miracles in lives in Bible times, who worked through Hudson Taylor and Amy Carmichael and other well-known missionaries in centuries past, is still the same God today and still has the same power to change lives.
Margaret and her co-worker were the last of what was a pretty good-sized mission station, with a doctor and his wife, and I think other missionary couples and three single ladies, if I remember correctly. There are some missionaries who go to work in one church in another country for life, and there are others who go to various places and start works, then “work themselves out of a job” by training the new believers to take over their own church — there’s a place for both types. But Margaret’s village was the latter type. I appreciated the way she endeavored to help them not to be too dependent on her. When they asked her to name the church, for instance, she told them they should name it.
She told us about one man who, during this visit, said something like, “When you left us, I was very sad for a long time. But you told us you were leaving God here, and He helped me. So when you leave this time, I will be sad, but not for as long a time, because God is here with me.” She said that’s not exactly how she put it to him, it it was so neat he got the concept that God was still there and didn’t leave when she did, and he could depend on Him.
I was amazed at her fearlessness. In one piece of footage, she was getting out of a boat to see one of the villages she used to work in, and one man took her hand and began leading her away. Her friend said, “Where are you going?” She said, “I don’t know!” As people came to greet her and hug her, the man would stop for a few minutes, and then take her hand and lead her away again. Finally he led her to his house, where he had prepared lunch for them.
Margaret can tell tales about harrowing, scary experiences that have us all in stitches laughing.
Some years ago before she retired, I asked her if she had ever considered writing a book, and she said yes, she was thinking about it. She’s had such interesting life experiences that she tells in such an engaging way, and the Lord’s hand has been so obviously in her life, I really feel these stories need to be shared.
Her first book is out now, titled From Cannibalism to Christianity. She had several copies with her that night, so I got one for myself plus two to give away to my mother-in-law and one friend who couldn’t come.
This book tells the story of one particular village, from first contact to the establishment of a full-fledged church. There are hilarious moments as well as frightening ones. But what joy there is in seeing the light of understanding dawn after repeated sharing of the gospel. I don’t remember if Margaret said this in the book, but I know I heard her say while speaking to us that there were moments when she thought, “This isn’t going to make sense to them.” Imagine sharing the Word of God with someone who doesn’t know anything about it and doesn’t know who God is. Yet they did share God’s Word by faith, and the Holy Spirit gave understanding and conviction.
Secularists don’t have to worry about the people’s culture being infringed on. The people still have their own traditions and culture. But they also have hope and life. As I said in an earlier post, I don’t know why anyone, even the most unchristian person on the planet, would have any objection to helping people get rid of traditions like cannibalism and killing a twin baby.
Margaret has also written several articles about becoming and working as a missionary here.
I asked Margaret’s cousin (I believe that’s who it was — either a cousin or a sister-in-law) who came with her if Margaret was writing any more books. She said Margaret had some in mind but had a hard time getting still enough to write with all the invitations to speak. I hope she keeps having opportunities to speak, but I hope some time she can find a way to keep writing, too. I would love to read her life story some time.