In a world totally removed from ours, the Saluan people live in the remote jungle mountains of Sulawesi, Indonesia. They have survived centuries of worldwide change without being changed themselves. They were there centuries ago when Islam was proclaimed from village to village and mosques appeared throughout the land. Then they witnessed the years of Dutch colonialism and saw church buildings spring up in many coastal towns. The Saluan people resisted these strange new teachings which excluded the worship of their ancestors. They retreated into the mountains determined never to let go of the ways of their parents and grandparents.
After a few years of Japanese occupation and the departure of the Dutch, the Indonesians formed their own government and self-rule began. One of the goals of that government has been to civilize the tribal groups that remain. Again, the Saluan people resisted all the programs the government initiated.
In 1980 we were asked to consider bringing the Bible message to the Saluan people. It was clear to us that God wanted these hidden people to hear His message and we moved near to the area in the hope that we would gain their trust and eventually live with them in one of their villages. But the Saluan people did not want us either. We visited their villages, tried to learn their language, had them in our home and helped them with medicine. After three years the people still resisted.
Finally, very reluctantly, we told the people that we were moving away. "We're going to another tribe where the people do want us." We told them: "If you don't want us to live with you in your village, we must go somewhere else where we can be of more help." It was then that the village of Simpang agreed to let us live with them. We moved into a little bamboo house and began to work toward our goal of teaching them about Jesus.
How could we teach these strong, independent, and wilful people? How could we teach these people whose social control was so effective that there had not been one theft, divorce, wife-beating or adultery episode in the village as long as we had known them? They were proud of their superiority over the corrupt and scandalous lives of the "civilized," religious, coastal people. And yet their lives were not as idyllic as they appeared. Feuding and fear permeated their lives — feuding among the clans and fear of unexpected repercussions for the slightest offense against the unpredictable spirits.
As we learned their language and studied their culture we often wondered, "What name should we use for God?" We prayed that God would show us. My husband, Bob, had recorded several legends on tape and after gaining fluency, began to write down the stories he had recorded. They were ancient stories, handed down from the obscure past from generation to generation. The story of "The Snake and the Man" yielded an astounding answer to our prayer.
"The One-Who-Formed-Our-Fingers had made a beautiful place. When he made the man and the woman he told them that they could live in that beautiful place. So, they lived there, and their fire never went out, and their water flasks never went dry. The One-Who-Formed-Our-Fingers said that he was going away and that they must not eat the fruit of one tree while he was gone. Then he left. While he was gone, the snake came. Now, the man and the snake were brothers. The snake told the man that the fruit was so good and that he should try some. The man did eat the fruit. Then he was afraid of The One-Who-Formed-Our-Fingers. When The One-Who-Formed-Our-Fingers returned, he knew right away what had happened. He chased the man away from the beautiful place and said, "From now on the water won't come by itself, and the firewood won't come by itself, and the food won't come by itself. The sweat will drip off your jaw and your fingernails won't get long because you will have to work to get food."
The people knew nothing else about The One-Who-Formed-Our-Fingers except that when he wanted somebody to die, there was no amount of ritual that could stop that death. He was above all and very far away. This story, along with another account telling of a flood that covered the mountains, provided a starting point for evangelism.
We told the people of Simpang that The One-Who-Formed-Our-Fingers did have a message for them and that was what we had come to bring them. Before saying anything about the Bible, however, we asked a lot of questions to get them thinking.
They assumed that God is unknowable — that He exists, is clearly seen, but who has ever seen God? Who has ever heard Him speak? Where can we find Him? Most importantly, What was His purpose? The people had no answers for this. We talked about God. Is He strong? Is He smart? Does He see us? We talked about life and death. Why is life so hard? How can anyone know what happens when we die? How do you know that your way is right? The people had never probed the depths of these questions before. But the desire to know was born in their hearts.
At this point we introduced the Bible. The Creator has made Himself known. He has spoken to a select few and those people wrote down the things that God the Creator had done in their lives and what He had said to them. It is a record of real people and true experiences. The Bible is a chronological, historical account, and to teach it we began at the beginning.
First we told them that in the beginning God made light. "What do you think?" we asked them, "Was God afraid of the dark? Why did He make the light?" We talked about all the things that God made and kept asking, "Why did God make that? Did God need water for Himself? Did He need the earth to stand upon? Was He hungry? Did He need food? Did He need animals?" No, it was obvious to the people of Simpang that God is not like people. We told them that all these things were made by God for people to use and enjoy. God is a God of great power, and He loves the people that He made. He wanted their lives to be very good. It was thrilling to see the people learn the truth about how the world came into being.
As we taught the story of the Garden of Eden, we emphasized that the garden was a place not only of physical bliss, it was a place of perfect relationships. There was no conflict, no competition, no deceit, no pride or unkindness. Adam and Eve lived in perfect harmony. They walked and talked with God. Their relationship with Him was one of total adoration and submission.
Before telling the story of the temptation and fall of Adam, we taught the people about the angels that God had made, and how Lucifer lifted himself up against God and was banished from God's dwelling place.
When the snake came to the garden, it was really Lucifer wanting to ruin what God had made. When Adam and Eve listened to him and ate the fruit, their relationship with God was severed. They were terrified and hid, but God searched them out and provided a way for their sins to be covered. He gave them hope by telling them that one of their children would destroy the snake who had tempted them. But they would have to live with the consequences of their sin. God did not walk and talk with them any more as He had in the garden. Life would now be filled with weeds, thorns, sweat, pain, and strife.
We showed how God is a God of love and truth together. God could not condone their sin. He could not say, "Oh forget it," or, "You couldn't help it. We'll pretend it never happened," or, "It was just ONE little sin." No, the damage was done. Adam and Eve were guilty. One sin brought judgment. One sin brought fear and shame. One sin brought more sin. We taught here that Adam and Eve's own covering of leaves was totally inadequate. It took God's provision and the shedding of blood before their guilt was covered.
It took several weeks to teach just the first three chapters of Genesis. These stories struck a chord in the people's hearts. It was all so true. They were separated from God. Their life was so hard and it was all Adam's fault! If only Adam hadn't done what he did. The people blamed Adam. They were confident that if they had been there, things would have turned out differently. They would not have done what Adam did!
We continued through the accounts of Cain and Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We stressed God's holiness and judgment of sin. We told about the increasing wickedness of the world and contrasted the few who believed God. The people of Simpang agreed. "Oh yes!" they said, "Those people [of Noah's day] were so wicked! They deserved what they got!" They claimed that they would not have done what Cain did. They would have been like Abel or Noah or Abraham. They did not recognize their own sinfulness before God.
After teaching Genesis we started on the book of Exodus. They loved the story of Moses and the deliverance out of Egypt and how God finally wiped out the Egyptian army. They scorned the Israelites when they complained for lack of water. Then we began to teach God's law.
This is where the ax fell. God's first law brought the realization of condemnation. God said, "You are not to be devoted to anything but me." One by one, and very quietly, the light began to dawn in the hearts of that first village of Saluan people. They had been devoted to their ancestor spirits, to be sure, but that was not all. They had been devoted entirely to themselves. They wanted wealth, good health, and ease. They often dared to deceive even the spirits to get what they wanted. We spent a lot of time on the law. We stressed how our heart attitude is just as important as the actions that we do. "For example," we asked, "What if I go through the village at night, thinking the village is empty, in order to steal one of Uncle's chickens. I am almost to Uncle's house and I hear someone cough. I do not get the chicken. But, according to God, I am still guilty." These things are equally true with murder and adultery. Have we not all committed these things in our hearts? We have all disobeyed our parents. We have all lied. We all covet the things that other people have. "The whole world stands hushed and guilty before Almighty God" (Romans 3:19).
From this point on we gave the people an overview of the history of the Jewish nation in the Old Testament. We explained God's provision of the sacrificial lamb. We showed them the places where God kept reminding the Jews that someone was coming who would deliver His people. We taught them some of the very specific prophecies that would be fulfilled by the Deliverer.
Finally, after months of teaching, we taught them about Jesus. We showed the ways in which the prophecies of the Old Testament were fulfilled in Him. The miracles that He performed revealed His power over nature, sickness, evil spirits, and even death. His tender compassion for humble people stood in sharp contrast to His anger toward the proud and self righteous. His execution was incomprehensible until He arose from the grave, having paid the price for all of our sin. He was God, come in the flesh, to reconcile the relationships that were severed in the Garden. He was the Lamb whose blood was shed in our place. Because He conquered death, He offers life to all who believe in Him.
The people of Simpang heard the message of the Bible in a comprehensive chronological way. It took months of teaching before they would even admit that they were far from God. Teaching the Bible from the beginning was the only way to build a sure foundation for their faith. They needed to know about God's love and power, shown in creation and His holy standards, shown in the law. Only then did they understand their need. They received God's gift of salvation with great joy. In the four years since then, their light has shone brightly and they are an example to the neighboring villages as well as the coastal peoples. What religions, armies, governments, and economics could not do, God's Word did. Hearing God's Word, from the beginning and in their own language, changed their lives. They will never be the same.
* Mr. & Mrs. Brown are missionaries in Indonesia with New Tribes Missions.