When I was a boy, my heroes were Christian missionaries who journeyed to primitive tribes in remote places on the globe, learned the language and culture of the locals, created an alphabet for that tribe, then translated the Scriptures into that newly discovered language. I thought perhaps someday God might call me to such a work, so I studied classical languages as a basis for all untranslated tongues. Though I never became a missionary of this type, the work of translating and communicating the Gospel to an unreached people continues to interest me.
I was reminded recently of one such missionary during the service of Royal Hours, served at the foot of the cross on Great and Holy Friday. The epistle of St. Paul to the Romans testifies of God’s extravagant love for us sinners, “But God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Neil Anderson is the missionary this verse called to mind. He chose to dwell in the jungles of Papua New Guinea among the Folopa tribe, an unreached group of cannibals in the latter half of the 20th century. As he lived among these people, he tried to learn their words for key evangelical ideas.
He struggled when he came to translate “ransom” or “redemption” until he witnessed how the tribe worked out justice in the case of a woman’s accidental death. The tribesman that had killed her offered as many valuables as he could in exchange for her life including prize pigs. When he and his family arrived at the right price, the offended clan yelled “supo!” and a leader of the accused responded “duputapo!” Anderson relates how he found in this exchange, his word for ransom:
“How would it be if we used that word in this verse?” I said. I wrote out something rough; “We were in jeopardy of being killed, but Jesus came to make a trade. He gave his life up instead, and we got to go free. ‘Duputapo’,” Haeple nodded. “And God said ‘Supo’.”
One of the old men had been listening intently. He leaned forward, a big kena shell swinging on his bare chest.
“That’s hard to believe,” he said.
“What is?” I said.
“That ‘Duputapo’ was a person. In the past we’ve given a great deal to trade for a clan brother. A great deal. But we’ve never given a person. And a person would never give himself.”
He looked around at the others, the whites of his eyes flaring in deep-set sockets. He leaned back with a sigh, like it was beyond his grasp. Then he said what they always say when things hit them at the deepest level. “We are dying of the deliciousness of this talk.”In Search of the Source by Neil Anderson, 1992
And now that we celebrate the season of the resurrection, this delicious idea of personal redemption rings even louder in the heart and mind. May He who rose from the dead and gave himself up for all of humankind enable us to glorify Him in purity of heart. Christ is risen!