Friday, January 30, 2009

The Wild Man of Borneo

I was looking for a break from my "religious" books. So I found this war story called "The Airmen and the Headhunters." I anticipated a story about some airmen who crashed in the jungles of Borneo and had to switch from fighting the Japanese to headhunters. Boy was I wrong!

The "Airmen and the Headhunters" turned out to be a true story of the greatest of all stories - the Love and Grace of God in a wicked world. In November 1944 the crew of a B-24 Liberator took off for what should have been an easy mission off the coast of Borneo. Instead they encountered a Japanese fleet and were shot down. When they cut themselves loose from their parachutes, they were scattered across the brutal mountains of interior Borneo. The only image they had of Borneo was "The Wild Man of Borneo." They were scared to death.

They were quickly spotted by the Dayak tribesmen, and realizing they were outnumbered, they immediately surrendered their weapons and hoped for the best. Would they be turned over the Japanese, killed, tortured, or cannibalized? They had no idea.

Although it was awkward at first the tribesmen treated them kindly and seemed to be in awe of them. Only later would they understand why. Borneo had been taken over by the Dutch. Early in that process the Dutch officials brought missionaries in to teach the tribesmen the Christian faith. Their main concern was not salvation but the cessation of head-hunting. The tribesmen were very impressed by the love of the missionaries and the way they treated each person equally regardless of their skin color.

When the Japanese came, all the missionaries were killed or driven off. Yet the tribesmen held fast to their new faith. The missionaries came from two different denominations one of which was Lutheran (I'm not kidding!). These must have been some old time Lutherans...

In one of the most fascinating parts of the story, a young tribal girl is talked into taking off her clothes to lure Japanese soldiers out of their position so they could be killed. The girl did it because she remembered the apocryphal story of Judith. Judith is a part of those books in the Catholic Bible that Lutherans used to read. In that story the beautiful Judith goes to the tent of Holofernes, seduces him, and then whacks off his head with a sword. It worked for the tribal girl as well.

Throughout the book the airmen are impressed by the faith and morality of the tribesmen. At one point the tribesmen risk discovery by the Japanese because they insist that they must celebrate the birth of Christ on Christmas!

How refreshing it was to stumble onto this book! It shows me that the work of spreading the Gospel is often hard and unrewarding. You just don't see the result immediately. How discouraged those missionaries must have been when the Japanese came. But again "the gates of hell" did not prevail.

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