Margaret Stringer has been one of my favorite people for years. The church we attended in SC supported her in Indonesia (formerly known as Irian Jaya, now West Papua). She was there for a little over 40 years, and she “retired” (I always put that in quotation marks, because she is one of the most active retirees I know, traveling often to churches and missions conferences) not too far from our church, so we invited her to speak at least once a year to our ladies’ group. She would have us just rolling in the floor telling about situations which I’m sure weren’t funny when they first happened.
I’ve appreciated not only her merry heart, but also her faith and obedience. Many of us can’t imagine being the lone woman to go to visit a village of cannibals at the possible risk of our own lives. That sounds like something missionaries did way back, like Mary Slessor. But there are still people who haven’t heard of the Savior, and God’s ability to meet their needs as well as the needs of His messengers are still the same.
A few years ago she wrote a book titled From Cannibalism to Christianity: The Vakabuis Story, which tells mainly how the Lord opened one particular group of villages, 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. I appreciated the way Margaret 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.
One of her major accomplishments while there was reducing two languages to writing and translating the Bible into them.
When she retired she thought she would never have an opportunity to go back, but she was able take a few trips back. One night at our ladies’ group 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.
She told us about one man during a visit who 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, but 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.
One of my favorite stories she tells is not in the book but is so characteristic of her. She was new to the field, which of course was an adjustment, and she was pretty low. A number of trying things had happened, one of them a big storm that had blown through the glassless windows and ruined about 95 % of her work of language analysis. After she went to bed, something fell off the wall and hit her on the head. That was the last straw: if I remember correctly, she “fussed” in her spirit at God, saying things like, “I thought you loved me! I thought you promised to take care of me!” She got a light to see what had fallen, and it was a plaque that said…”He cares for you.” That’s one way to get the message!
Margaret has also written several articles about becoming and working as a missionary here. This video, narrated by Margaret, tells the Vakabuis story in condensed form, well worth the 30 minutes it takes to watch:
(You can see other posts in the 31 Days of Missionary Stories here.)
(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)