31 Days of Missionary Stories: Margaret Stringer: A Merry Heart and a Faithful Spirit

Margaret Stringer

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.

from_cannibalism_small.jpgA 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.)

13 thoughts on “31 Days of Missionary Stories: Margaret Stringer: A Merry Heart and a Faithful Spirit

  1. Pingback: 31 Days of Missionary Stories | Stray Thoughts

  2. I have never heard of this lady. I would love to meet her, hear her, and have a long visit! Thank you for sharing. I am going to share your series with my Facebook friends. I know they will be blessed.

  3. I’m so glad you wrote again about this misconception that unreached people live some kind of idyllic pristine life of innocence and bliss. And it’s good to know that an intrepid woman as Margaret had just as many moments of feeling overwhelmed. Loved your anecdote about the plaque!

  4. Pingback: 31 Days of Missionary Stories: Pedestals? | Stray Thoughts

  5. Thank you for highlighting Margaret in this series. She is a special lady for sure. I have the honor of being married to one of her many nephews so that makes her my Aunt ( in love). We named our youngest daughter after her because of her legacy and faithfulness to God. She was here a week ago visiting us and meeting 2 of our daughters she had yet to meet. What a privilege to enjoy coffee and listen to a few stories from the field. God has used her to touch people in a world away, and in a very special way in her own family as well. She is an AMAZING Lady and a true Lady of God.

  6. Hello, my name is Cassi Poindexter, I am the daughter of the the missionary who first brought the gospel to the people in sengo. My dad Dr.Jack Manly built the metal house that was mentioned and my mother made the red shorts. Many of the orginal slides the futher missionaries used along with Ms. Stringer belonged to my parents. I have often wondered why there was never a mention of three names?

    • I wasn’t sure if you were wondering why they weren’t mentioned in the book or in the video. They may have been in Margaret’s book – it has been a while since I’ve read it, but she does mention a number of people involved in the ministry there in it. As for the video, I don’t know – I’m not sure who put that together. I’m so glad your parents had a part in bringing the gospel to Sengo. One plants, another waters, but God gives the increase, and there are some dear believers there as a result of everyone’s effort, prayers, and faith.

      • Thank you so much for letting me share. God has indeed used them all for His glory. Eternity will be an exciting time to see all He has done.Cassi

  7. Hi, I just wanted to mention, we have the pictures of my dad, Dr. Jack Manly with the boys in red shorts and the picture of the house when it was originally built along with my mom’s clinic she ran. She was only a 23 year old missionary wife nurse. My sister and I were born there also. Dad was forced to leave because my mom got sick and could not stay in the jungles.Thank you for allowing me to share. CASSI

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