Happenings, News

A jungle tribesman’s simple faith

In this little tale written 57 years ago, missionary Burr Baughman challenges us to share the Gospel with those who have not heard it. It is a challenge that stays relevant for all Christians today.

‘The night came pressing in, dark and stormy. Occasional spatters of rain blew over the hill crest. In the valley, hundreds of feet below, darkness already ruled the jungle … the day’s work was finished; but night brought its further duty. Illness had entered the little jungle household. Now they must exorcise this evil, and invoke the help of any good spirits who might be willing to listen to their pleas. So while the little girl, feverish with malaria, lay…in a corner of the hut, the men and women went about their tasks.

The drum was brought out and its skin face tautened. Four short lengths of bamboo were laid by, ready to be used  as additional drums. Dishes of banana leaf and a mass of chopped leaves (imitation food) were placed before the master of ceremonies. A thick bunch of shredded green leaves was hung overhead. Then, the doors of the hut were closed; the fire was put out; and only the dim flicker of a small oil light illuminated the little group of men and women.

One man began to tap the drum. Two women took up the bamboos and, beating time on a log, caught the rhythm of the drum, amplified it and carried it on. Gradually the others began to sing – at first carelessly, then with gathering intensity. A young man rose, and later the headman himself. Each recited a long incantation: calling upon the good spirits of earth and sky to come to the little hut, to alight upon the resting place of shredded leaf, to partake of its human hospitality, and to give in return their blessing and help …

Hour after hour they carried on … but gradually the feeling in the group grew less intense. Singing and drumming became desultory, then ceased.

Cigarettes were lit, and folks began to laugh and talk. The fire was re-lit. Life was back to normal … The next day the headman and I sat on a log, discussing various matters. He told of the difficulties of life in previous years. He had been thrown in gaol once during the war period. The gaolers had beaten and kicked him; and he had been terrified for his life. A poor man, he had no friends or influence in town. He had nowhere to turn to for help in trouble, save to God: there was only one thing he could do – trust himself to God’s mercy. So he prayed to the Lord, asking for help and deliverance. And the Lord heard his prayer; for next day he was released and allowed to return to his home. So, said the old man, he has learned to call upon God whenever he is in need.

When men can do nothing for him, he must depend upon the Lord. That was why they had had the singing the night before; the little girl had been made sick by evil spirits; her parents could do nothing to cure her, so they prayed to God for help.

He was most impressive in his simple belief, and in his faith in God. His thinking was not clear or straight as he
could not quite distinguish between spirits and God. His methods of calling upon God were usually crude. But underneath all these imperfections by the dogged faith of a man who had had some vision of the Lord, and who earnestly sought after Him.

That faith and that search brought vividly to mind the assurance of Jesus, “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”

The crudities and imperfection are a challenge to Christian people everywhere. As Paul said, “How are they to hear without a preacher? And how can men preach unless they are sent?” — MM, Jan-Feb 1948, page 19, slightly edited.

Earnest Lau, the Associate Editor of Methodist Message, is also the Archivist of The Methodist Church in Singapore.


‘So he has learned to call upon God whenever he is in need. When men can do nothing for him, he must depend upon the Lord … He was most impressive in his simple belief, and in his faith in God.’