The professor of World Missions in the university gave us an end-of-semester assignment. “Write a long essay,” he said, “on examples of redemptive analogy from your cultural background and experience.”
That semester, we studied redemptive analogy and its implications for worldwide missions.
Ghanaians in the university were encountering redemptive analogy for the first time, and our excitement soared when we understood what that concept meant.
The concept meant that in every tribal community worldwide, there are cultural practices that illustrate the way God reached out to humanity to bring salvation to mankind.
The analogy may be contained in songs, festivals, proverbs, legends or folklore, dispute resolution, symbols and even dance—such as the adungu dance of Uganda that promotes unity.
Coming from northern Ghana, I raked my background for a cultural experience and found one in a song developed by our people about winnowing millet.
Winnowing millet, the song went, was like following Jesus. If you don’t winnow well and grains fall on the ground, the fowls standing by will swallow your hard-earned cereals.
Another Ghanaian from Ashanti came up with some key adinkra symbols—such as “Gye Nyame” (except God!) that pointed people to the Almighty.
He also wrote on the symbol “Adwo” (peace), which called for the need to establish peace with God and with fellow human beings.
A lady from Akwapim argued in her long essay that the Odwira festival had resemblance with the Christian baptism and purification by the blood of Jesus!
Colleague students from other African countries brought up redemptive analogies from their tribal communities to confirm that indeed in every culture there are practices that illustrate how God reached out to humanity with salvation.
When we resumed lectures after the semester break, we met to discuss our long essays. What an eye-opener this redemptive analogy concept was to us students who needed to apply mission studies to our experiences.
But the most enduring example of redemptive analogy came from our study of the Sawi people.
The Sawi people of Papua New Guinea in Indonesia had a value system that highly treasured disloyalty and betrayal. To them, the highest virtue and heroism was treachery.
To be a hero, a Sawi would nurture the friendship of a neighbour till trust was built up, and then have the friend killed for a feast—for the Sawi people were cannibals.
There was, therefore, never-ending tribal wars among the Sawi people. Up to the mid-1950s, this ethnic degeneration persisted.
Like many such peoples groups of the world in that condition, darkness enveloped not only the horizon but the dark recesses of human heart and society.
It was to these people “who walked and lived in darkness” (Isaiah 9:2) that missionary Don Richardson took his wife Carol and their six-month old son in 1962 bearing the light of the gospel.
Who would have thought that the risk of sending a boy-child into that hostile tribal community was a symbolically significant gesture?
The Richardsons encountered countless challenges, including mistrust and fierce tribal wars.
How could they penetrate the dark world of treachery, cannibalism, and wars with the gospel light? At a time when other missionaries were being killed in similar communities, the Richardsons were in danger each day.
A crisis erupted when the missionaries told the story of Jesus which, of course, included the fact that his trusted friend Judas Iscariot betrayed him with a kiss!
In keeping with the Sawi tradition, Judas became the hero of the gospel story that Don Richardson told them. For being able to betray his master Jesus and have him killed by crucifixion, Judas was the super star!
This disturbing situation troubled the missionaries a great deal. How could they divert the people’s attention from Judas the villain to Christ the victor?
Surprisingly, the Sawi people had another cultural practice that was directly opposed to their tradition of treachery. Whenever war broke out between two tribes, it took the giving of a child to foster peace.
The child, given by one warring tribe and received by the other faction, brought about reconciliation. This illustration to God’s peace-making mission to mankind through the giving of his Son was stunning.
Don and Carol Richardson capitalised on this eye-opener tradition to reach the hearts of the Sawi people with the gospel. To establish peace with humanity, God gave his Son.
They then discovered “redemptive analogy”, which they popularised through their best-selling book, Peace Child, published in 1974.
For many years, the Richardsons lived and worked among the Sawi people. Lives were transformed, churches were planted, educational institutions were established, and practical social interventions brought enlightenment to the people.
Can you find a redemptive analogy in your own cultural background and tradition—maybe a song, festival, proverb, folklore, dispute resolution, symbol, or even a dance? I would be most grateful if you could send me what you find.