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Saturday, 8 August 2015

A Lesson from a Tribal Boy...

The scene was set at Telur Cenderawasih, a comparatively small area of the Indian Ocean. This area is just off the northern coast of the Indonesian island of Papua, on the western half of the large mass of land north of Australia (the other half being Papua New Guinea.) The huge bay embracing this stretch of ocean is over 250 miles wide at the mouth. Also across the mouth, there is an elongated strip of land forming the island of Selat Yapen, together with some smaller islands making up an archipelago which stretches a good way across, giving this area of sea quite a resemblance of a near-enclosed lagoon.

It is here, where the water is remarkably deep, a rickety wooden raft floats on the calm ocean. Known locally as a Bagat, it was captained by a young man, who looks to be still in his teens. Six other lads, all younger, were with him, the youngest being only nine years old. The captain, dressed in just vest for a top, and shorts, was out on a mission. He had to present an elaborate gift to the parents of his girlfriend, as part of his tribal tradition, as proof of his ability to support his future wife and family adequately.

They spend months on the raft, catching very little amounts of fish per day. There were times when everything looked hopeless, and the captain believed that he would remain single for life. Yet they kept going, lowering their nets into the sea, and bringing up a paltry catch. In addition, just by living on the raft acquires a good level of skill in balancing while walking along a floating grid of narrow planking, or else fall into the sea. Not if that mattered too much, as they were excellent swimmers. There seems to be good relations between all the boys, as they remain committed to fill their large caskets with fish they then can sell back on land.

Then one night, a miracle occurs. From the depths below, a huge whale shark swims to the surface, the world's largest known fish. With it comes massive schools of smaller fish, and the boys don't hesitate in letting down their nets. In the matter of days, their caskets were full, they return to land, sell the fish at a local market, and with the money raised, the young suitor can buy a gift to present to his girlfriend's parents.

I was intrigued by the maturity this teenager had demonstrated. With no adult supervision, this fellow was in full charge of a crew of seven. Whether he had any schooling or not, we were not told, but the presence of children, all boys within school age, spending their time on the Bagat instead of in the classroom, seems to indicate that it was experience in practical skills, such as fishing, being far more important to their survival than acquiring a stack of academic certificates. And this applied in particular to marrying and raising a family. Then again, if I had been in his presence, I would not have felt threatened, not even a feeling of alarm or discomfort. Probably the opposite. If I was in any distress, this young teenager looked to be the type who would come and help bring me through. Walking on the raft would have been a good example. I lose my balance and fall into the sea. In normal circumstances I would swim to the nearest point of the frame and hoist myself up. But supposing leg cramp tightens the muscles in severe pain, and I was clearly in trouble. Any one of the crew would have dived in and towed me to safety. And I wouldn't mind betting my bottom dollar that not a single teasing remark would be heard anywhere on the raft.

Yet, during an interview with a member of the BBC filming crew, the youngster admitted with an element of pride that the whale shark was his distant ancestor, therefore the marine giant honoured by him, if not worshiped, as part of his tribal religious upbringing. Maybe this chap had never heard of Charles Darwin, and religion and science can be poles apart. After all, here in the UK, as well as in the USA, many people with academic qualifications, together with many more commoners, would laugh down at the idea of Divine Creation in favour of Darwinism. And so we see ourselves as the Master Race, advanced in academia and therefore creating a scientifically-based civilization. And yet there is a strong correlation between us and the tribal teenager on the question of our origins.

Without a doubt, it was no coincidence that the whale shark swam to the surface. Normally hovering near the seabed, I truly believe that it was God himself who directed this huge marine beast to the raft, itself a tiny speck on a vast area of ocean. God knew the lad's desire, the honour of marriage, and his immediate need, so out of grace and mercy, he directed the whale shark to the raft floating above. We as Christian believers, however, can argue that none of those boys knew God. But more likely than not, there animistic religion was something handed down by their parents, generation to generation, over thousands of years. Yet God was still good to them.

All it takes is for them to hear the gospel of the Lord Jesus, his death by crucifixion, his burial, and his resurrection, and to believe with their hearts, and they would be born of God, inherit eternal life, and be part of God's family, sealed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who himself acts as a guarantee of their salvation. That's all it takes. A change of heart over a revelation, and their eternal destinies changed for ever. But afterwards, would they need to give up their lifestyles as fishermen, to attend school or college, then find a job in an office? (Dressed in a suit and tie, of course!)

As my experience of the Christian faith over forty years can testify, that's the way it looks. Here in the UK, the vast majority of believers spend their lives holding down an office job, a result of excellent schooling which opened up a chance to attend University. I can't help feeling that, after conversion, these boys will seek out a school "to better themselves."

Because woe to the ones who fail at school! Like a News bulletin item broadcast just a few days ago. In it, a fit young man was walking to a superstore at an English holiday resort of Bournemouth. In front of the store doors, a group of teenagers were lingering around. Totally unlike the boys in Papua, these youths looked menacing. The young man had good reasons to feel apprehensive. The youths blocked the chap's path and asked if he would buy them come cigarettes, as they were under age. The man refused, and quite right too, as this form of purchase was illegal. Then one of the youths pulled out a screwdriver, and with it, pierced the victim's skull. He spent months in hospital, and remained in a coma for over four weeks. Doctors believed that if he wakes out of his coma, he would be left with a mind of a two year old. He was very fortunate to miss death so narrowly. But he managed to pull through over the months, with his mind fully intact. Later, he began to train as a para-triathlete, and he is now competing alongside able-bodied athletes.

But as for the youth who carried a screwdriver, it would have been very unlikely that he ever saw the inside of a university. More than not, he most likely left school early, with no qualifications. The memory of defeating another person, even in the most cowardly manner, is enough to give himself a sense of power. And that little story is a copy of a more famous incident which took place in South London, April 1993. Then a well educated black teenager, Stephen Lawrence, was murdered by white supremacist Gary Dobson and his mates. Being less educated than his victim, racism gave him that extra sense of power. Yet I wasn't surprised that Dobson appeared in Court dressed immaculately in a suit, shirt and tie. As so he appeared in all the newspapers and TV bulletins.

The model Englishman, white, dressed in formal clothes, and gloating over his power he had over the black teenager. With a sense of patriotism, would he had been happy to sing such songs as Rule Britannia, Britannia Rules the Waves... or even, And did those feet of ancient time walk upon England's mountain green? Probably not, for to sing such lyrics would call for some intelligence and culture alike, neither which such a thug as Dobson could be imagined as ever having possessed. At least at present, this white-skinned patriot is serving life behind bars.

Which comes to another observation I have made over the years. It looks to me that the vast majority of prison inmates were failures at school, for I can't imagine a fair size number of graduates behind bars. In fact, I can't imagine any of the well educated serving in prison. But I do see them fulfilling their professional careers in taking home a respectable income. So the majority of church-goers also attended university, and fits in well with such cliche. Perhaps there is an element of truth to the old adage, that Britain is a Christian country, and as such, received the God-ordained commission to conquer the world and establish an Empire, setting up colonies and ruling over the indigenous within their own borders. After all, any race or nationality which holds to the delusion that they are advanced in evolution, education, and culture would feel the right to conquer other lands. But for any of the conquered indigenous to come over here - well that's different altogether. How dare they infiltrate our land with such diverse races and cultures!

As for the lads fishing in the waters of  Telur Cenderawasih, yes, my heart would be delighted if they became children of God through faith in Jesus Christ crucified. But I would also plead with them,
Please, please, remain as fishermen and carry on demonstrating the virtues which comes with the job. Reward yourselves by diving into the pristine ocean and experience the love and respect you have for such giant fishes as you swim among them. Yes, I envy you, but also admire you at the same time. But stay away from education and office professions. They are not so paved with gold as they first appear. Working in an office does not prove your faith in Jesus!


  1. Dear Frank,
    Praise God that He has placed each of His children in a unique sphere of influence, whether it be on Oxford Street in a coat and tie, or in a tribal village living off the sea. Praise God that He made each of us unique, to honor and serve Him with the special gifts and talents He has given each of us.
    Thanks for the well-written post and God bless,

  2. Hi Frank,
    I love the way that lack of 'man's knowledge and credentials' causes many people to trust in the Creator.
    When we lived in Australia the Aborigines used to eat a specific grass to cure almost instantly what the west calls 'gastro enteritis'. Not coincidence that the Bible tells us 'the leaves are for the healing' (to be seen in both the physical and the spiritual ).
    Once, when we lived in Adelaide, a prisoner escaped from a prison nearby. The police called in 'the feather foot ', an aborigine man who would be used within his tribe to track an aboriginal offender down. They never failed, they are even able to track over rock, and this man found the escapee. All they paid him was a few dollars.
    We loved the aborigine people.
    God bless

  3. while I believe an education can be invaluable, like you, I don't believe it is the the solution to the world's problems. Far to often education becomes an excuse for not doing the things that are right.

    Great post..