Heathen peoples everywhere have similar customs and superstitions handed down by their ancestory from generation to generation. Their depraved religion tends to make them contented in existing moral conditions; the grip of superstition makes change difficult. However, during twenty years of experience among the tribes of Borneo, some methods have developed, which, under the blessing of God, have proved successful. These could be adapted to meet similar needs in other heathen lands.
Entire consecration to this absorbing task is important for one who is called to work for heathen peoples. Irrespective of the worker's race or nationality, it should be an honor to be one among these people, even though living in such environments be entirely strange, and possibly distasteful, to him. In this he follows Paul's example: "I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews" (1 Cor. 9:20).
Of first importance upon entering a heathen village is a visit to the chief, showing respect for his position and gaining his friendship. This also makes more effective succeeding visits to the villagers themselves. Daily association is very helpful in that all-important task of acquiring the language. One must live with the people, work with them in the fields, sleep in their homes occasionally and take any good food they may prepare, learn their legends, and be well-versed in their customs and superstitions.
In all his association a worker should never once criticize or condemn the customs (no matter how evil they may seem), neither in the presence of the people nor in their absence, for somehow it will always get back to them.
Although preaching may at first have to be done through an interpreter, interest is usually greater when meetings are launched while the evangelist is still fresh and new in any area. The expense is often at a minimum, but brings maximum results. Often the meetings can be conducted in the longhouse without rent, and the chief, already a good friend, will feel it an honor to care for the advertising free. The best time for a village meeting is at night after supper, when everyone is free from housework. Equipment for this project is comparatively simple—a Sabbath school Picture Roll, if available, and one or two pressure lamps, depending on the size of the meeting place. The people love to sing; in fact, with many, the initial interest is in the singing. The message should be short and very simple, with continued repetition until the message is thoroughly understood by their primitive minds. The topics for the first meetings should be chosen with extreme care. At first it is best to present a few subjects that are almost in common with some of the legends. I have found the following series to be successful: "The Godhead," "Creation of the World," "Creation of Man," "Good and Evil Angels," "The Fall of Man," "Plans of Salvation," "Universal Flood," "Sabbath and Its Observance," "The Ten Commandments," "Jesus Our Saviour: His Birth, His Work, His Death," "Second Advent," "Signs of Christ's Coming," "Resurrection of the Just," "Millennium," "New Earth," "State of the Dead," "Everlasting Life."
The first seven subjects usually serve as an opening wedge. After presenting the wonderful love of God and His tender care for all, it is easy for the people to see that their legends are merely a counterfeit. Their interest in the first subject brings them to the second and third meetings, and the subject "Good and Evil Angels" is of particular interest to them. Then it is that the constant fear that has held them for many generations begins to partially melt away.
"Jesus Our Saviour" has been the easiest topic for some to understand. In this, Satan's perversion of the cross and Christ's sacrifice has served to prepare their minds to grasp it easily. When any communicable disease appears in the village, the evil spirit (supposed source of all sickness), through a medium, demands a chicken sacrifice. A little piece of round board is required from each house in the village. On this a cross sign must be marked with the blood of the chicken.
Despite this effort of Satan to confuse and obscure the meaning of the cross, this spirit-requirement has helped to illustrate to these people the meaning of the true sacrifice of Christ for the saving of mankind.
Usually before accepting the message, the native tribes love to sit and talk for hours, even to the neglect of their daily work. So after fully presenting the Sabbath, I organize a Sabbath school, so they are able to enjoy singing and studying the Sabbath school lessons instead of idling away their time.
After having presented the full seventeen subjects, a baptismal class is organized, and more thorough study of the message is given. After two years in the class, many are ready for baptism. In Borneo after the first baptism there seems to be no end to requests for baptism from other interested ones.
Once these heathen people do away with their old customs and take their stand for the truth, almost without exception they remain true to the end. A better and more loyal group of Adventists is hard to find.
It is seldom that all the people of a village accept our message at the same time, and for heathen and Christians to live together in the longhouse is impossible because of conflicting religious practices. So someone must leave, and it is usually the lot of the Christians to find a good location where they can build a new village free from pigs and filth. We have not less than a dozen such Seventh-day Adventist villages throughout all Borneo, and visiting government officials often comment favorably about the order and cleanliness of these Christian villages. For these living memorials to the power of the gospel, we give God the honor and glory.