“From the very first, I wanted to go to the most primitive people in the world and so was thrilled when God gave me the privilege of going to West Papua.”* So writes Margaret Stringer, who served for thirty years among people who never heard the name of Jesus before 1980. After ten years on the southern coast of West Papua (1964-74), Margaret went to Senggo, an island village where mission work had just begun. As a linguist, she was there to help translate the Bible into the Citak language, but the team at Senggo had another assignment for her. Several villages had just been discovered further upriver—practicing cannibals who had recently killed four men from an oil company. The team sent Margaret with two Christian Senggo men to learn whether these villages spoke Citak, or some other language.
There was no place for the helicopter to land, so the pilot hovered above the ground while they jumped out. Until his return they were surrounded by cannibals who might, or might not, speak a language they knew! They were pulled into the longhouse by enthusiastically shouting men, but it was several minutes before Margaret could identify their speech as a dialect of Citak.
Margaret recalls, “I had never before eaten rat, but when a crowd of affectionate headhunters said, ‘Eat it, eat it,’ I didn’t feel like arguing.” This was the beginning of a long and interesting friendship with the Vakabuis people. From 1980-85 several long visits were made to the Vakabuis, with Senggo Christians preaching to the people in their own language. Floods, tribal wars, and the short tempers of the Vakabuis made the work slow and difficult. Within a year the people would ask, “What was the name of the Man who healed the blind man?” but it was four more years before the first Vakabuis were saved. Finally, a Senggo pastor was able to live among the Vakabuis people, and the church began to grow. Ten years later, the New Testament translation was complete. Margaret writes, “The most rewarding experience was the joy and privilege of translating the New Testament into the Citak language.” Margaret Stringer remained on the field until 2004 when she returned to the United States. But there are still tribes in the heart of West Papua that have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are waiting for the missionaries of this generation to go!
*From Cannibalism to Christianity by Margaret Stringer