On this day, 110 years ago – April 8th, 1901, one of the greatest missionaries to minister in the South Pacific was tragically murdered, beheaded, and eaten by cannibals. You may have never heard of James Chalmers, but he was directly responsible for the gospel going forth for the first time ever to the people that lived in Papua New Guinea, the largest island in the world. Chalmer’s himself stated, “We have come here to preach the gospel. We will stay, whether we live or die.” After serving there for over 30 years, Chalmers in fact did die for the cause of Christ. The following is a short story of what characterized Chalmer’s daily activities while preaching the gospel to those who had never heard in New Guinea.
The newly arrived missionary was quickly initiated into the Society of the Heroes of Faith, whose heritage is thus described by its founder: “In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, … in perils by the heathen, … in perils in the wilderness, in perils of the sea, … in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.” Such was, for twenty-five years, the constant experience of the ambassador of Christ who had so recently landed on the shores of New Guinea. While standing on the beach close to the water’s edge, he heard a frightful noise. Turning round, he saw his house surrounded by a mob of painted, fierce-looking savages, armed with spears, clubs, and bows and arrows. The leader of the group, with a human jawbone as an armlet and carrying a heavy stone club, rushed at the white man as if to strike him. “What do you want?” asked the missionary as he looked the man in the eye. “We want tomahawks, knives, hoop-iron and beads; and if we don’t get them, we will kill you, your wife, the teachers and their wives,” was the reply. “You may kill us,” said the white man, “for we never carry arms. But we never give presents to persons who are threatening us. Remember that we are living among you as friends and have come only to do you good.” After making many dire threats, the savages retired to the bush in a surly mood.
At dusk a friendly native crept through the bush to the house and said, “White man, you must get away tonight if you can. You have a chance to escape at midnight. Tomorrow morning, when the big star rises, they will murder all of you.” “Are you sure?” he was asked. “Yes,” he replied. “I have just come from their meeting at the chief’s house and that is their decision.” A serious conference ensued. “What shall we do?” said the missionary. Shall we men stay and you women escape, as there is not enough room in the boat for us all?” His brave wife calmly replied, “We have come here to preach the gospel. We will stay, whether we live or die.” And the wives of the teachers said, “Let us live together or die together.” It was agreed that all would stay. They read the forty-sixth Psalm and knelt in prayer. As the missionary wrote later, “We resolved simply to trust Him who alone could care for us.” Looking to the One under whose command he served, the missionary prayed: “Lord, when we were thirsty nigh unto death, we heard Thy sweet invitation, ‘Come!’ Having quenched our thirst upon ‘the Water of Life,’ we came at Thy bidding to this land to point these wretched people to the same cleansing, refreshing, healing Fountain. Protect us, that we may fulfill the mission on which Thou didst send us.”
It’s truly humbling to read missionary biographies, especially to read of some of these saints who were proclaiming the gospel for the first time to savage cannibals with no fear concerning the safety of their own lives. I often think how great was their desire, and how bright did their hearts burn for the glory of Christ to be known by those who were in such darkness. Nothing else mattered to them, and no cost was to much for them to stop what they felt the Lord had called them to do. Sadly, I think as a whole in our country today, the zeal for the Lord has been lacking, and I pray that first in my own life, and secondly, in the life of the church, we would seek to have the Lord’s heart concerning the lost, and that we would treasure Christ as our all sufficient Savior, seeking any, and every opportunity to make Him known.
If you would like to read more about James Chalmers (and I highly recommend it), go to this LINK, take an hour or two and read about an incredible man, who was used in extraordinary ways by the Lord.