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Relentless Pursuit

S3E14: Bonus Episode 2: Among Cannibals & Headhunters

43 minutes

What happens when the gospel first comes to an isolated tribe whose culture in which violence and treachery are considered virtues? In this bonus episode, produced by our friends at the Compelled Podcast, Pioneers president Steve Richardson tells the story of being raised by missionary parents in the jungles of Papua, Indonesia (formerly Irian Jaya) and seeing firsthand how the gospel transformed the Sawi culture. Be sure to check out other episodes of Compelled for more stories of transformation.

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Show Notes

What happens when the gospel first comes to an isolated tribe whose culture in which violence and treachery are considered virtues? In this bonus episode, produced by our friends at the Compelled Podcast, Pioneers president Steve Richardson tells the story of being raised by missionary parents in the jungles of Papua, Indonesia (formerly Irian Jaya) and seeing firsthand how the gospel transformed the Sawi culture. Be sure to check out other episodes of Compelled for more stories of transformation.

Fifty years after arriving in the jungle as a baby, Steve returns, with his father and two brothers. Never the Same is a short film Pioneers produced that documents their trip, including firsthand accounts from people who were alive when they arrived.

The missions classic Peace Child tells the story from the perspective of Don Richardson (Steve’s father). An edition for younger readers was recently released titled Treachery on the Twisted River.

Ready to take the next step, but not sure what it looks like? Schedule a call with our team at, or chat today.

Bonus Content


Episode Transcription

Jess (00:00):

If you've been listening to the Relentless Pursuit Podcast at all, then you've probably realized that missions can often look very different than what we expect, but sometimes it also looks exactly like that picture in our head of a missionary going out into the middle of the jungle and reaching out a tribe that has no contact with civilization at all. And so I think we always wonder what happens when civilization touches a completely isolated tribe in say, the jungles of Indonesia, much less when something as powerful as the gospel hits a place like that. And so that's the story we get to hear today, our friends at the compelled podcast, our interviewing, our Pioneers president Steve Richardson. And he's just going to tell his super fascinating story about what happened when a tribe of headhunters in Indonesia encountered the gospel for the first time.

Paul (00:54):

Hey there, I'm Paul Hastings and thanks to our friends at Pioneers, you are listening to a special episode of the compelled podcast where we use gripping, immersive storytelling to bring Christian testimonies to life. In each of our episodes, we highlight the power of Christ to transform any life like a girl who lived as a transgender man for over a decade before being confronted by the teachings of Jesus, or a pastor of a thriving church who secretly carried an addiction to pornography but was too ashamed to admit it, or a firefighter who fell through the roof of a burning building and instantly realized he was going to die. Every story Uncom compelled is unique, riveting, and true. And today our guest is actually the president of Pioneer's USA Steve Richardson. And I guarantee you, your childhood was nothing like Steve's when Steve was just a baby. He and his parents traveled halfway across the world to New Guinea and moved in with a tribe of stone age cannibals their purpose to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the ends of the earth, their reception. You'll have to stay tuned to find out. So gather round, lean in, and join us for this compelling story from the kingdom of God.


Almost half of my lifetime ago, I came across a rather interesting book called Peace Child. The author Don Richardson explained in great detail his experiences moving his family to the opposite side of the world, to share the good news of Jesus with a stone age tribe living on the island of New Guinea that had never before encountered the outside world. And as you can imagine, the story was riveting, especially for my 17-year-old self. The author Don went to be with the Lord about five years ago, but I never imagined that I would get to sit down with his oldest son, Steve, and hear the stories again firsthand. And yet earlier this spring on a sunny day in Florida, that's precisely what happened. And the story begins around 1960.

Steve (02:58):

Mom and dad were 26, 27 years old, fairly recently out of Bible school in Alberta, Canada. My dad was Canadian and my mother American, and they met at a place called Prairie Bible Institute north of Calgary. And they had heard a speaker talk about all these lost tribes out there in New Guinea that had been surveyed from military aircraft during World War II and just the smoke of a thousand villages. So this speaker with the British accent had challenged the student body to take the message of Christ to these other worlds, these other cultural worlds, and they just felt very powerfully moved by God, not just mom and dad, but several other students who heard this. They actually kind of signed up together and there were a couple of dozen of them that ended up out there serving in various tribes, learning different languages. Now, a lot of people dunno much about New Guinea, but it's a 1500 mile long island shaped like a Tyrannosaurus Rex sunbathing on the equator north of Australia.


There are literally about 1500 languages on that island and the islands around it. So a fifth of the world's languages are found in and around New Guinea. When I was six months old, mom and dad packed me up and we got on a ship, left Vancouver Canada and sailed via Hawaii and New Zealand ended up in New Guinea and we arrived in the Highlands and a few missionaries had proceeded mom and dad into the Dani tribe, one of the larger tribes in the Highlands. And as we were getting off the airplane, they said to my parents, we've just heard about the Sawi people down there in the southern swamps and it's hot, it's humid, lots of mosquitoes. It's not like it is up here in the mountains in the Highlands at four or 5,000 feet. As far as we know, they haven't had contact with the outside world and they live in tree houses.


They're probably pretty fierce people. Would you be happy to take the gospel to them? Mom and dad said, yes, that's what we've come to do. And with the help of another missionary who'd recently pioneered a work in a neighboring tribe with a completely different language, dad went in and made first contact with a few Howey warriors that were brave enough to come out of the jungle and encounter them in their little boat. First contact doesn't mean not having heard airplanes overhead like during the war, but it means the first time actually being in the physical presence of someone from an outside civilization other than the four tribes that bordered their own territory. So there were 18 Sawi villages and the Sawi tribe has two dialects, so it's kind of like two halves of the tribe. You can understand each other, but it's not super easy.


There's the half and the southern half. So these 18 villagers are divided, but then they're surrounded by the Kaigar tribe and the Owu Tribe and the Heim and the Asmat and the Sawi tribe at that time when we first arrived, had probably no more than 3000 people at the most. So dad using sign language, got their help, these four or five warriors to build a house about 20 feet by 20 feet and tried to explain, I'm going to come back with my wife and my little baby and we're going to live in this house and it'd be great if you would move out of the jungle and locate here, and we want to learn your language be among you. We came back with five or six really courageous warriors from this enemy tribe who were literally taking their lives in their hands by escorting mom and dad and me.


By that time I was seven months old into this Sawi domain and we rounded the last bend in the river after paddling from sun up. The sun was now setting and silhouette it against that setting tropical sun was a throng of 400 Sawi warriors waiting to welcome us. The word had gotten out, so just 400 warriors, just men with their headdresses. Some of them were holding long drums, they were holding spears, bows and arrows ready for anything. The warriors from several saw villages that normally squabbled and fought with each other were united by this specter of an outside pale looking creature. Arriving dad reached over and in the canoe as it slid to a stop in the mud at the feet of the throng of warriors. Mom and dad basically said to each other, it's too late now, we're committed. He picked me up out of mom's arms, not knowing that in the Saudi culture for an outsider to come with no weapons in his hands and carrying a baby was a reassuring sign that the person was coming at peace and had no ulterior motives and carried me up.


Mom followed and the crowd just converged around us. They didn't see any women or children. They were all hiding in the jungle. And then they realized this was going to be okay, and they started to dance. And I remember dad describing it as if we were at the eye of a human hurricane as several hundred warriors just swept around us dancing and chanting and celebrating the arrival of his outsiders and gradually swept us up to the little notch pole that led into our hut, which was about six feet off the surface of the swampy soil. And then the women started to materialize out of the jungle as it darkened and the children because they realized everything was, and they joined in the dancing and this strong danced around our house for almost three days and three nights without stopping. Oh wow. That's how history changing you can imagine. This event was for them as a society,

Paul (09:03):

As history changing as their family's arrival was for the Sawi people, it was also life changing for the Richardsons. As they settled into their new home, amongst the tribe, they slowly began to learn more about these people who were still a mystery to the outside world. This knowledge would be vital not just for their own survival in the jungle, but also as they looked for ways to communicate and connect with their new neighbors.

Steve (09:29):

So the Sawi people were hunter gatherers, semi nomadic, living in a purely jungle setting about 30 miles from the coast, the south coast of the island of New Guinea. But the rivers would rise and fall with the tides five or six feet a day at least because everything was so flat there. It's like a massive delta. And they were isolated. I mean there were other small tribes and languages, so the closest language would've been Owu, and that was about as close as Dutch is to English, which is quite close. Wow. The others were radically different. I just couldn't understand anything they were saying. And the Sawi men didn't wear anything except decorative items like an armband or a headdress.

Paul (10:20):

So no grass skirt?

Steve (10:20):

Or necklace, no grass skirts. The women wore grass skirts and not much by way of decorative items and all that, no shoes, all that. And their feet, the skin would be quite thick because walking through swamps and on logs and bugs and their whole lives, you think of people in some of these, what you might consider primitive settings as being large and muscular. And you've got kind of a movie prototype, maybe stereotype in a lot of people's minds. Tarzan encountering this village of tall savages or whatever. But really the reality, and I think this is more true than not in most parts of the world, is these people were generally malnourished. They had lots of parasites. There wasn't as much food there in the jungle as you might think. They had fish in the river if they worked hard, they could catch shrimp by putting some bark in there that had some poison in it, kind of paralyzing some of the shrimp and catching them with a bit of a kind of fabric fence.


As the tide went out, there were snakes. There were some exotic things like cassowary birds or like ostriches except they live in the jungle. Wild pigs would be the main source of protein that they had. But you could do that mostly by moonlight. And it was a culture that you'd call animistic, living in fear of evil spirits and trying to placate the spirits. They would build villages temporarily. They wouldn't repair their houses, they would just relocate to a nearby tributary or somewhere else to be closer to whatever they could harvest there. And then they would kind of do a circle through part of the Sawi. Each village would do a circle so that they would say proximate to more reachable pigs and fruit and so forth. And by the time they made the whole circle, wherever they had been a few years earlier would've been replenished.


But their main staple was a pulp from a palm tree called the sago palm. It's a little bit like we get tapioca from, and it would remind you of a flour or a potato or a maniac root. And what they do is they chop down a mature sego palm, split it open using a process with water. They filter the pulp from all the fiber that's on the inside of that tree into a big chunk that they carry home wing, 15 pounds potentially. And then for each meal they would break off a chunk of that and cook it in the fire. And if they have a little meat, they would add it to that and whatever fruit they've been able to gather. They had quite a few words for the harvesting process for sego. They had words. There's four different kinds of grubs. That's another thing they would eat and that I enjoyed as a kid.


There's the small variety, there's the medium and there's the large, basically the supersized, which are gross, the medium size we're fine. They're only about three inches long, and they turn into different kinds of beetles if you leave them long enough. So there's the Capricorn beetle and there's the other beetles. And so the same, this sego palm was a gift of God. The tribes there because it was their staple. It's like potatoes to the Irish back in the day or whatever, rice. And you could either harvest the sego flower immediately from the felled tree or you could let it rot for a few weeks and come back at just the right time and it'll be teeming with grubs and you harvest the grubs and take them home and bite into them like you'd be biting into the Michelin man with that rubbery exterior and just the cholesterol soaked juice permeating your mouth and massaging your tongue, and it's just a heavenly sensation.


We seriously had grubs for dinner there as a family on a routine. We kind of had a weekly schedule. My mom put together a weekly menu and each night it'd be slightly different. And one of the nights a week at least was the grubs. And the typical idea we have of a tropical setting, most of what you think of, they didn't have. They were on survival mode. And to make it even more challenging, they were trying to survive from their enemies at the same time constantly taking revenge on each other for whatever the last crime was. No wonder those tribes were small. I mean they've probably been there for hundreds and hundreds of years. Who knows the migration patterns. It's a fascinating study, I'm sure. But to survive it all, they survived in small groups. A lot of the men got killed in battles. So polygamy was the norm, and the older men, kind of the chiefs or the elders would generally have more wives.


This became a bone of contention. Young men wanted wives too, but the old men had taken them and a father would promise his daughter in marriage to one of his friends of an older generation in return for whatever. So there was just so many reasons why people had a hard time getting along. So it was man against man clan against clan. In each village there were multiple clans and they had names. They were named after different birds. And then there was village against village, and then it was the Sawi tribe against the other four tribes, some of which were quite a bit bigger, but they started fighting with each other. They couldn't stand being close to each other because of all these grievances from who knows how many generations passed. So four villages moved in around us. They wanted to be near us. So suddenly there's like 800 people living around us. The averages village was 150 to 200 people. Battles broke out. Our front yard was the only cleared area that they had to fight in. So in the first two months, my mom counted like 14 major battles in our front yard. People were getting killed, arrows were flying over our house. So that kind of paints the picture a little bit,

Paul (16:29):

Even while surrounded by all of this generational conflict, God's favor was on the Richardsons as they themselves were exuberant, welcomed by the sabi. The modern tools and skills they had brought with them were seen as magical by the tribe and opened numerous doors. And along with that came some rather unique moments.

Steve (16:49):

The Sawi had welcomed us with open arms and celebration. They had heard rumors from other tribes about these, they called them toons. These people who had incredible magic powers, they could disappear into a box that had wings on it and just disappear. And then after a period of time, that box with wings might reappear and they would get out of it and who knows where they've been. And they had all these tools that could make work so much easier. The saw, we literally used stone axes, and by the time those stone axes arrived in the Sawi domain from the mountains a hundred miles away, you can imagine how dull those stones were. And trying to make a canoe with a stone axe would take weeks and weeks and weeks of effort to make a small one. So they loved having us around. And dad got their help building our house, a little more stable and sophisticated fashion, and then got into learning their language. And they were thrilled with that. There's a funny story. Dad would point at a canoe and they'd give him a word reeree. Then he'd point at a woman and they'd say, reeree. And he thought same word. And then he pointed at a house and they would say, reeree. And he thought, is this a language with only one word? And then he realized after a while, they kept giving him the word for finger


Because they didn't have a custom of pointing at things, and they thought he was constantly wanting what the word is for finger. They would use their lips, their lips, and they would kind of like we would do in a kind of a puckered lip kissing. Sending a kiss is how they would point at something. It's like giving it a kiss or pointing their chin in that direction. So anyway, they loved having us around. The whole idea of matches, starting a fire with this little thing and fish hooks where you could put some worms on it and just sit there and do nothing for a while and a fish ends up getting caught on knives to cut the meat with, you don't have to use a piece of bamboo anymore. So they loved, they loved my parents and they respected them. And

Paul (19:03):

People were gathered just because of you guys.

Steve (19:05):

They were there to be close to the foreigners,

Paul (19:08):

The magic people.

Steve (19:09):

The magic people with all the powers and the fascination. There's a bit of an anthropologist and everybody, and they noticed after a while because literally growing up, our family would be eating at our kitchen table there in that little house, and there would often be a crowd of six or eight, 10 people watching us eat, just standing there at the window. And we had some fly screen on the window. We didn't have any louvers or glass or anything. It was just screen. And they'd be pressing their noses against the screen and you'd have to replace the screen after a while because of all the damage being done studying us and how we ate and what are these things they're putting in their mouths that have some food on 'em. They noticed after a while that generally there was a picture of whatever that food was on the can and there'd be some kind of a green vegetable.


And sure enough, my mom would open up the can and I would come a green vegetable. And then there was a can that had an animal on it that looked a little bit like a pig, kind of an oversized pig. I mean, we knew it was a cow, but they wouldn't have had a category for that. And sure enough, some meat would come out. And then to their horror, my mom opened up a little can that had a picture of a human baby on it and poured out a sauce. And we started eating that. And the word got around in the village. These people are cannibals too. You can imagine all the cross-cultural challenges.

Paul (20:32):

While the cultural and language barriers range from sometimes frustrating to even comical, the Richardsons and Sabi worked through many of them together over time. However, even as their grasp of the sabi language grew, one cultural divide in particular became a major roadblock to the Richardsons main purpose and reason for even being there more on that after the break.

Matt (20:55):

Hey, if you're enjoying the Relentless Pursuit Podcast, be sure to rate us. Give us a five star rating if possible, and also leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform. Also, be sure to sign up for podcast emails at When you do that, you'll be sure to be notified whenever a new season drops and even new episodes drop on our channel.

Paul (21:22):

Welcome back to Compelled. We've just heard Steve Richardson describe to us his experiences growing up as a child with his family amongst the unreached Sawi tribe in New Guinea. He was truly able to experience a multicultural upbringing there in the jungle and saw firsthand how God protected them and was using them to minister to the people there. But that multicultural environment also presented the Richardsons with one of the greatest challenges they would experience how to share the gospel message of God's love and forgiveness to a people whose underlying worldview didn't even desire such a gift, and in fact found it laughable.

Steve (22:01):

And so I had the incredible privilege of growing up there. Mom and Dad had been trained a little bit in how to learn a language and plunged in. And because we had no other westerners around, no other English speakers, I grew up speaking Sawi and I spoke English too because mom and dad spoke English. But they quite quickly started to learn the language when dad started explaining the gospel message to some of the men in this special house that they called the man house, which was a house where the warriors would gather and they would have parties and they would plan the next hunting trip or the next raid on another village or whatever. This would've been a couple of months into the process as he was starting to get the language a little bit. And he came to the part where Judas betrayed his friend Jesus to death.


And there was a ripple of laughter. And a man named Mahain in the back of the smokey room said to Tuan Don, tell us more about Judas. And dad said, you mean Jesus? They said, no, Judas, he sounds like one of us. And dad said, what do you mean? And Mahain said, well, didn't you just say that he betrayed his friend to death? We do that all the time. And we have a practice that's called tui asainan literally in their language, it meant to do with a human as you would treat a pig. So in their culture, they go out pig hunting, and if it's some other pig that has piglets, they'll take the piglets back to the village, raise the piglets, and then eventually when the pig gets big enough, they'll kill it and have a feast. And so the idea there in their culture was you can do the same thing with a human being. You can engender trust over a period of time, invite them to parties and so forth, and then betray them to death. So mom and dad realized that not only were they among a people who lived in tree houses 40 or 50 feet off the surface of the swamp, and not only were headhunters, and I remember seeing the skulls in their homes when I was a kid, but they were cannibals too. And then to make things even more complex, they thought Judas was the hero of the gospel story.


The Sawi we were headhunters in two senses. One is they just tended to save the skulls of some of the loved ones who had passed away in some cases, using them as pillows and just remembering them and keeping them around the house. But the more scary dimension was, and it was combined with cannibalism, was saving the skulls of warriors that they'd killed in battle from other villages or other tribes as trophies. And the cannibalism, really, it wasn't because they needed more meat. It wasn't that they were wanting to eat people, particularly, it was that they were absorbing in that ceremonial process, what anthropologists call the mana, the power of that individual and his spirit. So when you kill an enemy, you add another trophy to you can tell from your bow or your spear how many people you've killed because you've got a little notch there. It's a little bit like the aircraft and World War II how many planes they had downed. And by actually eating some of that person's flesh, the animistic idea was that they're getting that person's mystical world power and absorbing it and multiplying their own influence in the community and their prestige. So they're very in tune with the spirit world. Now, only part of the spirit world, what we would call the demonic side, and they lived in fear of the spirits. There weren't good spirits

Paul (25:48):

In the midst of this headhunting, cannibalistic tribe who viewed Judas, not Jesus as the hero of the gospel story, the Richardsons rattle us. They so desperately wanted to break through to the Sawi people with the saving power of Jesus, but in their own finite understanding couldn't see a way to do that. But little did they know that God had already been laying the groundwork and preparing the hearts of the Sawi through a tradition that had been ingrained into them over countless generations.

Steve (26:20):

The biggest challenge was this whole idea of the gospel. How is it going to be communicated if they don't realize who Jesus was? And this fighting broke out. And my dad said to the Sawi Warriors at one stage, he said, you have to make peace, or we might go to some other tribe that wants to hear the message. We came to bring peace. We came to be a blessing, but people are getting injured if not killed. And I am tired of rushing out and breaking bows and arrows and trying to restore peace as you're fighting with each other. But he wondered to himself, how does a treachery, idealizing culture convince their enemies that they're actually serious about making peace? So the next morning, Dad was studying the language with his friend of his Adi. I remember Adi and going over some new vocabulary, and I heard a tremendous noise out behind the house and thought to himself, I'm going to have to go out and bring peace to a throng of people who were trying to kill each other once again.


But this time, as he ran out to see what was happening, he saw a startling sight. A father had grabbed his little baby boy from his wife, the child's mother. This was a newborn baby boy, and was rushing over the logs and threw the mud over to the enemy village of Hainam from the village of Kamur tears streaming down his cheeks. And the mother was throwing herself in the mud and wailing and saying, why does it have to be us? Other people have several children. We only have one. And the father gave the baby boy to the enemy over in Hainam came back and my dad turned Adi and said, Adi, what's happening? And Adi said, well, Tuan, you've been telling us we have to make peace, right? And dad said yes. He said, well, this is how we make peace. We give one of our own baby boys to the enemy as a proof of our sincerity.


Dad said, are they going to hurt that baby boy? And they said, no, because the peace will only last as long as he lives. Then sometime later, another father from that second village grabbed his little baby boy and ran to the first village and gave a peace child a tarro teem. They called this child to Kamur. And dad realized there was an exchange of two baby boys being given. And that the peace between those two villages, there were ceremonies that took place. And one by one, the warriors in each of the villages laid their hands on the little boy that they had received from the enemy saying, I accept this taro teem as a basis for peace between me and this enemy tribe. And all the warriors in the village would go through that. And then they had a big celebration saying, there's not going to be any more war.


It's going to be peace now. And Dad went in and talked to Mom. Mom had been watching this as well. And they realized together that God was answering their prayers. And this whole concept of two parties being in conflict with each other and of one of those parties so desperately wanting to make peace that he makes the ultimate sacrifice and gives his own son to the enemy to secure peace, an eternal peace. I mean, that's the gospel message. And unlike a Sawi peace child who could get bit by a death adder and die in half an hour or fall out of a tree house into the thorns below and bleed to death or get eaten by a crocodile, Jesus, the ultimate taro teem, the ultimate peace child ever lives to make intercession for us and secures the peace for eternity for those who embrace him by faith. So it's a really fun story, just the opportunity as a kid to grow up there with a front row seat to the truth of Romans 1:16. The gospel is the power of God and to salvation for all who believe, not just for the Jewish people that Jesus spent his time with 2000 years ago, but for the Sawi as well and for all the peoples on earth. I can't imagine a greater privilege.


And Dad realized fairly quickly that this idea of the peace child among the Sawi was only one version of many keys that God had planted in cultures all around the world, preparing them for the arrival of the gospel message. And he started researching the Aztecs and the Incas and the peoples of mainland Southeast Asia, China, Nepal, Africa, and started realizing that they had their own legends. They had their own ways of making peace. They had concepts of God. The Chinese language in its written form had what Dad called redemptive analogies embedded right in the script. So anyway, Dad started realizing, you know what God has in a sense set the table in these cultures. He's preceded us. The spirit of God has preceded us and planted expectations and concepts that if more and more gospel emissaries thought in those terms and researched and asked the right questions and began explaining the gospel message in terms of those concepts, the reception to the gospel was greatly accelerated and aided by knowing the culture, the host culture, and especially those heartfelt ideals that they'd been preserving for centuries.

Paul (31:51):

This idea of looking into a culture's past to find the keys to the gospel that God had already planted centuries beforehand was revolutionary. And as it began to catch on, God began opening doors for Steve's parents to minister to others far beyond New Guinea in ways that they couldn't have even imagined. And through the Richardsons, God would begin to impact millions around the globe for his kingdom, which you'll hear about right after the break.

Jess (32:19):

Are you curious to hear more stories like this one? Then check out for more stories, articles, videos, and all sorts of resources just to give you a bigger glimpse into what the Lord is doing all over the world. And maybe you want to check out what does it look like for me to start pursuing missions and pursuing the unreached? Then you can also go to and there you can schedule a conversation with one of our mission mentors by filling out a start form.

Paul (32:45):

Welcome back as the seeds of the gospel continue to blossom among the tribe, Steve's father, Don felt called to write a book about this redemptive analogy God had planted in the hearts of the Sawi. That book was the very same one that I read, Peace Child. And when they released it 12 years after having arrived amongst the Sawi, the Richardsons had no idea if anyone would bother to read their story. But as it turned out, God wanted millions to hear the story about his work amongst the Sawi.

Steve (33:18):

The book Peace Child was published, I think originally in 1973 or four. A businessman donated $30,000 to make a movie out of it. So they produced a 27 minute long movie called Peace Child, which ended up being shown all around the world next to the Jesus film. It was the second most watched Christian film for a period of time all around the world in Africa, Latin America was being used evangelistically. And the story of what God did with the Peace Child concept among the Sawi and the concept of redemptive analogies took off in churches all across North America. Dad was a gifted speaker and communicator, not just a gifted writer, but a gifted speaker as well. The book Peace Child caught the attention of Reader's Digest. They condensed the story into one of their issues of Reader's Digest in December, and I think it might've been 1973, and it kind of hit, reader's Digest was a big deal in those days, and they had all these condensed books, classic books, condensed and Peace Child became one of those condensed books.


So millions of people heard about Jesus and heard about the Sawi by reading Mom and Dad's story our family story in Reader's Digest. And then this movie took off. It wasn't a full length movie like you'd watch in a theater, but it was played in churches all over the place. And the mission organization that my parents were with said, you know what, Don and Carol, we know how much you love serving there in New Guinea with the tribes, but we think that with your gifting and the story that you can tell, it would be a better application of who you are for the bigger picture of what God wants to do all around the world if you would come back and become a spokesperson for what the mission organization does. So Dad started just speaking in hundreds of churches and conferences, and

Paul (35:23):

God used the faithful obedience of the Richardson family to take what started with the tense arrival of a dugout canoe in the Sawi territory and grow it into a movement whose eternal impact today continues to ripple through not just the Sawi people, but to the ends of the earth. As we wrapped up our time together, Steve shared the incredible things God has done in the years since his family moved away from the Sawi tribe.

Steve (35:49):

By the time we left the Sawi, after 15 years, their society had been transformed. Probably 60% of the Sowe had expressed personal faith in the Lord Jesus. They had established churches in all 18 villages, the mother church, kind of the big church was near where we lived. It may to this day be the biggest structure constructed out of native jungle materials that there's ever been. It was 70 feet high, Dad called it the Sawidome, and you could fit 1100 people under this thatched roofed church. But anyway, all that to say, peace was established for the long haul, not just temporarily. The peace among the villages no longer hinged on these two boys and their lifespans because now there was a greater Peace Child upon whose life and resurrection the relationship was now securely established. So these two boys grew up, they were about my age, and we used to play together there, and they were fully embraced and fully adopted into their new families.


And one of them actually died in his teens from some sickness. The other became a junior high school teacher and ended up having, I think, 12 kids of his own. So whereas the Sawi numbered about 3000 when we arrived in 1962, they probably number at least 30,000 now I'm guessing. And their language has been preserved, whereas so many tribal languages around the world have been lost over time. And why has the Sawi language been preserved and the Dani and the Owu and several other, many other languages in that part of the world? Because the New Testament, in some cases, the whole Bible has been translated into those languages. They have their own songs, they have their own hymns, they have their worship services in there. And even as the national language comes in and the kids are educated in the national government schools and become bilingual and able to function in modern society, they still have preserved their own language, their own humor, a lot of their own traditions and legends and so forth.


But it's all been redeemed. Much of it has been redeemed by the gospel message. They started intermarrying with people from the other tribes who were also responding to the gospel through other people, other people's ministry. Dad used to say that a majority of Sawi children didn't make it past the age of six or so, that the infant mortality rate was so high with all the diseases they have and with medicine and with loving care, those things started to be eliminated and children started surviving. And that's why the Sawi are so much more numerous today than they were then

Paul (38:38):

From 3000 to 30,000.

Steve (38:39):

Yes. And they're all over the place. So the Sawi today, 10 years ago, we had the opportunity, my father and my brothers and I, to go back for the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the gospel when we paddled in a canoe, 3000 people gathered to celebrate because this was the most historic event in their entire history as a people. And we just had so much fun. And people from the other four tribes that used to be enemies, they formed an alliance now to take the gospel to yet other groups wow. In other places that may yet need that kind of help. And they're part of a large denomination now that includes people from probably a hundred other tribes, and they have a sense of identity, not just as a people for their own language and culture, but as members of the body of Christ. So yeah, praise God. It's just phenomenal.

Paul (39:33):

Really appreciate your time, man.

Steve (39:35):

Thank you. I mean, it's fun. It's always fun to reminisce and go over,

Paul (39:40):

Celebrate what the Lord is doing, celebrate

Steve (39:41):


Paul (39:46):

It's been 61 years since the Richardsons moved in with the Sawi tribe. They never set out to launch a worldwide missions movement. They just wanted to be faithful stewards of the calling that God had given them. And during the 15 years that the Richardsons lived with Sawi, they helped create an alphabet for their language, taught them how to read, and then translated the New Testament into their native tongue. Steve's two younger brothers, Shannon and Paul, were born there and grew up among the Sawi. And today both of them still live in Southeast Asia and serve the Lord faithfully. Steve has spent the rest of his life involved in missions and today is the President of Pioneer's USA. If you'd like to read the Peace Child book or receive photos of Steve's family amongst the Sawi, then just visit and search for this episode. And if you've never listened to the compelled podcast before then, I hope you've enjoyed this special episode brought to you by our friends at Pioneers. We have 70 other episodes just like this one, showcasing the power of God at work around the world through missions, miracles, suffering, conversions, and more. And we just launched our newest season of episodes yesterday, and I'd love for you to listen. Just search for compelled on your podcast app or visit I'm the host Paul Hastings, and I hope to see you there.

Matt (41:06):

Well, we hope you enjoyed this bonus episode, our second bonus episode of this season. And I want to encourage you again, to be sure to leave us a review and a five star rating on your podcast platform if you've really enjoyed this episode and all the others in this season. And also just check out our show notes because there are several resources in there related to this story specifically that I'm sure you're not going to want to miss. The first is the video never the same, which basically captures return back to the tribe of the Sawi. People after 50 years of the Gospel's work in that tribe's culture. And so be sure to check that out. And then also we have a book, which is Treachery on the Twisted River, which is a kind of youth-oriented version of the Peace Child story. The Peace Child book has been rewritten for a younger audience, and it's also good for adults as well. But be sure to check that out in our show notes. It's been great having you on the podcast joining us, and we hope you'll stay tuned for another season.