How the Binumarien people of New Guinea discovered Jesus is real
Published: 9 October 2012 (GMT+10)
The Word of God has a way of transforming people’s lives because it connects us with the reality of the God who created us and who acts in history, and with Jesus Christ our Saviour. One dramatic story of a people being transformed through Scripture concerns a small tribe of people in Papua New Guinea. It was the Binumarien tribe, and the change agents were Des and Jenny Oatridge, a young couple with Wycliffe Bible Translators, who went to live in a village among the people, with their baby daughter.
It was some ten years later, around 1970, that I met Des and Jenny. They had been busy learning the unwritten language of the people, committing it to writing, and translating the Bible so they could read the Word of God in their mother tongue.
When Des and Jenny moved in, the tribe faced certain extinction. It was probably one of the smallest language groups in the whole of PNG. The Binumariens had been decimated by warfare and expulsion from their tribal land. From an estimated 3,000 people they were only 111 when Des and Jenny arrived, with 10-month-old Ruth. When their other three children were born they too lived in the village over the course of the translation project.
Des and Jenny had purposely chosen the smallest language group they could find because they wanted to demonstrate that God also cared for the weak and insignificant. That was the way the surrounding tribes thought of the Binumarien people.
In 1975, I had the privilege of visiting Des and Jenny, along with my wife and three infant children. We slept in their thatched house and visited folk in the village and their grass homes.
Des was a great story teller. One unforgettable incident he tells dramatically shows how the people of the village came to realise that Jesus Christ was a real man who lived at a particular time and place on this earth. This changed their whole attitude to the gospel.
The remarkable event is described in the book about Des and Jenny by Lynette Oates called Hidden People: How a remote New Guinea culture was brought back from the brink of extinction. I’ve reproduced the story here1 to illustrate how the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ is unleashed when people realise that the Word of God is true, that it describes events that actually happened in history.
When Des told Jenny, ‘We finished the last of Matthew today,’ she replied, ‘What about the first seventeen verses.’
Oh yes. Those uninteresting verses that told of Jesus’ ancestry back to Abraham. They had to be tackled before he had really finished the book.
Surprisingly, Sisia [his language helper] sailed through the long genealogy without a trace of boredom. He made no comment on the translation as he often did. But when he rose to go, he said with some deliberation, ‘There’s going to be an important meeting in Nameepi’s house tonight. I want you to come and bring what we’ve done today.’
Des wondered, What’s he up to? Why a meeting tonight? Perhaps he wants to celebrate finishing Matthew. But why does he particularly want me to bring what we’ve translated today?
That night, Des took the lantern and walked the short distance to Nameepi’s house, just above his own.
He walked into the central room to find it already filled to capacity. All Sisia’s family were there around the fire. Two other rooms, off to either side, were also packed with people. Des had never seen so many packed into a house before. There was also an odd sense of tension in the air that made him nervous.
He was led immediately to a seat on the floor beside the fire. Sisia took command and spoke in his usual authoritarian voice.
‘I have asked Mata’a Des to come and read what we translated this morning. I can’t tell it to you. I want you to hear it for yourselves.’
The room became extraordinarily still. Des was conscious that all eyes were focussed on him. He cleared his throat and began to read: ‘These are the ancestors of Jesus Messiah, a descendant of King David and of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac; Isaac was the father of Jacob; Jacob was the father of Judah and his brothers; Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah; … ’
Des could not look up. His eyes were glued to the text. He was trying to read as naturally as Sisia has spoken the sentences to him that morning, but the tense atmosphere in the room made this difficult.
He did not see Fofondai’s eyes grow wider and rounder, as did Maraa’aro’s and several others near him. He could sense, though, that every word he spoke was being grabbed and critically examined by the listeners.
He became conscious that Yawo was moving near to him. So were A’aaso, Aaka and Yaa’a. He was aware Sao watched his lips unblinkingly. As he continued reading, more and more people began pressing. The people from the other rooms were pushing into the central room. Fofo was so close that his beard almost touched the written page. Yawo’s arm was rammed right against Des’.
Des suddenly felt scared. He had a sense of being crushed. It was not only the pressure of bodies; it was the uncanny silence. It seemed that not a dog barked, not a baby cried, not a person released his breath.
He did not know if the list of names offended some ritual taboo about which he knew nothing. If so, and the people were angry that it was being so blatantly publicised, he was in an awkward position. There was no way of escape, hemmed in as he was. And with the atmosphere so charged, he felt he dared not ask a question. These people were so volatile; they could erupt in a fury so easily.
So he kept on reading. ‘Matthan was the father of Jacob; Jacob was the father of Joseph (who was the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus the Messiah). There are fourteen generations from Abraham to King David; and fourteen from King David’s time to the exile in Babylon; and fourteen from the exile to Christ.’
They had heard him out.
Des raised his eyes to look at those within a breath of his face—and saw, not anger, but incredulity. ‘Why didn’t you tell us all this before?’ Yaa’a demanded.
Des recoiled instinctively as if he’d been struck.
‘No-one bothers to write down the ancestors of spirit beings,’ Fofondai stated.
‘It’s only real people who record their genealogical table,’ A’aaso added.
‘Jesus must be a real person!’ someone else cried, his voice ringing with astonishment.
Then everyone seemed to be talking at once. ‘Fourteen generations, that’s two hands and a foot, from Abraham to King David … ’
‘And two more hands and a foot, to the time of the kalabus (the captivity) … ’
‘And another two hands and a foot till Jesus’ time … ’
‘That’s a very, very long time.’
‘This ancestry goes back further than ours.’
‘Yes, none of ours goes back two hands and a foot three times.’
‘Jesus must have been a real man on this earth then. He’s not just white man’s magic.’
‘Then what the mission has taught us is real.’
Yes real. Des pondered on that as he made his way home. The ancient list of names which he had always found boring and pretty well meaningless had ratified Jesus as a real person to his unlettered friends. He possessed a genealogy like their own! To the Binumariens, the truth of the scriptures was now beyond doubt.
- Lynette Oates, Hidden People: How a remote New Guinea culture was brought back from the brink of extinction, Albatross Books, Sutherland, NSW, pp. 205–207, 1992. Hidden People is a gripping story and available from the book store of Wycliffe Australia: http://www.wycliffe.org.au/shop/. Return to text.
Thankyou for this article. Perhaps our own culture is not interested in genealogy enough! I read a Wycliffe book a few years ago where this exact same reaction surprised the missionaries - somewhere in SE Asia - Thailand?
As a member of Gideons International I never cease to be amazed and inspired by the testimonies of people who's lives have been changed by the Word of God. Here is yet another to inspire us all. How much this proves yet again how the Old and the New Testaments are inseperable. "So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." Isaiah 55:11
An eye-opening testimony of how God can use the genealogy of His Son Jesus Christ to reach and save these people. Indeed, as it is written in 2 Timothy 3:16 that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God (or God breathed) and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. For God's Word is spirit and life (John 6:63)and the Holy Scriptures are able to make us wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:15). It is so amazing that by just reading the genealogy of Jesus, it removed the veil over their hearts, their minds and their eyes to give them the wisdom to receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Certainly, the Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12). Praise God!
Perhaps the tears in my eyes are a sadness that we Celtic people of Ireland also used to value our ancestral lists, but no longer do. Before writing, they met annually to recite their ancestry, to check that no-one was forgotten, and to remind themselves from whence they came.
Like it did for others, this also brought tears to my eyes. But have you ever thought why such a story would make a person cry? I once had the same experience in the Himalayas when I was confronted with a mountain view of extraordinary beauty. I think it's because a part of us knows that a connection to the foundational truth behind all things has been lost and when we see something which restores that connection or reminds us of the break, we weep for the loss. Every human is programmed to know this on a deep, intuitive level. God bless this family and the sacrifice they made to make this happen.
Glory to God! This is a most important reminder of the Jewish genealogy of Jesus Christ. There is a strong move sweeping even the church to prove that He was "Palestinian".
This is a wonderful story. I was saying about a week ago how I sometimes skip genealogies. Romans chapter 1 confirms the importance of Jesus' genealogy but to see this story was a joy generating reading.
Blessed be the Lord for His astonishing wisdom and how He saves souls through His grace.
I usually skip over those parts as they are not the most "inspiring"...I find it amazing how even what I find boring, God still uses to draw men and women to Christ. This story has now inspired me to look at ALL of the scriptures in a new light.. thanks so much for sharing.
i could relate to this message so well. I too was impacted by the Geneology of Jesus when i first developed a thirst for His word. It confirmed what the Holy Spirit had been revealing to me. May the favour of our Lord continue to be on the work you are doing.
Great is our God who does not wish anyone to perish
I wept for joy when I read this.
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable...
This story just underlines the fact. What we might just pass over...perhaps we should read a little more slowly and meditatively, and prayerfully.
After this amazing story how can any (Christian) people ever say the Old Testament is not relevant to our faith?
Amazing the way they comprehended truth and God´s reality. Praise God, we will meet them when Jesus comes and will have the privilige to know them for ever.
This story remind me of the 'still small voice' of God in mt. Sinai. God uses the least to refute the mighty. God bless the CMI ministers and people of Binumarien of PNG.
Thank you for this wonderful testimony! Like Paul and his companions at Troas in Acts 16, you listened and worked in these difficult circumstances. Whenever God's finger points, His Hand will clear the way for great results in communication that we yet, do not understand what is important to others, at the specific moment in time. Praise Father God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit for helping you and us to build His Kingdom. Halellujah!
Amazing but true - I used to go gliding and heard this story from an instructor. When training Indians the art of gliding he was telling his pupils when to 'round out' for landing and he said at about 50'-0" but the Indians couldn't relate to that so he said "it's the height of two elephants on top of each other" and that they understood. It's all about communication! It's not what we hear but what we understand that counts.
This story brought tears to my eyes. How lovely to hear of the fascination of these dear folk in PNG. How beautifully our Saviour God works.
This is such an amazing story that bears out that God's Word is and always has been inerrant, infallible, unchanging and all sufficient. Thank you for bring this wonderful story to our attention.
This amazing true story,reminded me of what Jesus was saying, where a man has a hundred sheep and one goes astray! I conclude that God reaches every person, with the gift of Salvation, in their lifetime!
When I read the geanologies I am always awed, that these names are so important to all who lived otherwise they would not be there, it's incredulous that they are there, but I never thought of it like its been explained in the story of these remote peoples, "no-one writes the names of the spirits" (qualifiying them as not real) but as this genealogy is written it is real and that is what comes to my mind when I read "this is real", this is history, this is confirmation that the word as written is real and we ought to take notice, as we read on or read the old testament, read again and take note, this is real, get real, trust in the word and there will be revealed more instances where we can realise the Word is real history, all of it.
The story speaks to me of the love of God, who looked down the line of future history and knew that the genealogies would touch the lives of people like the Binumarien tribe. Truly amazing that tells of a wonderful God.
There is far more to Jesus' genealogy than meets the eye! The 42 generations from Abraham to Jesus are key! 6x7! In the first 11 verses - from Abraham to Babylonian captivity there are 49 different words in the original Greek or 7x7. Among the parts of speech the 49 are thus divided: 42, or six sevens, are nouns, seven are not nouns. Of the nouns 35 or 5 sevens, are proper names, seven are common nouns. Of the Proper names 28 are male ancestors of the Christ and seven are not.
Again: these 49 words of the vocabulary have 266 letters, or 7x2x19; this number is itself 38 sevens, and the sum of its factors is 28 or 4 sevens, while the sum of its figures is 14, or 2 sevens. Of these 266 letters, moreover, 140 or 20 sevens, are vowels, and 126, or 18 sevens, are consonants.
That is to say: Just as the number of words in the vocabulary is a multiple of seven, so is the number of its letters a multiple of seven; just as the sum of the factors of the number of words is a multiple of seven, so is the sum of the number of their letters a multiple of seven.
Much more is available - no space!
Family history fascinates me and I have always viewed the genealogies right from Adam to Jesus as true, as do the Binumarien people. Think of the family reunion awaiting us in heaven with our Lord and Saviour. There are times when I can hardly wait!
Check this out from the Joshua Project - they are now a population of 700 which is 100% Evangelical Chritian: http://www.joshuaproject.net/people-profile.php?peo3=10866&rog3=PP
This is an amazing story of dedication and attention to detail on the missionaries part, as well as the assistant translator of the village. It amazing to see afresh that, "man shall not live by bread alone but by every word..." It still remains the word that saves ,sets free, unveils the truth. Time will pass away but his word will endure to continue to have effect on eternity for you and me. This is an amazing story.
Yes, the genealogies show that Jesus is a real person, and if you study the Scriptures from a Jewish frame of reference, you find out lots of other fascinating and important facts (e.g. about the Davidic Covenant) Dig deep!
We have read the same testimony of the genealogy in Matthew being very significant for the Balangao tribe in the Philippines. In the book 'And the Word Came With Power' by Joanne Shelter who went to live among them and translate the Bible in to their language in the 1960's, she wrote: "A genealogy written was powerful. Balangaos loved that genealogy from the Gospel of Matthew. It proved the Bible was true: for the first time they had the actual names from the beginining of the world - written down."
WOW! This brought tears to my eyes! This probably changed my attitude towards boring genealogies forever.
Dear brother, your story has not finished yet. Just find the hebrew meaning of the names in the whole genealogy, it tell you another Godly history. See http://www.bible-codes.org/Names-bible-code-printable.htm
I cannot comprehend the awesome POWER in Gods' Word!Keep up the sharing. During these end times we need to strengthen ourselves with His Word.
Most inspiring! Thank you so much for your work which has saved these people, precious in God's sight, from extinction. Every life is a sacred creation and by carrying the word of the Lord, you have been chosen to spread His love to these people who are thirsty for acceptance and love.
I began to feel the build up of excitement in myself as I started reading the article. The awesomeness of God and how He works. I too used to feel the same way about the reading of the geneology but I do not think I will ever take it for granted again. God bless those people, Des and his wife. PTL!!!!
Thank you for this article. I smiled as much for the comments across the world as the wide-eyed knowing in the Binumarien people. I too found MY own heritage here even being a Christian elder woman for years. I am awed by the Lord's immense love and watching over these people. He doesn't forget whom He creates, then saves for all of us to meet one day.
I have never in all my studies and years of reading the bible understood the reason for the reading of the geneology. The way of counting as depicted in this story really opened up my way of thinking and following what the bible is all about. It was a great story about a group of real people and situations. I recommend all new followers to read this and be enlightened.
Wow, as a US raised Christian and having been a volunteer in youth ministry for a decade I have to admit that I always took the geniolgies at face value and never really assigned much importance to them. This is a wonderful eye opener as to how the design of scripture works with peoples of different cultures! I have to remind myself of the differences we face in ministry that this illustrated! God is awesome in that his design by passes my own weaknesses and reaches out to other cultures in ways that I wouldn't normally appreciate.
Dear ones: Such a wonderful word!
Our geneology is very important. There must be a unbroken chain back to a beginning: Adam, an ameoba, a monkey??
There can be no doubt that a super intelligence created creation. The genetic code is undeniable evidence as is creation itself. You are doing a great job and service
This account of the geanealogies strikes a chord with something I learned at Capenwray Bible School, I think it was. And this was that the genealogies in the Old Testament, while we modern westerners might think they are boring, are a vital part of the Bible. As the Binumarien understood, they place events and people in time and underscore that these are real people having had real lives; lives that were part of Israel's history. Indeed, some of us would have been exposed to similar lists in school: the list of English monarchs, or for Americans, the list of Presidents. Both similarly set the rhythm of history and connect the present generation to its forebears.
This story was so beautiful and powerful it brought tears to my eyes. The sections of the Bible we can sometimes take for granted can be some of the most important to other cultures.
This is so inspiring! God works in mysterious ways. The verses which most of us get bored of, are the very verses God used to glorify His Name. May God abundantly bless the missionaries working to spread the Gospel!
I was thrilled to see how the power of God is revealed in His word.
Wonderful testimony! We certainly are ALL precious in His Sight. May the harvest for the Kingdom be plentiful and everlasting among the Binumarien people. And may the Lord bless with all sorts of wisdom and resources the missionary ministry of Des & Jenny!
That is a beautiful story!! Thank you!
Thank you so much for this article. What an exciting and amazing story! God bless these precious missionaries for their labor of love for this small beleaguered tribe, which is now blessed beyond measure.
God prepares people to be able to receive the gospel. The Binumarien were prepared in advance through their own geneologies. Others may be prepared through articles from Creation Ministries. Thank you for your work in equipping so many people to defend the faith. Personally, reading your daily articles makes me bolder in my witness.
This is proof of the power of the Word - ALL of the WORD. As Paul said "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness." 2 Tim. 3:16
A genealogy longer than their own, & they say that those people are less evolved idiots, yet they are wiser than most for the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. God Bless these people and may the Truth of Christ Jesus Our Lord and Saviour be spread to the four corners of the earth so he come return and cast Judgement. Amen.
This article helps to show that all the world's culture's are really just a thin veneer over standard human nature.
Thanks Tas for sharing this. I have come across a Christian who thinks the Genealgies of Jesus are not important, but I have heard stories of people from Africa being strongly affected by these Genealogies in both Matthew and Luke. It ties in powerfully with the doctrine presented by Paul in the book of Romans; the First and last Adam.
I've heard similar stories about Matthew's genealogy. Thanks, Tas, for telling us this story. God has spoken, and still speaks, through ALL of His Word!