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Joel Van Hoogen | Boise, Idaho
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Bread of Life Fellowship
1021 East State Street
Boise, ID 83705
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Dying to Live
Posted by: Bread of Life Fellowship | more..
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I had an opportunity to witness how life rises out death this last week in North Kalimantan, Indonesia. I was with my friend and ministry partner Heber Agan flying from the coast city of Tarakan, on a short half hour flight to the river town of Malinau, for our second TTT retreat. Heber is a Dayak and he came from a mountain village just a short flight from Malinau. His grandfather was a cannibal. His father was a pastor. Heber reminded me that the typical Dayak was once identified as “the wild man of Borneo.” He tells me that he thinks the designation was not too far from the truth but that the introduction of the gospel changed all of that quite rapidly. As we flew into Malinau, Heber shared with me the story of the first missionary in his area; a young 28-year-old man named John Frances Willfinger. Willfinger preached in the area we were now visiting for 4 years. Heber’s grandfather was one of the first converts. He told me, “My daddy used to go to all the villages with Willfinger. He carried his pack. And Willfinger would gather a crowd by playing his trumpet while my daddy held the music sheet for him to follow. Then my daddy would translate for Willfinger as he shared the story of Jesus and His work of salvation. Heber spoke of the months that it took for Willfinger to traverse by boat up from Tarakan to Malinau then the great effort it took to travel by land into the mountains of the Dayak tribe where he was from. I love the way Heber put it, “But he was not unhappy to be with us. He wanted so very much to speak of the good news that I think he forgot his home when he came to us.

Well in those short years many Dayak turned to Jesus Christ as Savior. Willfinger settled in Malinau as a center from which to teach these new converts. It was at this time that the Japanese took occupation of Tarakan and began to search for this white missionary that they heard of. The baby Christian Dayak wanted to hide Willfinger in the mountains. But Willfinger was afraid by doing this they would bring harsh treatment on themselves by the Japanese. Also, Willfinger told them they would have to lie when questioned about where he was, and God didn’t want them to lie and neither did he. In a letter to an official he wrote, “In this letter I inform you of my decision, which is the most difficult one of all my life. If I hide, naturally the saints will be forced to lie and disobey orders if they shelter me. I would be forced to drag them into sin. My intention upon leaving my country and family was only to make mankind righteous and not to bring them into sin, even though I pay for it with my life. In short, sir, because of Jesus Christ and His sheep, before I will do anything whatsoever that is not right, I will surely surrender myself." So the 32 year old Willfinger got in boat and started the arduous journey down to Tarakan and there he turned himself over to the Japanese forces in early December of 1942. On Christmas Eve the Japanese dug a grave before him and told Willfinger that he was going to die. He said, “Alright. Just give me moment to sing praise to God and then let me pray.” They let him do that, standing over his own grave, then when he was done they bayonetted him to death.

And in Malinau today… the town has grown and towns have risen all around it and you can’t go more five or six blocks without seeing a church building. They are all over the area. And you’ll hear children laughing in that place and mothers and fathers laughing with them and the homes are clean and ordered all about. They are witness to the power of resurrection life that rises from the witness of Christians who are willing to die for Christ and His Gospel.

The night before Heber told me that story I was reading an essay by F.W. Boreham on another missionary from the late 1800’s from Scotland named James Chalmers. He brought the gospel to tribal group in another part of what is now Indonesia (Guinea). And during his work he was lured to a village of cannibals who killed him and his party and then… devoured them. Chalmers was a legend for his witness in Guinea. He was called back in his homeland, the great heart of Guinea. When the news of his death came back to Scotland a man named John Oxenham wrote this poem,

Great heart is dead they say!

Great heart is dead they say!

Nor dead,

nor sleeping!

He lives on!

His name shall kindle many a heart to equal flame;

the fire he started shall burn on and on till all the darkness of the lands be gone,

and all the kingdoms of the earth be won

... and one!

A soul so fiery sweet can never die

but lives and loves and works through all eternity.”

The idea is that what you do with great passion for Christ, with deep sweet love for the Lord Jesus… what you give up in dying to yourself to serve Him and His gospel… is drawn up into His Resurrection Life and goes on and on to work good for the glory of God. In Willfinger’s case I saw the evidence of this truth. God is at work and it is an honor to attach ourselves to men so great who gave all for the gospel. We must do the same.

Joel Van Hoogen Joel Van Hoogen

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