Stories Worth Rereading: The Missionary’s Defense

The following occurrence was related by Missionary von Asselt, a Rhenish missionary in Sumatra from 1856-76, when on a visit to Lubeck:—

“When I first went to Sumatra, in the year 1856 I was the first European missionary to go among the wild Battas, although twenty years prior, two American missionaries had come to them with the gospel; but they had been killed and eaten. Since then no effort had been made to bring the gospel to these people, and naturally they had remained the same cruel savages.

“What it means for one to stand alone among a savage people, unable to make himself understood, not understanding a single sound of their language, but whose suspicious, hostile looks and gestures speak only a too-well-understood language,—yes, it is hard for one to realize that. The first two years that I spent among the Battas, at first all alone and afterward with my wife, were so hard that it makes me shudder even now when I think of them. Often it seemed as if we were not only encompassed by hostile men, but also by hostile powers of darkness; for often an inexplicable, unutterable fear would come over us, so that we had to get up at night, and go on our knees to pray or read the Word of God, in order to find relief.

“After we had lived in this place for two years, we moved several hours’ journey inland, among a tribe somewhat civilized, who received us more kindly. There we built a small house with three rooms,—a living-room, a bedroom, and a small reception-room,—and life for us became a little more easy and cheerful.

“When we had been in this new place for some months, a man came to me from the district where we had been, and whom I had known there. I was sitting on the bench in front of our house, and he sat down beside me, and for a while talked of this, that, and the other. Finally he began, ‘Now tuan [teacher], I have yet one request.’

“‘And what is that?’

“‘I should like to have a look at your watchmen close at hand.’

“‘What watchmen do you mean? I do not have any.’

“‘I mean the watchmen whom you station around your house at night, to protect you.’

“‘But I have no watchmen,’ I said again; ‘I have only a little herdsboy and a little cook, and they would make poor watchmen.’

“Then the man looked at me incredulously, as if he wished to say, ‘O, do not try to make me believe otherwise, for I know better!’

“Then he asked, ‘May I look through your house, to see if they are hid there?’

“‘Yes, certainly,’ I said, laughing; ‘look through it; you will not find anybody.’ So he went in and searched in every corner, even through the beds, but came to me very much disappointed.

“Then I began a little probing myself, and requested him to tell me the circumstances about those watchmen of whom he spoke. And this is what he related to me: ‘When you first came to us, tuan, we were very angry at you. We did not want you to live among us; we did not trust you, and believed you had some design against us. Therefore we came together, and resolved to kill you and your wife. Accordingly, we went to your house night after night; but when we came near, there stood always, close around the house, a double row of watchmen with glittering weapons, and we did not venture to attack them to get into your house. But we were not willing to abandon our plan, so we went to a professional assassin [there still was among the savage Battas at that time a special gild of assassins, who killed for hire any one whom it was desired to get out of the way], and asked him if he would undertake to kill you and your wife. He laughed at us because of our cowardice, and said: “I fear no God, and no devil. I will get through those watchmen easily.” So we came all together in the evening, and the assassin, swinging his weapon about his head, went courageously on before us. As we neared your house, we remained behind, and let him go on alone. But in a short time he came running back hastily, and said. “No, I dare not risk it to go through alone; two rows of big, strong men stand there, very close together, shoulder to shoulder, and their weapons shine like fire.”

“Then we gave it up to kill you. But now, tell me, tuan, who are these watchmen? Have you never seen them?”

“‘No, I have never seen them.’

“‘And your wife did not see them also?’

“‘No, my wife did not see them.’

“‘But yet we have all seen them; how is that?’

“Then I went in, and brought a Bible from our house, and holding it open before him, said: ‘See here; this book is the Word of our great God, in which he promises to guard and defend us, and we firmly believe that Word; therefore we need not to see the watchmen; but you do not believe, therefore the great God has to show you the watchmen, in order that you may learn to believe.'”