A few weeks ago, one of my heroes died. John Wilson was a pioneer missionary to the Yali people in Papua, Indonesia, known then as Dutch New Guinea. In 1961, missionaries Stan Dale and Bruno de Leeuw made first contact with the Yali tribe in the central mountains Papua, Indonesia. In 1966, two of their early converts were killed for preaching the Gospel. Two years later, Stan, along with another missionary, Phil Masters, was killed by Yali warriors. At that point, Yali Christians were a small and intimidated group within their society. John’s son, Jonathan, writes,
It was into this tense situation that John Wilson, his wife, Gloria, and his one-year-old son, Jonathan, arrived…in 1971. John had heard God’s certain call to New Guinea [Papua] as a teenager, and after clearing several obstacles…including an initial rejection by the mission agency…he was able to spend 20 years serving among the Yali. He went to Papua with quite a low estimation of his abilities. He saw himself as simply a helper, a contributor; others would do the significant work. He quickly found that he had a bent for the anthropological and became an avid student of the culture; significantly still, he found that he was innately skilled as a linguist. In years to come the Yali often would say, “he speaks our language better than we do.”
In 1975, while on a trek into a hostile area to ascertain the well-being of a Yali evangelist rumoured to have been killed, John found himself facing a mass of Yali warriors threatening to kill him if he came further. In that confrontation the Lord spoke a clear word to John, “No more blood will be shed for my work among the Yali. I have a task for you, and you will live to see it completed.” In the late 1980s…John finished the Yali New Testament. …He and Gloria trained Yali leaders to teach literacy, and eventually some 60% of the tribe became functionally literate. [When the Old Testament was] published in 2000, the Yali Bible was the first full Bible to be published in Papua…in which a significant portion of its content was translated by indigenous translators.
…John took with utmost seriousness the task of coaching and developing Yali leaders. This leadership development built directly on their ongoing, transforming encounter with God’s Word. …The work of the Gospel led to a revolution among the Yali. …Warfare and cannibalism ceased altogether. Women went from a degraded status to taking roles in spiritual leadership, something for which they previously would have been killed or punished. Medical and nutritional services and practices were established that further benefitted the Yali. When the Yali held Jubilee celebrations in 2011, thousands upon thousands of Yali gathered to celebrate the coming of the Gospel that had transformed their entire world.
To this day, the Yali church is considered one of the most mature in Papua, and…[is] a missionary-sending movement…with Yali Christians serving other unreached tribes [and people of other faiths].
On March 14th, 2019, John experienced that which Scripture assures us: that death, though it may still come to us, has truly lost its sting. He is with his trusted Father and awaits the…coming of heaven to earth and the new creation.
A.B. Simpson once declared, “God is preparing his heroes, and when the opportunity comes he can fit them into their places in a moment, and the world will wonder where they came from.” John Wilson did not see himself as a hero; in fact, he saw himself only as a “contributor.” God is not looking for extraordinary characters as his instrument; He is looking for hungry and humble men and women through whom He can demonstrate His power and compassion. Maybe you are the hero God is preparing, and your time is about to come!Download the PDF’s: English | French | Chinese
Dave Hearn is the President of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada. He has held C&MA leadership positions at local church and District levels. He served as District Superintendent for the Canadian Pacific District from 2005 to July 2012. He loves spending time with his family, and he’s passionate about living on mission fearlessly.