So, I’m sitting in bed, reading Eternity in Their Hearts by Don Richardson. It’s a book that compiles many documented indigenous tribes’ knowledge of the Creator God before any Christian missionaries arrived to tell them about Him. Amazing stuff.
Anyway, I’m sitting there, right? And I’m reading this chapter about the Karen people in Burma (modern day Myanmar in Southeast Asia). True story…
Back in 1795, there’s a British guy who visits the Karen with a Burmese interpreter. The British guy walks up to a village of the Karen, and the Karen people see him and suddenly rush over to him and start touching and inspecting him closely. They’re very excited and seem to be looking for something.
Quite uncomfortable, the British guy asks his Burmese interpreter what’s going on.
The elder Karen present tell this Englishman that they’ve been waiting for centuries, waiting for their “white brother” to bring them a book written by Y’wa, the Supreme God that tells them how to follow Him.
Turns out, according to oral tradition passed down since the very beginnings of teh Karen tribe:
- Y’wa is an omnipotent, omnipresent, all loving, merciful, perfect-in-every-way Creator who wants to have relationships with them if only they’d repent and of their sins,
- Y’wa created a garden at the beginning of creation with Thanai and Eeu, the first man and woman, who ate “fruit of trial” from a forbidden tree at the urging of a powerful evil being named Mu-kaw-lee who told them they wouldn’t die and that they’d ascend to heaven if they but eat the fruit,
- they have a moral law almost identical to the Noahide Laws found in multiple Second Temple Jewish Literature (basically, the 7 commandments that Noah and the rest of the world were supposed to follow),
- they await their King who will bring down a huge mountain to earth so the whole world can worship together their King, and
- white foreigners would come and bring the words of Y’wa that were lost to their ancestors through neglect.
Sounds like a Christian fairy tale come true, right? Crazy!
These people had resisted Buddhist teachings for over 2000 years, faithfully waiting on Y’wa to reconnect with them. And Y’wa (who is nearly identical to the Judeo-Christian Yahweh) followed through!
Well, the British guy gets spooked (he was a diplomat, not a missionary), and left.
The first Karen conversion to Christianity didn’t happen until 1817. His name was Ko Thah-byu. He met an American missionary named Adoniram Judson in the city of Rangoon, Burma. Once Ko Thah-byu was baptized, he became a one-man dynamo of missions, traveling nonstop for years on end, telling everyone in the hills and in every village he could find about Jesus. Mr. Richardson’s book details:
“By 1858, tens of thousands of Karen Christians awakened to the realization that they were responsible to proclaim the good news of “the lost book restored” among other ethnic minorities of Burma besides themselves! Karen Christians from Bassein led the way into this new cross-cultural phase by sending teams of Karen missionaries – with an occasional American missionary as part of the team – to the 500,000 Kachin people living in Burma’s northern hump.” (p. 86)
The realization that Y’wa had sent His promised word to the people of Burma continued to spread for decades! Tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people across Southeast Asia quickly accepted Christ as their savior because the groundwork had already been laid by God Himself.
When I read all of this, I jumped out of bed and ran downstairs to share this with you. 🙂
Here are some really cool things about the Karen’s understanding of God that I took away from all of this:
The names from the Karen tradition are remarkably similar to the Bible and ancient Jewish texts.
- Y’wa = Yahweh
- Thanai = Adam (or adam אָדָם in Hebrew);
- Eeu = Eve (or chavvah חַוָּה in Hebrew); the u and the v make a similar shape.
- Mu-kaw-lee = Mastema (the proper name given for Satan in the ancient Jewish Book of Jubilees); the first syllable is very similar.
- The first man and woman pair, outlined in this paper I found on the Karen people by Esther Danpongpee, were named Saw and Naw (which mean “male” and “female”) in another tradition. The woman’s name, Naw, sounds similar to “Noah.” This is interesting given that in one Chinese mythology, the female originator of all people’s name was Nu-wa.
Obviously, I’m not saying that these are perfect matches, but that’s pretty close given that the traditions are thousands of years removed from one another. 🙂
Very Old Monotheism
These traditions “almost certainly” predate either Christianity or Judaism for a variety of reasons: (Richardson, p. 75)
- These oral traditions are deeply embedded into the Karen culture; they couldn’t have been caused by any fleeting missionary encounter in the deep past. The believes are foundational to their identity.
- These oral traditions survived the onslaught of Buddhism and spiritism for over 2000 years, so these are incredibly robust beliefs.
- No mention of Moses or Jesus; this would be expected if these beliefs originated with some visiting Jew or Christian from the distant past.
Thoughts on the Younger White Brothers
The “white foreigner” who would bring Y’wa’s word, according to the Karen traditions, would be descended from the younger brothers of their own fore-fathers. Though it is unclear from Jewish sources which of Noah’s sons’ descendants settled beyond the Ganges River (for instance, it can be argued using indigenous genealogies and linguistic study that the Chinese are descended from either Japheth or Shem, or both (Ancient Post-Flood History, Ken Johnson, Th.D, p. 116)), it is interesting to point out that each of Noah’s sons and grandsons were allotted specific geographical areas: Japheth, the oldest, and his sons were given Europe and northern Asia, while Shem, the second son, and his sons were given the Middle East and southern Asia (including India) up to the Ganges River (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 1.6.4). The youngest of Noah’s sons, Ham, and his descendants, were given the entire continent of Africa.
The point is that, according to the Bible and other Jewish sources, the descendants of Noah spread out and populated the world following the Tower of Babel incident according to their family groups. These descendants of Noah were responsible for passing on the Noahide laws and the revealed knowledge of God to their families (some did, many did not). Writings containing that knowledge existed at that time and it’s plausible that some of the descendants of Japheth or Shem who arrived in modern day Myanmar (Burma) had family whose light-complexioned younger brothers lived in Europe.
… And There’s More!
Dude, I’m not even two whole chapters into Eternity in their Hearts yet… page after page of accounts of indigenous tribes around the world waiting for the Creator God’s good news. I’ve written about the ancient Chinese worshiping Shang Di… but it wasn’t just them, either! I will continue to share what I learn, but I highly recommend that you just get this book yourself if you’re interested. It’s incredible. 🙂
Atheists and agnostics will sometimes argue saying, “Well, what about the guy on the deserted desert island who never heard of Jesus? What about all those tribes in Africa who never experience your God??”
While I certainly can’t answer for every single person in every tribe or every lone dude on every forgotten desert island (how’d he get there, anyway?), it’s becoming clear to me that that objection to God’s goodness or His existence based on His absence from other world cultures just doesn’t hold water anymore.
It’s 2 am. I’m going to edit this tomorrow and send it out.
To bed! To bed, I said!
Stay tuned! Love you all, and God bless!