An astonishing experience of the power of God

An astonishing experience of the power of God

Missionary work is rarely easy, but when you are taking the gospel to a tribe of cannibals the stakes are especially high, as Henry Garlock found when he had to preach to save his life – in a language he had never learned

Henry Bruce Garlock (1897-1985) is a name little known to most of us. Born in New Jersey, USA, he was a missionary, administrator and pastor, becoming the first African field director for the American Assemblies of God.

However, it was during his time as a missionary for the Pentecostal Holiness Association that he had an astonishing experience of the power of God, which not only saved his own life and that of one of his carriers, but was instrumental in turning an entire tribe to Christ.

In 1920, Garlock and his wife, Ruth, volunteered for missionary work among the Pahns, a small but dangerous tribe in the interior of Liberia. No missionaries had ever worked there for the simple reason that the tribe was made up of cannibals.

On arrival in Liberia, together with a group of African Christians, the Garlocks set up camp on the borders of Pahn country. Almost immediately, Mrs Garlock fell ill with malaria. Their meagre medical supplies were soon exhausted but still her fever rose. Garlock had the difficult job of persuading the local natives to take the short route to the coast for more medicine. The natives’ reluctance was understandable because the route lay through Pahn country.

However, early the next morning, with great misgivings, a group set off, hoping to skirt the danger areas and bring back the medical supplies which might well save the missionary lady’s life.

A few hours later, the head carrier suddenly appeared at Garlock’s tent with the news that one of his men had been captured by the cannibals. Unless the man was rescued, he would certainly be eaten.

Providentially, Mrs Garlock’s fever had begun to go down shortly after the supply party had left, so without hesitation Garlock left for the Pahn country, taking along with him a few hand-picked warriors. He was going to try to get the man back before he became dinner! Just before dark, the little group arrived at the Pahn village. One of the huts had two men carrying spears guarding it, and Garlock guessed that this was where the carrier was being held.

Henry took a deep breath and began to speak. From his lips came a language he did not understand

“I’m going in,” he whispered to his men. “If there’s trouble, make as much noise as you can and I’ll try to escape in the confusion.” Garlock was counting on two facts to help him. First was that the Pahns had never seen a white man before and this would give him the advantage of surprise. The second was that he believed in a God of miracles who would provide supernatural help at a time like this. So, praying like never before, he entered the cannibal’s compound.

Walking as tall as he could, Garlock stepped boldly up to the prison hut. The guards were too astonished to stop him, and he was able to get inside and loose the bonds of the prisoner. However, outside he heard shouts and the sound of many feet running. As he tried to drag the terrified carrier outside, Garlock found himself surrounded by a yelling crowd of Pahns, armed with spears, knives and hatchets.

Garlock listened for his own men to start a distraction, but heard nothing, and quickly realised they had abandoned the cause and left him to it! So he decided that bluff was his only recourse. Praying all the time, he sat on the skull of an elephant near the door of the hut, while the crowd quietened and eventually squatted down in a great semi-circle round him. As the full moon rose, the witchdoctor stood up and shook a reed wand at Garlock. For about an hour he harangued the missionary before the crowd and the village chief. Although he did not understand a word of the language, Garlock realised he was on trial. Then suddenly, the witchdoctor looked the missionary in the eye, placed the wand at his feet, and stepped back amid the cheers of the crowd.

Silence fell. Garlock realised he had to make his defence. But how? He picked up the wand and walked back and forth praying, while the crowd grew more and more restless.

Suddenly Garlock began to shake violently. Peace flooded his heart as he was filled with the Holy Spirit. The words of Jesus from Matthew 10 came to him: “Do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”

Garlock felt a strange boldness. He took a deep breath and began to speak. From his lips came a language he did not understand.

The effect on the Pahns was startling. They leaned forward, enthralled, hanging on the missionary’s every word. Garlock realised that he must be speaking in other tongues in the language of the Pahns.

Henry Garlock

For 20 minutes, Garlock spoke to the natives. Then, as suddenly as it had come, the supernatural language left him and he knew he had come to the end of his defence. He sat down and waited.

For a few minutes the witchdoctor and chief consulted together. Then the witchdoctor brought a white rooster. Wringing its head off, he sprinkled blood on Garlock and the prisoner. Later Garlock interpreted this to mean that the rooster had been killed in place of them. Something he had said while speaking under the power of the Spirit had convinced the Pahns that he and the prisoner should go free.

Within a few minutes, Garlock and the carrier were walking back through the jungle toward the mission station. The chief even gave them two of his own men to guide them!

Eventually the Pahns were converted to Christianity and gave up their cannibalism, and amazingly the beginnings of their conversion came with the seed sown by the missionary who stood in the moonlight giving them a speech, not one word of which he understood!

Read this article and much more like inside Heroes of the Faith 16 Oct - Dec 2013.

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