Power Encounter Vs. Christ Encounter
by Frankie Emrick
Editor’s Note: In a recent newsletter to his supporters, InterAct Ministries’ cross-cultural worker Frankie Emrick shared a story of early Christian missionary-bishop Boniface. Frankie serves in Siberia with his wife Ira among the Buriat people. He found a lesson in this story on how we can impact culture with the love of Christ.
In 718 AD, a priest from the British Isles named Boniface was appointed missionary-bishop to Germany by the sitting Pope. Of course, the Christian faith was already spreading in the region by other bishops, priests and missionaries. But Boniface also entered the Germanic territory with the sponsorship and protection of the Frankish prince Charles Martel, who brought the Germanic domain under his control. Charles “the Hammer” (as the people called him) faced invasions from Spain and needed stability on the northeast border of his empire.
After five years of missionary work, Boniface approached a giant oak tree, the community meeting place for the local Chatti tribe. The tribe worshiped Thor, the god of thunder, and Boniface wanted to reassure the warriors gathered there that no harm would befall them from abandoning Thor in favor of Jesus. Boniface greeted the militia, then he stripped to the waist, took an ax, and chopped the tree down. Thor did not strike Boniface dead with a lightning bolt as the men expected. The soldiers were amazed that Jesus was greater than Thor. Right then, Boniface baptized them into the Christian faith.
The event marked a turning point in the Christianization of the Germanic peoples, some of my ancestors. Cited often as “power encounters,” these confrontations display God’s power over the natural world. An example from the Scriptures is Elijah challenging the priests of Ba’al to a power encounter in 1 Kings 18. These displays of power intend to show that the local gods or spirits are powerless compared to God.
In the past two months, this topic has come up in several different ways in my life. First, a brand new ‘stupa’—a Buddhist shrine— was put up and dedicated across the road from my brother-in-law’s house. It was put there as a conduit for the spirit of the land to protect that neighborhood. Our first thought was, “How do we challenge this mentality so people understand that Jesus is all the protection we need?”
Second, my father-in-law’s extended family took a trip out to the land of their great-great-grandfather Alsaashka. The extended family is concerned the younger generation is experiencing great prosperity, but they did not approach their ancestors for their blessing. They took the trip up north, set up a post and prayer flags and invited shamans to call on the ancestors to meet them there. Our question in response was, “How do we honor Ira’s family and ancestors while trying to show that Jesus is our only blessing?” Third, June 5th was St. Boniface’s feast day and it reminded me of his power encounter in Germany.
Finally, the sermon at a recent service was on being compassionate and service-minded with our freedom in Jesus. It reminded me that Jesus had a power encounter of His own with the Temple leadership in Jerusalem. After chasing out the merchants profiting from doing business in the Temple, Jesus offered His own life as proof of God’s power. Of course, He said it in a cryptic way that sounded like He wanted to destroy the Temple building itself. He challenged those who had authority and said, “Take my life, and I will rise again in three days.” Jesus’ ministry was bold because He knew the power of God would raise Him from the dead.
I believe I will be presented with those moments here in Eastern Asia as well. When those moments arise, I will respond with humility, wisdom, and faith, impacting Buriats more than a planned confrontation. Confronting power with power only starts wars or changes regimes, even in the spiritual sense. Boniface chopping down Thor’s oak just replaced the fear of Thor’s hammer with the fear of Charles the “Hammer.” But encountering power with vulnerability as Jesus did opens blind people’s eyes to a new life in Him. The real questions then are, “How are they to believe in Him whom they have not heard or seen? How do I make Him seen and heard in this context?”