Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.” Romans 12:20
This following story will give an illustration of the true meaning of this Bible verse.
The red sun was just setting behind the rugged peaks of the Himalayan mountains in India. Their snow-capped edges were alive with colour. The little village of Chakdara, clinging to the hillside, was ablaze, too. But it was ablaze with excitement. Gopal, the only son of the Rajput, had disappeared. His father had not discovered his absence until evening because he thought he was tending the goats on the hillside.
For months there had been trouble in Gopal’s family because he was a Christian. This seemed like a terrible disgrace to the proud father. He was a Rajput, a member of the ruling and fighting caste of India. Surely it couldn’t be that his son had become a Christian. The landowner beat his son. He starved him. But Gopal would not change his mind. And now—now he was gone!
Samuel Stokes, the American, was also gone. He was a Christian missionary and had much to the poor. He spent much time in prayer as he went about preaching and teaching about the love of Jesus. He knew that many Indians would not listen to him. Samuel, though, loved his Indian friends and he wanted them to know his Saviour.
“The American is gone and so is my son is gone. They must have disappeared together,” thundered the Rajput. “We will find them.”
The Rajput and a large group of villagers left in the cold still night. They were determined to bring back the boy. But days later the weary hillmen straggled home, bitterly disappointed. They could not find Gopal.
Days passed without news. Weeks stretched into months but still no sign. The Rajput busied himself with his goats and small black oxen, but inside he nursed his anger. He would not forget!
Slowly the winter passed and the streams became swollen with the melting snows. Then news came. A peasant had seen Gopal in a village higher up the valley.
“The Rajput’s sons is at school in the plains,” reported the peasant. “The foreign missionary himself has baptized him a Christian. They say the boy is an excellent scholar. In four days’ time the missionary will come to Bareri to see his friends at the house of the tea-planter’s widow.”
The foreign missionary was coming! It was the Rajput’s chance. He could scarcely wait. On the third day he gathered the men of the village and told them his plan.
“We will go to meet the missionary. By the widow’s house we will lie in wait for him. The man who bewitched my son shall die.”
At dawn, armed with bamboo poles and knives, the hillmen left Chakdara. Gopal’s cousin Ram was among the men as they scrambled down to the river, crossed the swaying bridge above its rushing waters, and climbed swiftly to the opposite slope. Nearing the road by which the missionary must come, they proceeded cautiously. One man went ahead alone, and then returned to report.
“In the widow’s house are two missionaries. One is a foreigner, but not the one we seek. We must wait.”
The party hid among the pines below the bungalow. A few yards lower a watchman was stationed to give warning. Hour after hour they waited. The stillness of the mountains was broken only by the sound of the cattle bells among the pines. Dusk fell. Ram was beginning to grow restless when suddenly a dog barked in the distance. The hillmen seized their weapons. The next moment the watchman came running on noiseless feet.
“He is coming,” he whispered.
“Are you sure?” asked another.
“He is short, barefoot and is red-haired. I tell you, it is he!”
There was a tense pause, then with a wild shout the hillmen attacked. Men dashed from the bungalow. After a few moments of confusion, the hillmen fled, leaving the missionary on the ground with a terrible wound in his forehead.
Daring as it was, Ram remained behind the rest, determined to learn more about the missionary. Then he would take word to his uncle, the Rajput. Hiding near the inn, he hoped to overhear the men’s talk. His patience was rewarded and this is what he heard:
The police had been informed immediately. The missionary was not dead. For hours he had lain delirious while his friends nursed him continuously. What most impressed the villagers, however, were the missionary’s words as he regained consciousness.
Over and over he prayed, “Father, forgive them. . . . Father, forgive them.” Then he begged. “Don’t tell the police. Don’t tell the police.”
Ram could wait no longer. He must tell his uncle. As fast as he could, he made off through the pine forests, slipping over rocks and steep grassy slopes down to the river. Then up the winding path to Chakdara. But Ram was too late. The police had already raided the village, making many arrests. The Rajput and his men were taken miles away to the prison at Simla.
Snatching a bit of food, Ram was off again. This time he was going to the prison at Simla. He must know what was happening. He ran along the winding mountain track. Above him were the brilliant stars. The first golden sunbeams crept over the ridges and down into the deep valleys just as he entered Simla. For days Ram watched the police station, not daring to ask questions. He might be recognized. Somehow he managed to keep himself alive, getting work and food as best he could. One day while he hovered outside the courtroom, the door opened, and out walked the Rajput and his men. They were free! As they took the road which led to Chakdara, they told Ram their story.
“The missionary himself pleaded for us. Unable to walk, he was carried by stretcher from Bareri. Eighty kilometres! He saw the deputy commissioner not once or twice, but many times. And now we are free. The deputy commissioner was angry and threatened us, but he released us, every one.”
That night the village buzzed with talk. Why had the missionary risked his life to plead for the men who tried to kill him? Why did Gopal want to leave them to become a Christian? No one could give the answers.
Years passed. One day Gopal and the missionary returned to Chakdara. Again the village was ablaze with excitement but this time there was rejoicing in Gopal’s home. Now the Rajput and the hillmen were eager to listen to the missionary as he told them about his Saviour. The good news spread quickly and it was not long until the whole village had heard about the Master.
“Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:21
Although you may not be a foreign missionary who has enemies that want to kill you, you may meet bullies at school or at work. I was told by a friend how there was a bully in her son’s school who everyone feared. One day her son said he did not even want to go to school. My friend gave her son a package of chewing gum and told him to go and give that to the big bully. At first her son recoiled. There was no way he was going to do that. But his mother insisted. So he finally agreed. Later when he came home from school, he told his mother that he had done so. And that the bully was very thankful and grateful and said no one had done something so nice to him. The bully then decided that my friend’s son would be one of his best friends and promised to defend him if anyone tried to hurt him.
Many people act badly because they are sad and lonely and do not know Jesus. If we show them kindness and the love of Jesus, these people can turn away from their bad behavior and learn good behavior through the love of Jesus.
This is what it means to heap coals of fire on the heads of your enemies. Go forward in the name of Jesus and be a true missionary for Him.