In the Hearts of Wild Men

In The Hearts Of Wild Men, by Ernest Herndon, tells the first-hand tale of a 1981 mission trip into the mountainous heart of Papua New Guinea.  It is a short book, 135 pages, written in fits and spurts while Herndon was recovering from a malarial fever.

In the book, Herndon frequently mentions Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, and this adventure does bear some resemblance to Conrad’s tale, but Heart of Darkness might have just been on Herndon’s mind because Francis Ford Coppola’s film rendition of Heart of Darkness, Apocalypse Now, was at the height of its popularity during that time.

What Herndon’s book really reminds me of is End of the Spear, true story of missionary Jim Elliot, who was murdered by natives in the jungles of Equador in 1956.  In fact, Herndon’s situation in Papua New Guinea becomes so dire that I was afraid that this book would end the same way even though I know Herndon survived this mission trip.  Ernest and I joked a couple of weeks ago that his book might have well been titled, End of the Machete.


Inscrutible.  Eyes judging, dissecting.  Disconcerting when those eyes are the windows to the soul of a man who is only tenuously removed by a few years from his cannibalistic ancestors.  The title, In The Hearts Of Wild Men, refers to the impossibility of figuring out what is going on in the hearts of men like these.  There is a gulf there that cannot be bridged by men.

When you are being led through the jungle by such men your every doubt and physical weakness is reflected back to you.  You know that you are out of your element and dependent on them, helpless except for their continued beneficence – as weak as a child (a particularly annoying child) and relying upon their goodwill, of which you have no way of being certain.

Was this mission a failure since they didn’t get where they intended, didn’t do what they intended, and barely escaped with their lives?  No – because the real mission is always simply to plant a seed like a gardener.  A gardener doesn’t actually grow food.  He merely plants a seed and does the best he can to improve the conditions for it to grow.  God grows the plant or not – according to His own will.

That gulf that is unsurpassable to man is a snap for God – for whom the native is not inscrutable or alien at all.


Actually, Herndon’s mission does turn out exactly like End of the Spear – but I can say no more without spoiling the book. Go get a copy of In The Hearts Of Wild Men and read it.  Highly recommended tale of a real-life missionary and cannibal adventure in the gritty, sweaty, bug infested jungles of Papua New Guinea!


[All photos courtesy of Ernest Herndon and Grace & Truth Books]