Monday, December 21, 2009

The Making of a Murderer - The Making of a Christian

Kate Uttinger writes in this month's Leben Magazine issue an article that will capture your imagination.  It is about Apache Indians in the 1800's.  Specifically one man born to the Bendonkohe Apaches in southwestern Arizona.  The Indians always had fascinating names for their people, to me at least.  Its like inventing your own name for playing the blues- pick an infirmity, pick your favorite  fruit, add your last name and that's your blues name.  Mine would be "Blind Watermelon Meyer".

Goyahkla translates to "One Who Yawns".  Early in his life, according to Ms. Uttinger's research, he "lived the idyllic picture of native simplicity."  Played hide-and-seek among  the rocks and brush with his siblings, learned how to track animals and from the adults learned to recognize medicinal herbs.  

Apache warriors grew up able to travel on foot 70 miles per day. Running, bathing in icy water, wrestling and marksmanship made up a large part of their training.  This is what Goyahkla did and more.  He married Alope, a delicate girl and had 3 children by her.  "He farmed, occasionally raided nearby Mexican outposts for supplies, and played with his children on the dirt floor of their wickiup."  This all changed one day.

The day that would change his life forever was the day he left with his fellow warriors to trade at a Mexican village.  They left a small guard with the women back in their own village.  Upon their return Goyahkla  found his wife and children and mother and many of the other women butchered by hostile Mexican raiders.

He vowed to avenge his family and avenge he did.  Murdering many and he raged and hated for decades.  The last words of his unfortunate Mexican victims would consist of crying out to Saint Jerome.  Phonetically it comes out "Sahntoe YAH ro-may!" in the Spanish language thus giving Goyahkla a new name Geronimo!

How many of us have yelled that name as kids as we jumped from our tree forts and tree limbs and creek banks?  But why Geronimo?  According to Leben magazine there was a young man nearly 70 years ago named Private Aubrey Eberhart that  leapt out of a C-47 transport with a parachute.  He had been influenced by wild west movies popular at the time.  He delivered on a promise that he would yell something recognizable to fellow paratroopers on the ground when he jumped out at just several hundred feet.  And that is the way it all began.

Geronimo is quoted as saying in 1902 "The Jesus Road is best and I would like my people to travel it...Now we begin to think the Christian white people love us!"  After being captured and relocated to Fort Sill, Oklahoma two Dutch Reformed missionaries invited him and his men to attend services in the evening.  The pastor preached on the atonement.  An old warrior by then Geronimo limped into a service a year later after a recent fall from his horse.  He heard the sermon titled "Jesus Made Just Like Sin For Us".  Right then Geronimo begged that the pastors would "Pray that Jesus would give me a new heart."  A week later he was examined to satisfaction to have "more knowledge than anyone anticipated".  "No consistory of our church could refuse to admit this man into membership." said Dr. Walter Roe and so Geronimo was baptized into eternal life.

That is the end of the story of Geronimo but there are more details that I will leave you to discover.  He is a man I may one day stand side by side with in eternity along with St. Jerome, whoever he was.