We have said that the recruiting, training, sending, support and return of missionaries is a monumental job and when a church body undertakes that task I does so under the Lordship of Christ whose mission it is. More and more mainline churches have withdrawn from the missionary task and many are find that we have to change the paradigm as Christian Churches rise and thrive in “global south” and decline and die in Europe and the United States.
There was a time when missionaries went of into areas that were pretty remote and they often went alone. Not only was the culture shock but often antagonism in the form of what has come to be called “power encounters”. Detlev Schulz, in his monumental book, “Mission from the Cross” says, “In a missionary setting, missionaries may encounter those who use magic and witchcraft very deceptively and persuasively as powers of God and the Holy Spirit. Missionaries should be quick to point out that such powers are not used in the name of God, but rather are of occultic, satanic origin that must be overthrown by the Gospel”. What Schulz is talking about here is a bit different that what Boniface faced, but it was a challenge.. He found it difficult that people were attracted by Christianity but unable to give up their old religion and superstitions, perhaps out of fear of being different or of how the old Viking “gods” would react. Much of the worship of these heathen was centered around sacred trees at which they practiced sacrifices and made offerings to the gods.
This from various source on the web –
Knowing that the people needed a reason to let go, Boniface called the tribes to a display of power. Preaching about the nativity under a great sacred tree dedicated to Thor, he found himself facing a angry armed crowd. As the people watched,
Boniface approached the giant oak of Geismar, a sacred tree dedicated to Thor, with an axe. Some of the people must have trembled with each stroke of his axe, but nothing happened. Finally with a crack, the tree split in four parts that we, are
told, fell to the ground in the shape of a cross. They crushed all the trees around except a single small fir three. There stood Boniface, axe in hand, unharmed by their old gods, strong in the power of the one God. The legend says that Boniface
used the lumber from Thor’s tree to make a church. And that is why Boniface is often shown with a axe.
It is said that he used that small triangular evergreen fir tree, its branches reaching up to heaven as an illustration of the nativity and the Trinity, telling the story of how the One God had sent his Son to save the world from sin and
pagan gods. Small fir trees were hung upside down from the rafters of homes and churches as a symbol of Christianity from the Twelfth Century. They later came to be decorated with apples and sweets, and tradition has it that Martin Luther put candles on a tree for his children. Where before offerings were made to the gods and goddesses at sacred trees, Boniface stressed that the gifts now tied to the trees represented the gift of God to man in Jesus Christ.
Another pagan solstice custom was the fire wreath. Great wreaths of evergreens were set on fire and rolled down the hills on Winter Solstice (December 21st) to call the light back to overcome the darkness. Boniface took the wreaths and used their ring shape to represent the eternity and mercy of God and the evergreens, His everlastingness. He placed candles on the wreath to represent penance, sorrow, longing , and hope and joy. Church tradition has since embellished the symbolism of the wreath and it is used by a variety of Christian traditions. The Christmas tree and Advent wreath were traditions that would become beloved of the German peoples and German immigrants would bring it to America.