Billy Graham Center

The Story of a Nail


The following is to help you familiarize yourself with the geographical location, facts about the tropical island where the “Story of a Nail” has its setting.


Sumatra is the largest of the great Sunda Islands of the Malay archipelago. Lying approximately 1,800 miles north west of Australia and approximately 300 miles due east of Borneo [sic; should be "due west"], it forms part of Indonesia.

Sumatra consists of a high mountain chain which runs along the western coast descending into a huge tract of flat land seamed with many large rivers and their scores of tributaries.

Rainfall is from 98 inches per year in dry country to 139 inches per year in the wet region. Climate is humid, tropical, moist.

The population of Sumatra is approximately 10 million. There are a quarter of a million tribes scattered throughout the mountains and uplands of Northern and Central Sumatra. Over one fifth profess Mohammedism and one tenth Christianity; the rest are animistic pagans.

The vegetation is similar to India and Malaya. Orchids, myrtles, bamboo and palms are common. Forests contain oaks, chestnuts, ebony, ironwood. sandalwood and wild rubber-producing trees.

There are several species of monkies and apes, along with elephants, bears, snakes, crocodiles, turtles, woodpeckers, pigeons, pheasant, partridges.

The mountains contain numerous volcanic peaks with heights up to 12,000 feet. To the east of these mountains in Djambi are found the nomadic Kubus. These people build their houses of tree bark, either up in trees or on poles several feet above ground as a way of protection against wild animals, snakes and high water from torrential tropic rains.

They are a primitive tribe, short and muscular in stature; dark olive-tan skin, with frizzled hair and high cheek bones. All are extremely shy and isolated but quite peaceable.

They live by fishing and hunting and by crude agriculture.

It was to these people that God called Hubert Mitchell as a missionary. This particular incident took place in 1937.

Dear Teacher,

The “Story of a Nail” is a true incident in the life of missionary Hubert Mitchell during his work on the island of Sumatra. Dr. Bob Pierce first told the story on the radio several years ago. It was then put into print as a folder. Now, it is our privilege to give you this story illustrated in such a way that you might bring a missionary challenge and a message of salvation to your class. This is the “flash card” method of telling a story. As you tell the story with the pictures held in front of you, you will change to the picture illustrating the main events in the story as you relate it.

The story may be used to open the door for several avenues of thought: salvation, dedication, witness, prayer and God’s faithfulness to His own. The way you tell the story will have a lot to do with the results.

Prepare prayerfully for your story telling time. Keep the attention of your group. Don’t break eye contact. Use the Scriptures as memory work after you have told the story. Don’t use a picture out of context unless you give an explanation with the picture. With younger children, you may want to rephrase some parts of the story to bring it within their vocabulary range.

Note: You will find it effective to use the label enclosed with each story and glue it on the right sized can from your kitchen. Several candy orange slices and a nail placed in the cart will add to the effectiveness of the story.

How did the nail get in the can of oranges? That question only God can answer. Apparently the nail somehow got into the can in the canning process; and God Himself directed so the can was in the right place at the right time.

When questions like this arise, use them as a way of putting across the point that God knows all, and in His wise providence directs the lives of men and women, boys and girls. Your own ingenuity can add much to the story, but remember that it is true and that you should adhere to it.

May God bless you and use you to tell this true story.

World Vision, Inc.

A Bob Pierce Radio Story
adapted and illustrated by Kenneth Stroman, staff artist World Vision, Inc.


(Begin with Picture No. 1 in view)

From within the hot humid jungle of Sumatra came the chatter of beautiful tropical birds and the occasional cry of a monkey. With his native companions, missionary Hubert Mitchell hacked away the vines and dense foliage as they made their way into the Djambi mountains. At the age of 23 he had heard the call of God to the foreign mission field and had dedicated his life for the purpose of taking the Gospel to these primitive people of Sumatra. Now the sweat trickled down their faces as they slowly cut their way through the jungle of giant trees laced together by huge moss-covered vines. Wild boars and other animals were seen for only a fleeting moment as they ran from the path of the missionary party and startled birds disappeared into the canopy of moss aud branches overhead.

While the going was rough and the heat was stifling, a question preyed on Mitchell’s mind over and over again: “How can I explain the reality of God’s love to these illiterate uncivilized people? How can I make their darkened minds and hearts comprehend the great purpose of the sacrifice that was made on Calvary?” Then Proverbs 3: 5-6 flashed before him — “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.” This gave him the new hope and promise he needed. Finally, as the heat seemed unbearable and the jungle unpassable, they came to a clearing. Slowly they advanced to the middle of the large open area and then suddenly found themselves surrounded by dark skinned Kubu people.

(change to No. 2 Picture)

The chief of the tribe stood silently surrounded by warriors with long spears and knives. They were waiting for a single word from their chief to bring them into action. With narrowed eyes the chief studied the men who had dared to violate the privacy of his jungle home.

Then the silence was broken by the sound of dogs barking and children crying and the tension of the moment eased as the missionary smiled. The chief and the villagers seemed intrigued by the soul-warming smile on Hubert Mitchell’s face. The missionary was quick to sense their interest, and instead of following the usual practice of presenting them with beads, buttons and fish hooks, he lost no time in telling them about the love of God. The little band listened intently as the missionary told them the story of Jesus Christ and how God sent His Son to suffer for the sins of men. (Isaiah 53: 3-8). As the missionary told about the Cross and the part it played in the death of God’s son (John 3:76), the chief frowned and looked as though he wanted to speak. The missionary paused and waited.

“What is Cross?” the chief asked.

A startled look came across the missionary’s face. He wondered for a moment how he might describe a cross to these people who had never heard of one. Turning to his native worker, Hubert Mitchell told him to cut down two small trees and strip them of their branches.

(Change to No. 3 picture)

Then they brought the trees and fastened two of the larger pieces together with grass, in the shape of a cross and placed the object before the chief. The native looked at the cross and wanted to know more.

“How was Christ fastened to Cross?” This was the next question asked of the missionary. To better illustrate what happened

(Change to No. 4 picture)

Hubert Mitchell stretched himself upon the wooden cross. Lying there with hands outstretched, he told of Jesus being nailed to the cross. Another look of bewilderment came across the Chief’s face as he asked “Apa Pakoe” (“What is nail”?) That question seemed simple until Hubert Mitchell began to explain

“A nail is...." He stopped. How did one describe a nail to an uncivilized tribesman who has never seen one? He looked around for something that might resemble the object. From a bush he broke a large thorn, and explained a nail was like a thorn, but made of iron. The villagers stood by and watched. The Chief waited, the question in his eyes unanswered, the illustration had not made it clear in his mind.

Again the Chief asked “Apa Pakoe” (“What is nail”?) Hubert Mitchell searched his own gear. There was no nail. Just a small nail or a pin would be enough, but he found nothing. Finally, he gave up his search and admitted to the chief that he could find no nail. The Chief had no further questions.

Hubert was filled with frustration and deep concern. “For want of a nail, the shoe was lost.’ This thought kept nudging his conscience. The battle had been lost as far as the shoe was concerned, but the stake was higher here. Would a whole native village be lost from the love of God for the want of a nail?

Hubert Mitchell was a dejected and burdened missionary as he bowed his head to give thanks for his evening meal of rice and fish. It was then God reminded him of the promise found in the Bible where He said “Have I not commanded thee? Be strong and of good courage: be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee withersoever thou goest.” (Joshua 1: 9) With a fresh supply of faith and courage Hubert Mitchell ate his meal.

Usually he finished his meal with some fresh jungle fruit or a piece of sugar cane. On this night he idly picked up a can of mandarin oranges from his supplies. He had bought two cans at a Chinese store in a jungle village while buying provisions for the trip. Usually, because of the weight, he never took canned food of any kind.

(Change to picture No. 5)

As he opened the can and poured the oranges into a dish, he heard a rattling sound. Curiously he looked inside the can. To his amazement, he saw there in the bottom of the can a nail!

His mind was flooded with wonderment, almost disbelief, but the fact remained, there was a nail! At once he showed the nail to his native companion. Tears creased down the native’s cheeks as he said “That shows God is with us and He wants these people to know.” With a word of praise and thanks to God on his lips, and the nail in his hand, Hubert Mitchell rushed to the hut of the chief. The chief looked up from his own meal with a look of surprise and wonderment as the missionary came running into his hut. Hubert Mitchell extended his hand, the chief saw a nail for the first time.

(Change to No. 6 picture)

The chief held it in his own hand and pressed it into his own flesh. He could see how strong and sharp it was. He realized the pain and suffering of such a wound as this nail would make. The Chief looked up from pressing the nail into his own hand, and nodded to the missionary that he understood his story.

(Change to No. 7 picture)

Then they knelt together on the floor of the grass hut, and in simple child-like faith the chief of the tribe accepted Jesus Christ as His Saviour and became a “new creature in Christ.” (2 Cor. .5: 17).

The other villagers crowded into the hut. When they learned that their chief believed the story the white man told, they also wanted to know about the man who was killed so that they might live (2 Cor. 5: 15).

(Change to Picture No. 8)

Before the night ended, all of the people in the village had accepted Jesus Christ as their Saviour! The chief was so happy and so moved that he left his village and acted as guide on a two week trek through the jungle in order that Hubert Mitchell might preach the gospel to all the tribesmen of the country.

Yes, God had cared for His own. He had used His servant Hubert Mitchell to introduce the Lord Jesus Christ to those primitive Kubu tribesmen for whom He had suffered and died. God had supplied his needs in a way that had opened the hearts of these mountain people. “My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4: 19).


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Last Revised: 3/19/13
Expiration: indefinite

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