The death of President Hugo Chavez has brought back a flood of emotions and memories as well as concerns for the future of Venezuela. I am reposting this as I gather my thoughts for an article about his death.
This is an article that we had written for our missions magazine in 2006. I thought it might explain our situation a little better for some of you who do not know us. We are now relocated to Paraguay where we continue to serve as Baptist missionaries.
From the window of the Cessna 206 aircraft we took one last, long heart–wrenching look at the jungle village that had been our home. Circumstances beyond our control had forced us to leave a decade of work in the jungles of Venezuela. How do you simply fly away from ten years of working to learn a language…to establish a home, and to build relationships with some of the most precious people on earth? We had shared our lives with theirs, mingling our joys and sadness. We had become family with these Indian tribesmen through the blood of Jesus Christ! Through tear–stained eyes, we said good–bye to our Ye’kwana family, and the village they called Chajuraña.
Before we moved to the village, we had ministered for 8 years in the city of Barquisimeto. During those years, God was preparing us for the more primitive, tribal ministry in the jungle village. (The nearest town from Chajuraña is a two–week trip by canoe or a two-hour flight by mission plane.) We first visited Chajuraña in 1994 to preach the Gospel and to see churches planted throughout the Caura river valley.
Now our journey had unexpectedly brought us back to where it had all begun.
Our wounds were still fresh as we visited the church in Barquisimeto during a Wednesday evening service. Political tensions between the US and Venezuela had escalated in the expulsion of all missionaries from the jungle villages. We were expelled from our jungle ministry, and the future of our airplane was in question. That evening, as my wife and I read through I Thessalonians 2 with the believers in Barquisimeto, God’s Word spoke to our hearts in a very pointed and personal way.
From the window of the airplane, a disturbing thought had plagued my mind–was it all in vain? A businessman might say, “yes.” At first glance, it seemed that the costs were greater than the benefits. But God would have the final word. Right there in verse one, Paul reminded me of what I already knew… “For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain.”
No, it was not in vain! It was not in vain because we left something in that jungle village that could not be expelled with us. We were as verse 4 says, “allowed of God to be put in trust with the Gospel.” What a precious gift was entrusted to us to deliver to the people of Chajuraña! God used us to carry the Gospel to them! We were not the first. Cederico and Florinda Eddings of the Orinoco River Mission had spent years there in the 70’s struggling to minister under extremely primitive conditions. New Tribes missionaries, in other parts of the jungle, had worked to translate the New Testament into the Ye’kwana language. The hearts of some were ready to receive the Gospel while others were hard and needed patience and love to prepare their hearts for the Good News. When the Eddings left, they saw some fruit, but not as much as they had desired. Regardless, they too realized that their time was not in vain.
We were reminded of how precious our new friends had become to us when we read in verse 8, “ye were dear unto us.” We found it necessary to not only impart the Gospel but to share our very souls. Often times in a tribal situation, because of language and cultural barriers, words alone are not enough. One must become the very Bible that they read. The only way for them to comprehend the love of Christ is by seeing it lived out in a person’s daily life. That is not to imply that it came easily.
To the contrary, we found the words of verse 9 to ring especially true, “for laboring night and day.” We found living among them to be more demanding than we had ever imagined. Not only were we forced to build a house from materials totally alien to us, we also had to experience first hand the rigors of malaria and other tropical diseases. At the same time we were raising our four young children without the convenience of electricity, running water, or for that matter–floors! We have seen first-hand the tremendous toll that jungle illnesses can have on missionaries. Our co–workers were forced to leave tribal ministry after experiencing many bouts of sickness. I was of necessity the preacher, teacher, doctor, dentist, pharmacist, midwife, airstrip builder, village mechanic and carpenter. On a regular basis we were awakened at night to attend to the sick or to deliver babies.
So, why did we do it? Again, Paul’s words in verse 12 echo our hearts cry…“That ye would walk worthy of God.” Our motivation for being in this ministry was so that we could preach the Gospel to the Indians and see their lives changed by the power of the cross and the work of the Holy Spirit. As Paul also said in I Thessalonians 1:9, we saw many who “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” Even as I write this I can see their faces, Ye’kwana men and women who left their heathen ways and now “walk worthy of God.”
Ramon – He heard the Gospel for nearly 40 years before he believed and became an example of faithfulness.
Luis Milano – He was the worst drunk and womanizer in the village with four wives and nearly 30 children. He came to know Christ after the death of his Christian son.
Petra – She was the wife of the witch doctor. She was the first believer in the village and prayed for years that someone would come and teach her more of the Word of God.
Magdelena – Through her own death, she became a witness to over 500 Indians from other villages.
Space does not permit me to tell each and every story, but you can someday hear their stories in Heaven.
We do thank God for the privilege of being His witnesses among these people. It is a fearful thing to be the one called upon to deliver God’s message to men when they do not have God’s Word written in their own language. That’s why the words of verse 13 were especially applicable to us: “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.” We have seen the power of the Word of God and the work that it brings forth in the lives of the people when they receive it, whether it be from our mouths or from the written page. For this reason, while we are still allowed to remain in the country of Venezuela, we feel strongly that we should dedicate ourselves to the unfinished work of translating the Old Testament into the Ye’kwana language so that they may read it for themselves.
Verse 14 also resonated in our hearts: “for ye have also suffered like things of your own countrymen.” When President Chavez decreed that evangelical missionaries must leave the tribal areas, Indian believers began to suffer at the hands of their own countrymen. The missionary pastors that were forced to leave are often the only medical help available to jungle tribes. Missionary pilots are also no longer allowed to fly the sick to the hospitals. Two natives from our area have already died needlessly because of this decision. There is no longer medicine available in the dispensary, as this also came through mission donations.
At this time, missionaries are not allowed to minister in the tribal areas. We understand Paul’s experience in verse 16: “Forbidding us to speak.” In most cases the Christian Indians are also cut off from each other due to lack of communication and transportation. Additionally, many mission bases are being converted into military posts. There are psychological operations in place for the purpose of re–indoctrinating the Indians who have been under missionary influence. They are being told to return to their old ways and religion. In our last church service in Chajuraña, Victor, the pastor, said, “They can take the missionaries out of our village, but they cannot take the Holy Spirit from our hearts.’
We like Paul are “…being taken from you for a short time in presence, not in heart.” (Vs. 17) Although we are not able to be with our congregation in Chajuraña, they remain in our hearts. Even our youngest daughter has cried in church services wishing she could be in our Indian church. God has put a love in our hearts that goes beyond the physical separation. Not a day goes by that we are not thinking of them, praying for them. “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?” (Vs. 19) Whatever hardships we have experienced in the past, whatever difficulties we may experience in the future, we will never regret the years in Chajuraña at the Good Hope Baptist Church! The joy of seeing people come to Christ cannot be taken from us. Even if we had our doubts today, imagine the rejoicing we will share at the Second Coming of Christ. We look forward to walking on heavenly streets in the company of our Ye’kwana believers.
Over the years many people have questioned why we would isolate ourselves deep in the jungle to reach tribal people or how we could be happy raising our children in primitive conditions. Verse 20 says it all: “For ye are our glory and joy.” Any glory and joy that we have in eternity will far outweigh our past and present trials. The Ye’kwana people will never read these words but some of them will be in heaven with us – thanks to the prayer and financial support of people they will never meet in this life. For ye…Victor, Antonio, Maria, Magdalena, Joel, and my many other Ye’kwana brothers and sisters’ye are our glory and joy!