For the first time in my missionary pilgrimage I felt like David Livingstone. I was invited to conduct a church planting training session in an Amerindian village among the few believers. The three hour trip to the river was uneventful, only that the road was punctuated by crater size pot holes as it snaked its way through the rainforest into the Amazon jungle to “Big River”.
The Big River sat there like an innocent stream waiting to carry the small wooden boat to our destination. The rain came down in sprays instead of drops and my lungs screamed with delight as they refreshed themselves with unpolluted air of the rainforest.
We boarded the small wooden craft fitted with a fifteen horse power motor, my Person of Peace and I, and started on our way to the village. Shortly after the launch, the gentle river turned into a wild beast and started to “shake very hard,” even for the Amerindians. The waves were furious as the small motor struggled to push the boat forward. The river like a bucking bronco twisted and turned and the little boat felt its fury. The boat struggled to keep up, but was clearly no match for the monster. Finally, after more than two hours of severe struggle, the boat came to rest safely on the beach at the village. What a relief! We stood there looking at the little boat as if to say we conquered the “Big River.”
I learned much about the village. There were some one thousand to fifteen hundred persons living there, with an estimated twenty believers. Villagers believed that evil spirits were taking over this once quiet village. There was the time they abhorred illegal drug use, but now along with drunkenness, it had become the norm.
The village maintained strong traditions. Family members live in closed communities up to many generations. The most fascinating thing I learned however was about the Shaman. These were like the witch doctors with lots more power. Younger Shamans were selected by older ones and must submit to a series of training including a fast for weeks in the jungle. During the fast they were required to drink some sort of herbal concoction to fall into a trance. The older Shamans who administered this rite, would call up the spirits from the jungle and selected the good ones and sent the bad ones back into the jungle.
At the end of the ceremony the young Shamans would awake from their trance and and returned to the village. They would repeat whatever the spirits told them. This could go on for several hours or even days, just repeating the information given to them. They afterward participated in a time of dancing and singing the songs the spirits gave them.
The entire village celebrated when the Shamans returned after several weeks away in the jungle. At the celebration their power would be proven as villagers interacted with them. It is said that they had the power to remove sicknesses which were usually caused by bad spirits. The young Shamans could now direct the good spirits to go and capture the bad spirits along with their evil actions.
The villagers were aware that when one gave himself to the spirits to become a Shaman, it is close to impossible to get away. The spirits, good ones or bad ones will even hurt the person before the person could ever escape.
Here in this village I learned that people are bound and lived in constant fear. This bondage kept them from experiencing a true relationship with Christ. Many of the villagers would get together weekly to appease the spirits by getting drunk, but would gather for church soon after. They could be like what Paul described in Romans 10:2; they had zeal but without knowledge.
That first night I met with the small group of Believers. Seven persons had previously made the decision to follow Christ and four new converts who were waiting to be baptized.
After the meeting sleep came quickly, about 7:00 pm. as the village generator was turned off and we settled in our hammocks in the open hut protected only by the thatch roof hiding the black sky and twinkling stars.
The following day we journeyed to another village across the river. Twelve persons crowded into the wooden boat as the river continued to churn around like an angry bull. I quickly observed that the people in the boat were calm as the waves picked up the boat and slammed it in the water as it struggled to cross the river. My heart was in my mouth, as the saying goes. The people in the boat explained how deep the river was. There was little consolation when they told me that the previous week two men died when their boat was overwhelmed by the waves. They tried to put my mind at ease by telling me that the troubled boat was not high enough so it took in water and sank. Thankfully we made it safely across the river. I pray that the Lord used these encounters to encourage and equip these believers to become the bearers of Good News to their people.