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Deep in the jungles there are pockets of people living away from civilization as we know it in the United States. In some ways, lives in the jungle have gone on for centuries just the way they are today. They wake up, stoke the fire, place a sweet potato against the wood to roast it, then bury it deep in the ash to bake. They travel to their gardens fighting against the encroaching vines and weeds to save the food that is growing. The sun beams down and warms their dark protective skin. They use their digging stick to plunge down into the dirt to see if there are sweet potatoes to take home, and they gather greens. They stop to feed the baby who woke up in the net bag ready for a meal. They arrive back at their little round house to find their nephew cutting firewood with his axe. They sit down by the firepit, rip a few small pieces of wood away from the log and poke it into the ash, waiting for smoke to reveal an ember. Using it, they start the fire and fill the “town-bought” pot with the water they carried home from a nearby stream. Once the water begins to boil, they throw in the bundles of greens they brought home. As it cooks, they snack on sugar cane and chat about the day or pick up a new net bag they are weaving, knowing they can make some progress before the greens are finished cooking. After the meal, the sun begins to set, children begin yawning, and everyone finds a place to lie down, pulling the blanket up over their heads.
In some ways, I find that there is a comforting rhythm to life in the jungle. The roosters wake you up and the cicadas sing you to sleep. The tribal people generally do not have a panic of what to cook for dinner because there aren’t a lot of variables and there are few items to choose from. They are strong, resilient people. They are incredibly resourceful. They don’t usually rely on the outside world for life. But however placid this existence may seem at times, I’ve observed that it doesn’t mean they are content to be left to themselves.
I wanted to write a blog post about life in the jungle and the many hardships jungle-dwellers have to deal with on a daily basis. We strive to do our best to help as we seek God's leading in our lives. You see, because of Adam’s sin we have all inherited a fallen world to live in. The tribal people are not in a utopia, free of disease or suffering. Watching a tiny body burn on a funeral pyre surrounded by the wails and crying of those left behind make it hard for me not to see this truth. Ducking into a little round house and crouching in the low light to sit beside my friend who is softly moaning and shaking with malarial fevers makes me thankful that I didn’t believe a misconception I have heard from the West, “Leave them be, they are happy the way they are.” One of Mike’s tribal friends told him that he has never experienced a peaceful night’s rest for his fear of the evil spirits who he believes are unpredictable and cruel. In my opinion, that is no way to live. Arrow wounds, split-open foreheads, machete wounds, and a broken arm are all injuries that we have treated. Many of these injuries were done to women by their husbands.
Some accuse Christian missionaries of corrupting the minds of the tribal people. This is an ill-conceived way of thinking because all people, no matter where they live on the globe, have a complex worldview. There is no such thing as an uncorrupted mind. As for animistic tribal people, their minds are filled with fear of the spirits, and it was only through a clear understanding of God’s Word that we saw our tribal friends finally begin to have peace in their hearts and live peacefully with each other.
No, our friends weren’t happy they way they were. Not only were the tasks of life difficult, but their sickness, death, and separation from Christ left them without a single hope.
Romans 1:20 tells us that because God’s nature can be clearly seen by everyone, even our friends were without excuse. After living here for more than eight years, many things are still the same. They still have a difficult life. They still have to work hard in order to harvest their daily food. They still have the task of gathering firewood. They still deal with death and suffering. However, now many of them have God’s Word. Now many of them understand salvation through Jesus Christ. Now many of them understand the world they live in. Now many of them know their Creator. Now many of them thank God in times of health and in times of sickness. Now many of them have hope that their suffering will have an end. Now many of them know that when their task here is done they will be forever with their God.
I don’t think we should let our consciences be put to rest that somehow those who have no opportunity to hear the gospel will be saved apart from hearing the gospel. I don’t think we should sleep being comforted that the responsibility to share the gospel does not belong to us as the body of Christ. Let not the conveniences of our culture or the comforts of the life we have built for ourselves weigh us down and keep us from participating in fulfilling the Great Commission.
On behalf of those who don’t have a voice I gladly speak for them and echo Paul in saying,
How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? . . . So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:13–16)
Let it be so.
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