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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Finding a Father

By Bryan Webb
Apr. 6, 2014

Outside a simple church, Pastor Rodrigo Fajardo trudges up a dusty path leading into the center of the Candoshi village of Puerto Angara. A gaggle of boys and young men follow him, each talking at the same time as they vie for his attention. Excitement at his presence reflects on their faces as they jostle for position to walk near him.

Although their culture calls for a stoic demeanor, these boys’ actions and animated voices convey more than admiration. To these young men, Rodrigo is a father figure.

Puerto Angara is one of three Candoshi villages I have visited during my stay in Peru’s Amazon Basin. At first glance, Candoshi communities are typical of those of other tribes: rustic, thatch-roofed huts amid tropical plants and fruits; mothers balancing babies on their hips; naked toddlers; and skinny dogs. Wood smoke from cooking fires seeps through the thatched roofs, staining the sky and filling the air with a rich aroma.

But one thing is missing among the Candoshi: old people. The population of Puerto Angara is at least 450, yet I see only two people with gray hair. A hepatitis epidemic has resulted in a generation that is growing up alone.

Rodrigo knows what it means to feel alone. Born out of wedlock, he was abandoned by his father before he was born. When he was 2 years old, his mother took him to his grandmother and left. Six years later his grandmother died, leaving 8-year-old Rodrigo alone.

In desperation, Rodrigo went to the fishing boats that worked the maze of rivers in the Candoshi tribal territory and asked to join the crew.

“What could you do for us?” the captain of one of the boats asked. “You’re just a kid.”

Rodrigo replied with a simple statement: “I don’t have a father.”

With a glint in his eyes, the captain said, “Well then, you will start by carrying water for us.”

For the next seven years, Rodrigo lived as a child slave: abandoned, abused and undefended. Though not ethnically Candoshi, he grew up traversing their rivers, visiting nearly every village as the fishing boat stopped for trade.

When I ask Rodrigo about his early years, his normally jovial face grows somber and tears fill his eyes.

“After my grandmother’s death, it was a very long, very hard time,” he says simply.

I don’t press him further.

At 15, Rodrigo escaped the fishing boat. Along the way he met a Christian policeman. In conversation, the policeman told him about a God who promised to be a Father to those abandoned by their natural fathers.

I would like to know this Father, Rodrigo thought.

As Rodrigo went from village to village, he found no one to help him learn what it meant to be a Christian. He struggled through life, medicating his pain with alcohol and trying to forget about a God who wanted to be his Father. Seven years passed, but Rodrigo found no peace.

One day Rodrigo spotted a passing boat in the river. He swam out to meet it, hoping to go to yet another location. The captain of the boat failed to see him and turned the craft the opposite direction. As exhaustion from the chase swept over him, Rodrigo lost all hope and began to slip beneath the waves. Fear turned to panicked despair as he realized this was the end.

Down, down into the murky water he sank. Images flooded his mind: his mother, his grandmother, the abusive boat captain, and a young woman he loved.

Suddenly he saw the policeman’s face, and the man’s words rang in Rodrigo’s mind: “God will be your Father.”

“My Father!” Rodrigo cried.

Instantly he felt strength surging through him as he swam upward. The instant he broke through the water’s surface, he felt the side rail of the boat that only moments before lay beyond his reach.

Rough hands grasped his own and violently yanked him onto the boat. He collapsed on the deck, coughing up river water. He wept, not because he had been saved from drowning but because, for the first time, he realized he had a Father who cared for him.

“My Father! My Father!” he sobbed.     

One year after finding Christ, Rodrigo began pastoring a small group of believers in Ullpayaco. Now married with children of his own, he is partnering with missionary Steve Ford to plant churches in Candoshi villages — the same villages where he once worked as a slave.

As I watch Rodrigo and his entourage of young admirers in Puerto Angara, I am struck by how precious each of these young lives is to God. I pray that through Rodrigo’s example, they will understand the love of their Father in heaven and experience His grace.

Bryan Webb is a missionary to the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu who also writes on behalf of AGWM Communications.

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