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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. ...

A Light in the Darkness

By Bryan Webb
Apr. 6, 2014

In a small, dark kitchen, missionary Steve Ford and three Chawi pastors cluster around a crudely built table. Above them, heavy rain drums relentlessly on the thatched roof.

The room’s smoke-blackened walls dimly reflect the red light emanating from a terra-cotta oven in the corner. Rich smells of garlic, chicken and plantains fill the air. Adorning the narrow kitchen shelves are piles of ripening plantains, onions, garlic cloves, and dried chilies.

The pastors surrounding Steve represent the genesis of the Chawi church. The Chawi, known to outsiders as Chayahuita, are a small tribe living in 105 villages deep in the tangle of rivers in Peru’s Amazon Basin. Of its 13,000 people, fewer than 200 are believers. Three village churches have been planted.

Over steaming bowls of chicken soup, Steve and the pastors brainstorm about starting a Chawi Bible school to train future church planters. This is frontier missions — the cutting edge of light invading darkness.

Later that evening, Steve and the pastors move their gathering to a simple church built of rough-hewn planks and a tin roof. Candles line the walls, providing the only light source.

During the service, two things stand out in my mind. The first is hearing Steve and the Chawi pastors pray, their strident, urgent voices rising above the pounding rain on the tin roof. The second is the sound of Chawi worship. Rather than sing, the believers chant to the accompaniment of a local percussion instrument called a shari shari. I am quite certain heaven rejoiced as the Father heard praises in the language of this people group so recently brought into the family of God.

In their 22 years as missionaries to Peru, Steve and his wife, Terry, have been involved in planting churches among two unreached tribes — the Chawi and the Candoshi. Yet Steve is quick to avoid taking credit.

“This is a story about the national church,” he says. “Our pastors have amazing vision and are united in reaching these tribes.”

As a missionary for 17 years, I understand the truth of his comments. Yet I also know that these Peruvian pastors are believers Steve and Terry trained.

The next morning we make a river journey to visit yet another village. The rising sun peers through the mist hanging low over the water. Brightly colored fish leap into the air as dense swarms of bugs skitter across the water’s surface. Flocks of screaming parrots dart through the overhanging branches. Along the mud banks, seeping oil has left iridescent orange streaks that resemble mascara-laden tears flowing into the stream.

Steve’s voice interrupts my thoughts as he names river after river along which unreached tribes live.

“A person could spend an entire lifetime reaching just one of them,” he says.

Steve currently has standing invitations to work among two more unreached tribes. To establish a witness among these remote Amazon peoples, a new generation of missionaries is desperately needed.

“How can I begin a totally new work at 61 years old?” he asks.

Around lunchtime the boat pulls up to a mud bank, and we step into a frontier city that seems to have come straight from an old Western movie set. Only the insistent ringing of a telephone breaks the atmosphere.

Over a meal of chicken, beans, rice, and the hottest pepper I have ever placed in my mouth, Steve explains that this city is the gateway to dozens of Chawi villages without churches.

My heart breaks for those who have yet to hear the gospel. I plead with the Lord of the harvest for women and men willing to say, “Hear am I. Send me!”

That evening Steve and I await the start of another service. I ask him if he has any words of advice to new missionaries.

“Stick it out,” he says with a smile. “True relationships may take a decade to develop. As you form relationships with the right people, the work will begin to expand.”

Looking around the room, I see the evidence of Steve’s words. Deep, meaningful relationships have created vision and teamwork among pastors to bring about spiritual change to an entire tribe.

The simple church, painted sky blue, sits high on a hill above the Chawi village of Oculiza. Inside, white walls frame several rough, wooden benches atop a dirt floor. Three lightbulbs hang on a bare wire running from front to back.

As the sun sinks below the horizon, I hear the sputtering whine of a small generator. Suddenly the church undergoes a transformation. The doorway and windows become bright blocks of light as the building shines as a brilliant beacon over the community.

The scene brings to mind the words of Isaiah 9:2: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (ESV). I pray that the church will invest itself in prayer and that laborers will be called so the Light will shine on all those still sitting in darkness in the jungles of Peru.

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

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