I’ve been writing daily blogs for a number of years now, 2,305 to be exact, so if this is kind of a repeat of a one I wrote in the past, forgive me, I am now over seventy years old and can’t remember what I had for dinner last night.
My first mission trip came when I was 56 years old to Iquitos, Peru, in the middle of the Peruvian Amazon. I trained pastors for a week, some of whom had paddled canoes for two weeks just to get there (no roads, just rivers). I don’t like heat because my body doesn’t sweat and it was 100 degrees and 100% humidity the whole time with no breezes, but I loved it. I went back two more times in the next year and a half. Once, I took my 19-year-old youngest son, and we distributed almost 700 Bibles in Spanish to the Indians by canoe up and down the Amazon and its tributaries. Not long after, I led a team of nineteen people including four middle school students to build a church in a village there that is still standing almost fifteen years later. I fell in love with the people who were not only embracing Christianity but they were rushing to greet it with open arms. It was like if you didn’t get the Word of God out of your mouth fast enough, they would come take it from you. Yes, the conditions were oppressive for a fat man who hated heat, but the spirit of Christ was so strong there, it overcame every irritation and inconvenience. Every village would clear away enough jungle to make room for their village and then they would clear away enough for a soccer field. Different tribes would sometimes hike for hours through the jungle to play a village miles from their own. The surprise for me came from the village of the Matses people (see photo at the right) whose headman took me around and introduced me to every single person in the village who were all Christian and who took each Spanish Bible we gave them as if we were handing out diamonds and rubies but even more precious than that. The people all smiled, hugged me, and rejoiced together. After all the introductions were over, he walked me back into the jungle where a huge area, larger even than the entire village had been cleared for their cemetery which was filled with small, white wooden crosses. There couldn’t have been more than seventy people in the village, but there were hundreds of crosses. He told me that seven out of ten babies died and six children out of every ten didn’t live to be even twelve years old. Mothers died in childbirth and many more from malaria. I was shocked at the numbers and at the work involved in clearing away that much jungle—and keeping it cleared. I asked the headman how his people could possibly remain as happy as they were in the midst of all of this death. He looked at the clerical collar I was wearing and said, “Aren’t you a man of God? Didn’t you understand me when I said we were all Christians?” I was humbled and learned a lesson I have never forgotten. Death is not the victor, Christ is, and it took a Matses Indian living in the Peruvian rain forest to remind me. I left the village a changed and better man and a better servant of my Lord, Jesus Christ.