While in Brazil, we had many opportunities to build relationships within the tribes. One such opportunity came on a visit to Atalia do Norte, the furthest city us white folk can go without government intervention… or get arrows shot at us.
While there, we met up with an Indian family of the Matis tribe. This is a very small tribe (estimate: 290 people) who live in the restricted Vale do Javari in the Western Amazon of Brazil. Google it.
Marcos, our Mayoruna friend and modern day \”Paul\” in the area, introduced us. The Indian\’s son is studying at the Indigenous Seminary further up river, so with that information we assumed his father was a Believer.
We found out only after we left that he is in fact the witchdoctor in his tribe. If you don\’t know much about Indian culture, the witchdoctor is the one who is most in tuned with the spiritual realm. He\’s the one the tribal members go to for healing and retribution. The ironic part? While we were conversing, Richard was sharing with him about Christ.
It\’s hard for us in the \”civilized\” world to wrap our minds around the fact that \”we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.\” But in the jungle, it\’s evident in ways that we aren\’t familiar with.
Richard recalls that as he was talking to the witchdoctor, as soon as he mentioned the name of Christ, his demeanor changed and his eyes grew dark. Why? We are talking about an area where satan, i.e. \”the prince of the power of the air\”, is at work in every way imaginable (and unimaginable) and where the name of Jesus is rarely, if ever mentioned.
As we were talking with him, we found out that he and his family (his wife and five children) had come upriver 8 days by canoe in an attempt to get his newborn baby to a hospital. Eight days. In a canoe. With 7 people. Paddling upriver. With no motor. Because your sick baby is dying.
What was I complaining about today?…
Anyway, he was sharing with us his story which unfortunately did not have a happy ending. His infant had died just shortly before our meeting. To make matters worse, he shared that this was nothing foreign to him. He had lost a total of three children to illness as well as his first wife to a snake bite. (All preventable deaths, by the way. Unless of course you live in the jungle with no access to help other than an 8 day ride by canoe.)
My heart broke as I listened to this man\’s story. He then asked one of his other children something in Matis and immediately the child ran down the steep, muddy embankment to their canoe. A few minutes later his grieving wife began making her way up the hill, carrying with her his traditional Indian attire. He was so proud as he put on each item and showed us a small bit of his culture.
I wanted so badly to convey my sorrow for the mother but she didn\’t speak a word of Portuguese. I picked up her youngest daughter and was talking to her (she couldn\’t understand a word, but that\’s why they say \”actions speak louder than words\”). I was admiring this precious girl when the mother began saying something to me, pointing at me, and then pointing downriver.
I must have looked like a deer in the headlights as she said it over and over in Matis. Finally I was able to get Marcos over to translate. She was asking us to come to their village and visit them. Like, now.
Obviously we couldn\’t. The government won\’t allow for it, but her simple request for us to come proved so many things:
1. These people are hurting and dying and SEARCHING for hope. Anthropologists and others want the outside world to think these Indians are happy in their solitude. That\’s a lie. These Indians don\’t like that 8 out of 10 of their children don\’t see the age of 2. They have emotions and heartache too. After all, they are human.
2. They want us to come. It\’s a misconception that these Indians want to be left alone. Sure, some of them probably do. But most of them are searching for answers. Answers to the disease, death, and destruction that consumes their lives.
3. The need is greater than ever. Last year in the Javari region, 1,000 children died. The total population in the area is only 3,800. You do the math.
So, doors are opening. The Indians are starting to speak up and say, \”We want help!\” That\’s good news for us as we work to get into the area, build more relationships within the tribes and with the government in order to get a way to get medical aid to these dying people. But more importantly, we want to show them a love greater than anything they\’ve ever known.
Please pray for the Indians in the Amazon region.