A Letter from Amazonia
When I was Director of Missions at Southern Evangelical Church we supported and became friends with the Dawson family. Joe and Millie Dawson went into the jungle over 50 years ago to bring Christ to the Yanomamö Indians. Their sons carry on their work in Venezuela today.
This is a recent etter in a day in the life, living in the jungles of Venezuela.
September 12, 2015
Dear praying friends, It seems everywhere I go, people are always asking me what a typical day is like working with the Yanomamö. To be honest, I never quite know what to say. Our days are always so non typical and the Yanomamö can take the most mundane and turn it into the most complex crises.
A case in point:
I had made plans to make a quick trip up to the village of Arata to take some medicine up to a young man who has a really bad case of lesmeniusus (my computer just says, “no guesses” on the spelling so I have none either, but it is a terrible disease caused by a living microscopic bug that literally eats the person away. In Javier’s case, it is in his nasal cavity and has already almost eaten his entire nose away and has now started on his upper lip).
Anyway, Javier lives in the village of Arata, a village that is about 250 kilometers up the Ocamo river and depending on the boat used, it can take anywhere from 8 hours to 2 or three days to get up there. Well, the boat I wanted to go in would take me 8 hours. But the day before I was to take off, 4 guys came to our village asking if they could catch a ride with me. I frowned. With the fuel I had to take, plus the two guys going with me, I could not carry anymore weight in my small boat, and I really did not want to change my plans of a quick trip.
“Who are you all, and how did you get here?” I asked them.
“We are Shitali”(a different dialect of Yanomamö) they told me.
“Our village is about 3 days walk inland from Arata, and we heard you were going up there. We need a ride, so we can go home. About 3 moons ago a helicopter landed in our village and we took the opportunity to come out so we could find some much needed axes and machetes for our village. The helicopter people told us they would give us a ride back on the helicopter but we have been waiting in La Esmeralda for over two moons now, and they are telling us it will be the moon of October before the helicopter comes back and we are already really tired of waiting.”
They looked at me expectantly, waiting for my answer. I did not have the heart to tell them I was in a hurry and only wanted to do a quick trip, since they had already been waiting almost three months and had another two or more months to wait, if they were waiting for the helicopter to take them home.
So I nodded my assent. “OK, you can come with me, but we are leaving really early.” I told them. The expression on their faces was almost worth the fact that I would have to take a larger boat and had just added at least two days and another barrel of gas to my own trip.
I decided to give myself the flexibility of being able to visit in villages along the way without having to stop the large boat by taking my small aluminum speed boat and getting ahead of the other boat and visiting as I wanted to. We quickly outdistanced the larger boat and were a couple hours up the Ocamo river when we passed another large boat making it’s own slow way up river. Recognizing people in the boat, we slowed down and pulled alongside at their insistent hand motions.
“Do you have any extra gasoline?” They begged, “We are still a long way from home and are almost out.” No, you know, these days, no one has any extra gasoline. Why didn’t you get enough before starting your trip? I am really sorry, but I only have enough to get up to where we are going.” I told them.
“At least let me and my mother get in with you, she is not feeling well?” A man named Pelayu pleaded. “OK,” I said. But then, along with his mother were 4 kids, and there was just no way I could fit Pelayu, his mother and 4 kids, two of which were not small. So I told Pelayu, “I have a big boat coming behind me. You and your mother can get in that boat. I don’t have room or enough power to put everyone in this boat.” “OK!” he said quickly. And we took off back up the river.
We arrived at the first village and visited for hours. Enough hours that our big boat should have caught up with us. Remembering the big boat we had passed and Pelau’s quick agreement to staying behind, I got a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Looking at the time, I realized we were not going to get to the village of Yojobä where I had wanted to sleep. Not willing to continue on up river without knowing what had happened to our big boat, I turned back downriver to see what was taking them so long, already figuring I was not going to like what I would find.
Sure enough! just up river from where we had left the other large boat, here came our boat, PUSHING the other boat. Oh no! I thought, How could my guys have done this to me? I pulled alongside.
“What are you doing?” I asked Ramon, the driver of the big boat.
“Pelayu said that you told him to tell me to push them up to Arata since their motor was not working good.” I looked at Pelayu and he grinned weakly. “You did say I could catch a ride with him.” He defended himself.
“Yes, but not your boat and everyone else! We don’t have enough gas to push both boats up there! Where is your motor anyway?”
“I sent it home, it was only borrowed.” But I kept three tanks of gas! He stammered.
Ramon quickly pointed out that the motor had already been sent back down river before he had even gotten there, so when he saw them with no motor, he really had thought we had told them to stop him. I bit my tongue on the harsh words that came to mind. What should I do? What could I do? What would you do?
Remember, my 8 hour trip has already become a 2 day trip, now, with this other boat tied on, it is going to take us at least another day! But I decided sitting there in the prow of my boat, with all the people in the other boat looking at me with worried looks, the most important question was “How would Jesus respond to people in this kind of a need?”
Oh well, I thought, what did I expect anyway. Just another typical day with the Yanomamö!. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, it started to rain and Rain and RAIN!
A MAF pilot and a great friend, used to respond to people with poor planning by quoting, “Your lack of planning, does not constitute an emergency on my part.” All fine and good, but even as well as I speak Yanomamö I have never even tried to translate that, as it would probably just give me worse heart burn, because I can just see them looking at me like, “What do you mean lack of planning? I am here, what are you going to do with me?” And you know what? It is in unplanned issues like this, that we have the opportunity to really show God’s love. Oh, but it is hard some days…
In the end, this trip turned out, I am sure, just how God wanted it to, because, over the next couple of days, we not only had opportunities to show the Jesus/Passion movie to different villages, but I was also able to spend time talking to the 4 Shitali guys.
These are guys whom have never had an opportunity to hear anything about the Lord and they listened very well. After having watched the movie a few times, they had a lot of questions and to make a long story short, they have invited us to come to their village to show the movie up there.
It is a long way, two days by boat, then a three day walk one way to their village, but Lord willing, we are going to try to make a trip in there in November or so. The 4 guys said they would walk out to get us and carry our stuff. Pray for these guys and their village. May the seed sown find good soil and give good and abundant fruit.
Thanks for your prayers and partnership with us.
Michael, Keila and Mia Dawson