I usually take a summer break from writing my weekly blog posts. But today was special. Forty-six years ago today, something special happened that I want to share with you.
Jo and I with our three little daughters had moved into the Canela village in Brazil just six weeks before and were deeply involved in learning the language, and serving the Canelas through our medical work. Here is an excerpt from an article I wrote that long ago week and which I recently happened to find in my archives.
The fever had “caught” her a day’s journey from the village. When the old Canela grandmother and her husband finally stumbled into their family house, we began a weeklong broad spectrum medical treatment: tuberculosis medicine, vitamins, anemia pills, easily-digested canned milk and proteins, all to no avail.
That Saturday evening I was fielding questions of our two oldest daughters, three-year-old Leanne, and five-year-old Valorie.
“Why are they rubbing her tummy like that, Daddy?”
“How come she’s lying so close to the door tonight? All the other nights she slept in the far corner.”
How do you explain indigenous customs for dealing with the dying to little girls having their first experience with death?
That Sunday morning we woke up, not to the happy shouts of young men running back from their morning bath in the river, but to a strange, new, high-pitched chant. A Canela family was bewailing the loss of their old grandmother. As more relatives joined in, the rapid, monotonous cry grew louder and we had to answer more questions.
“No, honey, she doesn’t have an ouchy tummy any more.”
“No, I don’t think she’s in heaven; she didn’t know about Jesus.
“But, Daddy, why didn’t you tell her?”
“We don’t know how to talk Canela yet, sweetheart.”
We, too, had a question surging up from our hearts.
“Oh, God, how many more Canelas will die before we know enough about their culture and language to help them understand Jesus’ love for them?”
The death and burial of that old Canela grandma happened on August 10-11, 1968. Exactly twenty-two years later, August 10, 1990, we celebrated the dedication and distribution of the newly printed Holy Scriptures in Canela. There were fluent readers and Jesus-following Canelas in almost every house in the village.
In the twenty-four years since then the Canelas are not only reading their Bibles, they are also hearing the Word through audio players, and for the past few years have been watching the Jesus Film in their language. And for many years, a missionary family from Germany has been preparing and teaching written Bible lessons.
Jesus is building His Church among the Canela.