Each time I told a story to the Canelas about Jesus performing a miracle they told me a story of the great exploits of some Canela culture heroes from their legends and myths. We tried to tell them that the stories from the Bible were special, true, real, and unique. They were Holy, having to do with God. They didn’t get it. We prayed – a lot.
Then it got worse. The Brazilian government changed, and the new officials refused to renew the permissions missionaries needed to live and work among indigenous peoples We found ourselves exiled from the Canela village. We prayed – a lot.
We kept on working on the mission centre in the city, completing seven easy-reading booklets and the books of Luke and 1&2 Thessalonians. When the newly printed books arrived, we made a formal request to the government to visit the village and deliver the nine books. We prayed – a lot.
We praised God when we received a notice that permission had been granted but with exceptions. I flew to Sao Luis to see the government official. He gave me the permit and asked me to read it. I noticed that although we were allowed to leave the seven reading booklets in the village, the books of Luke and 1&2 Thessalonians were excluded. I had to sign a promise that I would not leave the books of sacred Scripture in the village.
I took my pen, shot up a prayer to God to work this out in His own way, and signed the document. On my return to the centre I told my missionary colleagues, and we prayed – a lot.
The next day, John, a fellow missionary, and I loaded a steel drum with seventy sets of books packed in plastic bags onto his pickup truck and left for the Canela. Several days later the Canelas received us with great joy since it had been several years since we were there. Their joy turned into wild excitement when they saw the seventy-five parcels of nine books in their language. The chief and elders immediately ordered me to the village central plaza and report.
I showed them each of the seven reading books. The elders were pleased to see several of their favourite legends in print as well as the health and hygiene booklets. When I finished, the chief pointed to the two remaining books, the Scripture books. “What about those books?” he asked.
“Oh, those are different. I can’t leave them here.”
“Why not? What are they about?”
“One is about Jesus, the Son of God, when He lived on earth long ago. And the other is the counsel of Paul. He was one of the elders of the Jesus group.”
“Well, you can at least tell us what is in those books,” the chief said.
So, for the next hour I gave an overview of the life of Jesus, reading excerpts from Luke, then read parts of Paul’s letter.
“We really want those books!” the chief exclaimed, “Why can’t you leave them?”
I explained about the government permission and that I had promised not to leave the Bible books. “I will leave them with my friend Sr. Duca in town,” I said, “You can go there and pick them up and bring them in yourselves.”
The Canela elders were not pleased with that idea at all. “It’s seventy kilometres to town,” they said, “it’s a two-day walk and two days back.
“Do those government people have these stories in their language?” the chief asked.
“Yes, they have. These stories about Jesus were translated into Portuguese hundreds of years ago. All Brazilians have been able to read them for many generations.”
“Then, why won’t they let us have them?” the chief exclaimed. “Why can’t we read those books and choose for ourselves if we want them or not? They did!”
“Just leave them here,” one of the elders advised, “We won’t tell anyone you did.”
“No, I’m sorry, I can’t do that,” I said, showing them my copy of the document, “I promised the government chief that I would not leave them here and signed his paper.”
The Chief’s Anger
Suddenly the chief sprang up, pulling his machete from its sheath. He laid the sharp edge on his forearm, and, with his face inches from mine, shouted, “If I cut my arm what comes out? Blue stuff? No! Red blood. We Canelas are human beings just like those city people! Why do they treat us as if we aren’t people? Why can’t we have what they have had for a long time?”
I couldn’t answer, and we sat quietly for a while. Suddenly the chief said, “The counsel will talk about this some more, and in the morning, we’ll tell you what we have decided.” So, John and I went to our house in the village, and we prayed – a lot.
At sunrise on the central plaza the chief gave us his orders. “Put all those books back into that steel drum. Load it onto your truck and drive back up the road twenty kilometres through the gate where the Indian land ends. My son will follow you on the government tractor. He will bring the drum back on the tractor and distribute the books. That way you will have kept your promise to the government, but our seventy readers will have all the books.”
And that’s what was done. We heard later that the first books everyone wanted to read were, of course, the special books, the forbidden ones. Our prayers were answered!
It was a clear example of Psalm 76:10, “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee” (KJV) when God used the government’s prohibition to draw attention to the uniqueness of His Word. From then on, the Canelas treated the Bible stories as special, true and unique.
When, ten years later, the partial Bible was published it was called, Pahpam Jarkwa Cupahti Jo Kahhoc. The Book of God’s Highly Respected Word