“Don’t you know? Those people want to kill you!” My friend meant it as a warning, but when he explained, I took it as a great compliment.
One Monday morning in 1972, I walked 35 kilometres from the Canela village to the Ourives river, swam across it, and slept on its bank. The next day walked another 35 kilometres to the town of Barra do Corda. I stayed with Jim, a missionary friend. After mailing my letters, I spent the day buying dental and other medical supplies needed in the village. I enjoyed another night’s rest and the following morning at breakfast announced I was walking back to the village.
Jim looked up with concern and said, “You can’t walk back to the village.”
“Why not? I just walked down Monday and Tuesday. I can surely walk back Thursday and Friday. The medicines aren’t that heavy.”
“Don’t you know?” Jim said, “Some of those people along the trail want to kill you! Many people living in the hamlets between town and the river are relatives of the storekeepers in town and they don’t like you.”
“Why? What did I ever do to them?”
“Your name is mud among the merchants. For generations they’ve been ripping off the Canelas who come into town to trade baskets for tools and cloth. But last year, you and Jo taught many Canelas to read and do arithmetic. Now the storekeepers can’t cheat them anymore. Everyone knows you are here and that you will be walking back. If some hothead sees you are alone, he might well take a shot at you.”
I happily accepted Jim’s offer of a ride to the river in his jeep. I was glad to get through the dangerous area safely and for the 35 kilometres I didn’t have to walk. Beyond that, however, I felt a deep happiness that had nothing to do with physical safety or comfort. I felt profoundly affirmed for our years of language analysis and educational work among the Canela that were now making a positive impact. As linguists and teachers we had brought about justice for the oppressed and downtrodden.
The joy I felt reminded me of the four levels of affirmation and praise that C. S. Lewis wrote about:
- The first level is looking at work we have done and saying to ourselves, “Hey, I did a good job!” It is what the Creator did after each act of creation, as recorded repeatedly in Genesis 1, “God saw that it was good.”
- The second level is someone else telling us, “You did a good job!” God wants us to praise Him for what He did. After doing a good job, we all have a basic need to hear someone tell us that we did a good job.
- The third level is overhearing someone telling another, “Hey, she did a good job!” God wants to overhear us telling others how well He worked in our lives. Discovering that the merchants were no longer able to cheat the Canelas was like overhearing someone say, “Jack and Jo did a good job!” and I was full of joy, and still am.
- The highest level of affirmation is God praising us for doing a good job. At Creation He praised His own works having seen that they were good. When God looks Jo and me in the eye and says, “You did a good job!” our joy will be complete
It is now 45 years and two generations later. Many Canelas adults and all the young people now can read and write in their own language as well as in Portuguese. Bright, eager-to-learn Canela students now attend higher grades in town. They are earning income and come into the stores with money in their hands where storekeepers treat them as the equals they are.
Many millions of people all over the developing world are still like the Canelas were when Jo and I arrived in their village— illiterate, and without any of God’s Word in their language. We are nearly 80 years old, but if we could revert to being in our twenties . . . we’d do it again!