“We hate you, we reject you, and we never want to see your faces in our village again!”
The note, signed by the young Canela chief of a new village, was addressed to Jo and me. Soon friends ran up to tell us the same kind of message had been sent to the chief and the leaders of the old, main Canela village where we lived as Bible translating missionaries in Brazil.
That note hurt! Jo and I had been adopted many years before by Canela families, and the chief of the new village was a younger brother in my extended family. He and I had always gotten along well, and now this.
The Power Struggle
The previous year when some families talked of starting another village in a location near a different creek, everyone thought it was a good idea since the main village was getting a bit crowded. People from both villages helped to build homes, clear jungle, and plant manioc fields in the new location. But after a year, relationships deteriorated into a political power struggle between the two chiefs, each wanting the most people in his village. And now, after weeks of vicious gossip, the new village chief and leaders had sent notes breaking off all relations with those of us in the old village. According to their oral history, this mutual hate between related villages was a long-standing tradition.
Jo and I talked and prayed together and then sent back the following letter:
“Dear younger brother chief,
We received your note and read it, and it seems that you hate us and reject us and never want to see us again. We don’t know why you feel that way. Maybe someone lied to you about us. We want to remind you that we are of Jesus’ group and, therefore, we don’t hate you back, nor do we reject you. Instead, we love you now and always will. To prove that we love you, we are sending twenty litres of lamp oil and thirty kilos of salt for you to distribute to all the people in the new village.
Your older brother.”
After we sent the letter and the gifts we faced a barrage of angry words from our relatives and friends in our village.
“Why did you send them gifts? Don’t they hate us all? That’s fine. We hate them back. We don’t need them. Just let them sit out there in the dark without lamp oil. Let them eat tasteless food. They hate and reject us. Fine, we’ll hate and reject them!”
That evening the elders’ council called me to attend their meeting in the village plaza to listen to the chief and his counselors. Each one spoke his piece. All had the same theme.
“They hate and reject us, so, therefore, we’ll hate and reject them. Also, we don’t understand why our friend sent them gifts in exchange for their insult.”
Then the chief turned to me and said,
“They even treated you that way, when all you have ever done is good. You taught them to read and write. You gave them medicine. You’ve never done anything against any of them. I don’t know why you sent them that gift. I hate them on your behalf!” He lapsed into silence, and I asked permission to speak.
“I want to talk to you,” I said. “I’m not just going to give you my thoughts about this; I’m going to tell you what Our Great Father in the Sky thinks about this.”
I then went on to tell the chief, the elders council, and the village men gathered to listen what Jesus taught about how to treat our enemies. I quoted Jesus and his orders to do good to those who hate us, to feed our enemies, and let them insult us. They listened, scowling and muttering to each other. In the end, they said they still didn’t understand, but they wouldn’t be upset with me anymore for having sent the gift.
“Anyway,” they said, “it might make that group over there feel ashamed of themselves.”
Jo and I went to bed that night with happy hearts, possibly the only happy hearts in either village.
The Second Note
Three days later another note arrived from my younger brother chief—one with a startlingly different message.
“We’ve changed our mind. We don’t hate you, and we want to make peace. You can come to our village any time you want.”
Whew! Thank you, Jesus!
It still took some months—a centuries-old culture based on mutual hatred doesn’t change overnight—but the bad feeling between the villages had begun to dissipate. Eventually, the Canelas turned the new village area into a joint manioc raising project, and the inhabitants began returning to the main village.
Jo and I were delighted that besides translating God’s Word in the Canelas’ language, we had a God-given, perfect public opportunity to translate His Word into action for everyone to see.
After this demonstration, no one in either village had any doubt that change was possible and that a new ethos of mutual love and acceptance could someday replace the old spirit of hatred and rejection.