“I wish all the Christian missionaries in Brazil were fleas,” the Brazilian government official said through gritted teeth, “I would squash them under my thumbnail like this!” pantomiming the action on the corner of her desk for the delegation of mission leaders who were seeking an appointment with a government minister.
It was in the late 1970s and yet another discouraging incident in the long, sad, saga of satanic opposition to bringing God’s Word to Brazil’s indigenous population.
I will never forget those horribly discouraging years when the government expelled all missionaries from native villages. Jo and I yearned to be back with the Canela people we so loved and longed for. We prayed for them, wondering if there was anyone to give them medical aid, or teach them to read, and knowing no one was there to help them translate God’s Word into their language. This mental and emotional anguish was much harder to bear than the bouts of malaria, hepatitis, trachoma, and parasitic infestations so many of us routinely suffered.
After five years of hostile antagonism, the government finally asked the indigenous groups of they wanted the missionaries in their villages, and the prohibitions were lifted. All across Brazil, villagers gladly welcomed the Bible translators who rejoined their indigenous fellow workers at last to continue medical, linguistic, education, and Bible translation work.
When we, in the end, returned to the Canela village, the dried mud-walled, palm-thatched house we had lived in for ten years was gone, along with everything in it. Government officials had encouraged the villagers to help themselves to our furniture, pots, pans and dishes, as well as the house poles, lumber, doors and shutters. The house was torn down and replaced by someone else’s mud and thatch house. On our return, we built a 4 by 6 metre, two-room wooden shack in which we lived and worked for eight years as we completed the Canela education and Bible translation project.
“Why is it so hard?” we often asked ourselves when one of our daughter’s had a birthday, but she and her sisters were 700 kilometres away in boarding school. We always missed them so much. It was during Holy Week; I got an answer to that question as I thought about Christ’s suffering for us and how we, in turn, also need to suffer.
Jesus said, “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” John 15:20. It was in that light that I re-read Colossians 1:24. The apostle Paul wrote poetically, “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” Jesus, our Master, suffered agony and death to bring salvation to the world. We Christians now take our turn to suffer as we pass on the message of this salvation to the world.
Jo and I experienced what Paul wrote about “feeling like a mother in the pain of childbirth,” Galatians 4:19. Like a mother, we felt a deep down, fierce joy as we suffered the hardships and opposition while “giving birth” to the Canela Church through God’s Word in their language.
As disciples of Jesus we need to be prepared to suffer, and do so gladly, so that His Body, the Church, will grow larger and stronger. “In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus promised us, “but cheer up, I have overcome the world” John 16:33.
This Good Friday, as we think about what it cost Jesus to suffer on the cross to restore us to fellowship with God, let’s ask ourselves,
What am I sacrificing to spread this good news of forgiveness and salvation to the world?”
“What it is costing me in time, money, work, or pain?”
“What do I suffer?”