“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 yet another discouraging incident in the long, sad, saga of satanic opposition to bringing God’s Word to Brazil’s indigenous population when the government expelled all missionaries from native villages.
I will never forget those horribly discouraging years when Jo and I yearned to be back with the Canela people we so loved and longed for. We prayed for them, knowing that there was no one to give them medical aid, no one to teach them to read, and no one to help them translate God’s Word into their language. This mental and emotional anguish was even harder to bear than the bouts of malaria, hepatitis, trachoma, and parasitic infestations so many of us routinely suffered.
Finally, after five years of hostile antagonism, the government asked the indigenous groups what they themselves wanted, and the prohibitions were lifted. Villagers gladly welcomed the Bible translators who rejoined their indigenous fellow workers at last to continue medical, linguistic, literacy 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 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 asked ourselves on one of our daughters’ birthdays when they were 600 miles away in boarding school. We always missed them so much. During this Holy Week, 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 recently 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 in order 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, in order 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.”
This Good Friday, think not just about what Christ suffered on the cross two-thousand years ago to provide salvation, but ask yourself,
“What do I suffer because I am spreading this message of salvation to the world?”