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Facing Down Dangers in the Jungles of Peru

December 14, 2017

A member of an indigenous missionary's team disposes of a poisonous snake while others tend to a guide it had just bit.

When one of the most poisonous snakes in the Amazon bit the guide an indigenous missionary had hired for a research trip in Peru, team members pleaded for the Christian to administer anti-venom serum.

He had none. They were more than a two-day walk through thick jungle foliage to the nearest village.

The indigenous missionary, Roberto*, told them, "I've worked in areas worse than this place, and I've never brought anti-venom, and nothing has ever happened to me."

The guide was a 60-year-old named Felix who, as an animist, believed eating any animal that had teeth could cause the snake to strike again, even if it had been killed. He was shaking as the venom jolted his body.

"Then what do we do?" Felix's son asked Roberto. "He's going to die."

Felix had been clearing away branches with a small machete as the team bushwhacked their way on a course with no path. They were three days into the mid-October trip into the jungle from Limon Cocha, east of the Northern Sierra mountains, when the pit viper more than a yard in length, known locally as a shushupe, bit Felix – twice – on the knee.

Before the guide fell to the ground with what seemed like electrical shocks of pain, he managed to slash off the snake's upper part with the machete.

Pale and shaking, Felix pleaded with Roberto to help him. "I'm going to die, don't let me die please," he said. "Don't let me die, help me please."

His son had been helping to carry equipment for the trip, whose purpose was to count and analyze communities of the Capanahua tribe living near the Tapiche and Boncuya rivers as a first step to bringing the good news of eternal life in Christ to them. A few of Felix's grandchildren also had come along to lend a hand, and Roberto said they began to cry after seeing him go down.

"The boys and girls were terrified, and the men did not know what to do," he said.

Pale and shaking, Felix pleaded with Roberto to help him.

"I'm going to die, don't let me die please," he said. "Don't let me die, help me please."

After cinching a tourniquet, Roberto lay his hand on Felix's shoulder.

"Felix, I don't know what's going to happen – you have to give your life to the Lord," he said. "Turn your life over to God. Every morning we have a devotional, a time to share the Word of God, so you know you've got to deliver your life to the Lord, because I don't know what's going to happen to you."

"Brother, I'm going to give my life to God," he said.

"In that moment of pain and fear, with all the fear and shaking, crying, crying and crying, it was that God touched the heart of this man," Roberto said. "He gave his life in that moment, saying, 'I don't know how to pray, and I have sinned for so long, how can you love me God? But God forgive me, Lord save me, please.'"

Roberto asked the rest of the team to go down to their knees and pray for him, and he led them in prayer.

Blessed Be the Lord

Man prays for snake-bitten victim.
Roberto prays for Felix after the snake bite.

"We're going to ask God to open a way, because we cannot do anything," he told them, then prayed, "Like the Apostle Paul was bitten by a snake on the island of Malta, and You God healed him as if it had done no harm to him, we pray that You heal Felix and take him out of this place. Heal him please, heal Felix, You have all the power of healing in his life."

After commending his life to God, Roberto released the tourniquet and sucked the toxic blood from the four fang holes in Felix's knee. After the prayer and this primitive First-aid, immediately Felix began to feel better.

Most of the team set out to return to Limon Cocha, while Roberto, another indigenous missionary, and Felix's son and grandson fashioned a hammock hung on each end of a pole. They used this to carry the guide, who was unable to walk with a swollen knee, for three hours before arriving at a small, thatched-roof, way station at 5 p.m.

There Roberto used an empty syringe to extract blood and venom from the knee. The male pit viper has venom in its fangs and its tail, and it was a male that had bitten the guide – which would normally result in death within six to 12 hours.

"That night was one of anguish and waiting to see what would happen, if he would die that night, because he had received absolutely nothing – but praying to God every moment," Roberto said. "At 3 a.m. he said, 'Brother, I'm well, the pain is calming.' I said, 'Glory to God,' and he said, 'Blessed be the Lord,' because God had done a miracle in his life. He had practically eliminated that poison from Felix's body."

Carrying Felix on a stretcher obtained at the way station, they made it to Buncuya by the next evening. Before being bitten, the guide had been able to kill and prepare a wild pig for them to eat, but now food was running out.

"The four of us were so tired during the entire trip that our bodies no longer worked," Roberto said. "We hadn't eaten since the previous night."

Some 27 hours since he had been bitten, they were able to give him a shot of anti-venom serum and bandage the wounds. Delayed a day by the guide's brother arriving with a witchdoctor who insisted on doing some incantations to reduce the swelling, which failed, after two days they found the means to go by boat from Buncuyo to a health center in Tamanco – another 36 hours.

The power of the gospel continued. Felix's brother Victor, who lives in Tamanco, heard from them how God had saved him. Victor, his wife and each of their children – animists who all believed in the power of spirits as invoked by smoke – each decided to receive Christ as Lord and Savior.

God was not done yet. "Even the nurse at the health center, as I was conversing with her, speaking the word of God, she said, 'I'm going to be a Christian,'" Roberto said.

When they made it back to Limon Cocha, other relatives of Felix put their faith in Christ, and he has begun preparing to help lead an existing church there whose pastor has limited time to devote to it.

"Felix's family was amazed that someone not from their tribe would care for him and tend to him," Roberto said. "We have sent them 50 Bibles, and Felix says he doesn't have glasses but will get some to prepare to lead the church there."

Felix is one of many indigenous missionaries with knowledge of and commitment to local cultures whom the ministry is training to plant churches where Christ is not known. Please consider giving to help indigenous missionaries in Peru to bring them eternal life in Christ.

*Name changed for security reasons

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