On the banks of a river in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest, a man passed through a village 50 years ago, carrying a huge cross and declaring himself the son of God.
The native Brazilian told the tribal inhabitants the world was about to end, and that only those who believed in the cross – the one he was carrying – would be rescued from the flames about to engulf the earth. Frightened, many of the ethnic Ticuna villagers began worshipping the cruciform idol.
The cross god brought with it many strict rules, but about five years ago, when villagers began doubting its deity, they started shedding its ascetic regulations and turned toward heavy drinking, the leader of a local ministry said.
“Its followers returned to practicing the use of alcoholic beverages, and many fights started among them,” the leader said. “All the children and young people fell into the consumption of alcoholic beverages, and the community was a total mess. There began to be fights between the parents and children.”
A native missionary had already arrived in the area more than five years before, in 2010, focusing his efforts on providing education to the tribal children. The still thriving devotion to the cross statue at that time stymied any covert attempts to convey his message of Christ’s salvation, as the villagers said they already had a cross-based religion.
Four years passed before the native missionary cultivated enough trust from children’s parents and other relatives for the local chief to grant him permission to freely proclaim the gospel, the leader said.
“Our missionary did not lose hope; little by little, with his good testimony he was gaining the trust of some parents,” he said. “Those were the first families that began to understand the true love of God and salvation received as a gift by faith.”
A fellowship began that has grown into a church of 60 members, he said.
“There was a total change: The impact of the gospel was great, as parents and young people and children abandoned the consumption of alcoholic beverages,” the leader said. “You can see the great difference in the changed lives of the families that received the gospel of Christ.”
Overcoming the Pandemic
Local missionaries still find resistance to the gospel among villagers beholden to tribal deities, even as a highly contagious virus adds more barriers.
With a population of 212 million, Brazil is second only to the United States in coronavirus infections with more than 12.3 million. When COVID-19 began ravaging Brazil, quarantine meant prohibitions on travel to many areas, keeping native missionaries from unreached villages.
They turned their attention to closer neighbors. In their own towns or outlying villages, local missionaries made home visits to socially isolated people who were more receptive than usual, the leader said.
“We visited the families of a nearby village and prayed for the people who had COVID-19,” he said. “And it was also a good opportunity to speak about God’s love for the people who, for years, resisted opening their hearts to receive the gospel.”
Between travel bans in another region, a native ministry distributed more than 1,200 food baskets to tribal families who lost work because of pandemic restrictions; workers also managed to distribute three tons of medicines to many villages. Christian Aid Mission donors made both the food and the medicines available, the ministry director said.
Tribal Christians who were stuck in their communities continued to hold services and proclaim the gospel, he said.
“Those who were not believers among them began to hear the Good News, and some embraced the faith,” the leader said. “Due to COVID-19, indigenous peoples became more isolated, and this strengthened them in the faith, to the point that others in their group who were not believers started to believe in Jesus.”
Local missionaries saw more than 150 tribal people put their faith in Christ over a six-month stretch, he said. As quarantines spread, workers continued discipling them through remote, online biblical training.
Dying without God
The pandemic has led many people to face their mortality, including a Roman Catholic couple uncertain of their eternal destiny.
Local missionaries began visiting the tribal husband and wife, each 67 years old, when they were in their late teens, the ministry leader said. Their devotion to the Catholic institution was as strong as their devotion to the tribal deities of their ancestors, he said.
“For more than 50 years they resisted the gospel whenever they were visited by our missionaries,” he said.
The husband was addicted to alcohol, locally known as cachaza, which landed the couple in deep financial and family problems, the leader said. A local missionary again told them of the saving power of knowing God’s Son just as the pandemic brought them to a new low.
“They had not known true joy and internal peace, so they’d lived disappointed with life until the worst came, which is the current pandemic,” the leader said. “This made them think about death and the terrible future of those who die without knowing God.”
Isolated by the pandemic, the husband one evening a few months ago gave the local missionary ample time to discuss the love of God, the leader said.
“It was on that night that he gave his life to Jesus Christ and, one month later, after Bible classes, he was baptized,” he said. “Now he is a new man; he was delivered from alcoholism, and he burned all his ancestral pagan idols. He is having a good experience with God as his life is being transformed.”
These and other local missionaries are bringing the Lord’s love to hurting people throughout the country. Please consider a donation today to equip them to build God’s kingdom among the unreached.