My sister-in-law gave me this book recently. I immediately turned to the stories about Peru.
Although it is an old book, published in 1959, I recognize some of the names of missionaries.
I recognize all of the people groups mentioned: the Amarakaeri, the Aguaruna, the Yagua, the Amuesha.
And the Piro. I had never heard their story before.
Here it is.
In 1946, a missionary named Esther Matteson arrived to work among the Piro tribe. Her translation partner soon became ill. Esther stayed in the village. For over a year, she lived alone in a leaky hut
with no radio communication or air service.
She had been sent to a "desperately needy tribe of Indians,
degraded by contact with the worst type of 'civilization.'"
The degradation of the Piro tribe was such that there was often confusion as to the paternity of the children.
Immorality and drunkenness permeated the culture.
Esther changed translation helpers three times,
but not one could relate a folk story that could be printed in a children's reader.
Esther's response to the depravity she found was this:
"Just think how wonderful it will be when they have Christ!"
After a year of language study, Esther began translating the life of Christ.
Finding the correct words was often a challenge.
She said, "Yesterday I found a word which will probably translate 'peace.' The Piros have a way of expressing extremes by opposites. In a story, a huge boa constrictor had just swallowed a man, and a terrified onlooker told his friends, "I didn't have peace." So you see something of the way in which we hunt out the words we will need for translating."
At the first reading of the Scriptures in Piro,
Esther sat on the dirt floor holding the book,
and the people gathered around her.
They listened intently as Esther read the story of the life of Jesus,
the cross, and the resurrection.
At the end of the story, she read a list of salvation verses.
At the telling of Christ's death on the cross,
the women's eyes filled with tears.
In the next year, there were fifty new Piro believers.
The word of the gospel began to change the people.
In 1949, an official from a penal colony in the jungle
related an unbelievable experience he had had with the Piro.
"It was his job to buy food for the colony, and in his travels he had come to know the Piros and their ways. According to him, they were about the lowest type of human life in the jungle. They never had anything to sell and very little to eat, since most of them were habitually drunk and neglected their crops and banana groves. He usually just ignored them.
"But one day as he was passing the Piro village of Huau he saw something that made him stop and investigate. There were new houses, cultivated and cared-for fields, and people walking about on steady feet! Everyone was busy, and industry and happiness were in the air. He ordered his boatman to pull over to the bank. To his amazement there was a school in the village, and Piros were reading.
"He learned that a Senorita Esther had taught them, and that people in many other villages were also reading now. The Piros told him that the senorita had translated some of the Bible for them,
and that she would be back soon.
"Like a man in a dream, the Peruvian official went to other villages up the river, and sure enough, it was just as the villagers of Huau had told him -- the Piros had changed."
(From the book by Ethel Emily Wallis and Mary Angela Bennett)
This is my favorite kind of story.
It reminds me of my childhood,
of the very human missionaries I observed while I was growing up,
who while under attack from the enemy
and while enduring all kinds of setbacks and discomforts,
persevered in the work of translating
the only book that really matters.
"I run in the path of your commands,
for you have set my heart free."
(Psalm 119: 32)