Thursday, October 3, 2013

When I Am Afraid

This week a remarkable thing happened. My dad told me to google "Shawi," and a church in Denver would come up. This community, Grace Church, has chosen to minister to the Shawi people in the Amazon jungle of Peru. The Shawi used to be known as the Chayahuita. Four decades ago, we spent summers with them while my dad developed bilingual schools and agricultural programs. I didn't know about schools or cows, but I did know that I loved being in the tribe. I loved going fishing with my best friend Norma, catching fish with our bare hands (she did all the catching), and cooking our catch over her mother's open fire. The fish (or sometimes frogs) would be wrapped in banana leaves. No better snack on earth.

I loved traveling from village to village in our open canoe. I loved the smell of roasted plantains and boiled manioc root. I loved walking to church every night, following my mom and little sister along the jungle path, with lightning bugs flashing all around us. I remember the church service, one of our first summers in the tribe, when the words suddenly came to me and I could sing along to every song. That was the summer I was six.

George and  Helen Hart were the translators for the Chayahuita. They labored all their lives, translating the entire Bible and eventually a dictionary as well. They are both in glory now. Helen used to worry about the Chayahuita people, wondering who would minister to them in the future. They are a large population, and they have strong pastoral leadership. And yet. A primitive Amazonian people group is vulnerable to so many outside forces.

So along comes this church. (I did wonder, Why couldn't it be MY church? Sigh.) And they go on missions trips, they encourage and teach and help. They come alongside.

The way God provides for His own is so beautiful. We are all  fragile. We all live in a kind of jungle, with terrors and poisons all about.

When I became pregnant with Malachi, I thought I had gone through the fire of fear. I had beaten back the hot flames. The illness that had struck our family was finally resolving into something resembling health. And then, boom, there I was, pregnant and afraid. It's shocking and humbling, how quickly fear can make me cower. Like a panther dropping out of a tree, it landed on me, and I was undone.

I can't say I battled it well. But I did battle. I surrounded myself with friends who had more faith than I did. They spoke truth to me. I listened to songs that gave me courage. I begged, out loud, for Jesus to take away the fear. I think Jesus is used to this. The Lord is forever telling His people, "Fear not," so He knows that's the first line of attack for most of us.

We welcomed our beautiful baby into the world, and he entered into a hospital culture of fear. Immediately, I was told that his blood sugar was low. He had to be checked out by a neonatal PA. He appeared healthy, perfect even, but we were not allowed to bring him home for four stressful days. It's a terrible truth that this world is bent by nature toward fear and death. When we are tired and confused, it's hard to hold our ground. It took me a long time to recover from that hospital experience. Again, I held onto verses of hope, songs of encouragement, and people who made me feel brave.

So. Back to the Shawi. When I think of them, so apart from the world, and yet in it, I think of the fear they used to live in. All jungle tribes have their distinct cultures, formed through centuries, and the stories are often ones of terror and revenge. But when the Gospel message comes, it does battle against demonic forces. For the first time, the people living in darkness see and experience a great light. Death is swallowed up in victory. My dad noticed something after the New Testament had been given to the people. There, wedged up in the eaves of the thatch roof, where blowguns and machetes used to be, was the Word of God. A new weapon.

I am in a season of joy and gratitude. But I know how life goes, and that fear will likely assail me again. I must remember this wonderful story. Nothing is hard for God. He heals, He restores, He provides. All along, He has a plan, and it is good.

A wonderful pot, the result of many hours' labor. Treasure in jars of clay, is what always comes to mind.

A Shawi man, dressed up in his best finery.

I believe this is a fish kill. The Indians took a local root, barbasco, and pounded it, then placed it upriver from a temporary dam. All the fish in that stretch of river, stunned, floated to the surface for easy catching. The Shawi were resourceful in their quest for protein. This is also a beautiful picture of the jungle river.

In strict division of labor, the Shawi men spent a lot of time making the thatch for their huts.
I never saw a woman doing this task. The women tended the gardens, made the pottery, and wove clothing.

A joyful little girl.

Dr. Dodds is either testing for tuberculosis or administering innoculations. See how the father tenderly comforts his crying child. Sometimes fear is entirely unfounded. And yet, we receive comfort.

My little sister, surrounded by the gentle Shawi mothers and children.

Here I am at about age seven, in native dress. A typical village (with the field strip cleared for landing airplanes) is visible behind me.

My beautiful mom and me, ready for take-off from our jungle base. I always felt safe in those little airplanes. I remember looking down over the endless green jungle, with no other color but the brown ribbon of the rivers. The rivers helped the pilots with navigation.

"The more you sense God's call, the more you will discover in your own soul the cosmic battle between God and Satan. Do not be afraid. Keep deepening your conviction that God's love for you is enough, that you are in safe hands, and that you are being guided every step of the way. Don't be surprised by the demonic attacks. They will increase, but as you face them without fear, you will discover that they are powerless.
"What is important is to keep clinging to the real, lasting, and unambiguous love of Jesus. Whenever you doubt that love, return to your inner spiritual home and listen there to love's voice. Only when you know in your deepest being that you are intimately loved can you face the dark voices of the enemy without being seduced by them."
(Henri Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love)

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