I gnawed another bite off the wild pig’s rib straining to catch some meaning from the babble of guarani mixed with Spanish. I was several hours up the Paraguay River from Asunción finishing off an eventful day in the company of my missionary colleagues and a happy array of river people. Edgard, a Christian for five years, who fished not only for catfish but for men, was trying to tell me the story of his daughter’s healing that had led to his conversion. I wasn’t getting very much of his earnest testimony. His twenty-three-year-old wife, her straight black hair and high cheekbones a tribute to her Indian heritage, was trying to keep order in spite of her swollen tummy. She is expecting her eighth child (yes, you read that right) in a couple of months. The kids, neat and clean in simple clothes, healthy and happily uninhibited, alternately jumped up on our laps or devoured roast pig.
My mind went back a few hours to another family gathering two and one-half hours up river. We had enjoyed the breezy trip north on the boat run by the Bethany team in Paraguay. The river was gorgeous and the scenery serene. In a moment of excitement a wounded wild pig, later to be our supper, had been fished out of the river by the experienced crew and quickly killed and butchered. Finally, the Anjo do Rio (River Angel) glided to a stop just below a scattered group of simple dwellings high on the bank. After a twenty minute walk we arrived at our destination, one
of the boat ministry’s preaching points. The matron of the clan welcomed us warmly.
The other adults and older children peered warily at us from the shadows of the long, low, thatched-roof house made of palm logs staked in the ground. There were no doors, no windows; just a basic, single, multipurpose room that opened toward the river and a patio of packed earth. We seemed to be in a cultural limbo midway between tribe and village. There was no electricity, no bathroom or running water (except for the murky river water) but ironically a cell phone hung from a pole!
As we sat on the patio, the older family members hid in the house while missionary Benides described the darkness of their lives, the uncertainty of fishing and the manioc harvest, the frustrated attempts at life in the city, the isolation due to the lack of Spanish language skills. But beyond the facts of their precarious existence, the moral and spiritual darkness he described was almost palpable: the endemic sexual abuse of children. Parents, sometimes in desperation, offer daughters as “ticas-ei” (lovers) in the hope of finding a bridge to a better life for the family. Their only spiritual alternative is a wildly syncretistic, idolatrous form of Christianity.
The hostess brought out a bowl of freshly roasted anteater meat served with bread. It was fatty but spicy and good. Pretty soon a missionary guitar started to strum Paraguayan rhythms and sing gospel songs in guarani, the language of their hearts. The younger ones drew slowly nearer. The little ones quickly lost their inhibitions and began singing and doing the motions to songs about Jesus and salvation.
Home is where you hang your hat!
I saw in their beautiful tanned faces the shine of infant innocence and purity…the look of children around the world, just like the four I had raised. As they danced and laughed I tried to imagine what those beautiful brown eyes had already seen of suffering and evil as well as what they saw as their future. I paled at the thought. Their only link to a better life was a little crew on a modest river boat that pulled up to their shore.
A bowl of banana ice cream brought me back to the present. Edgard was still telling his stories and extolling the Lord. My mind had closed down and refused to decode any more obscure language. Still I watched him as he alternated talk with hugging his
exuberant progeny while downing ice cream.
The River Angel
Here is what the gospel of Jesus Christ does in the life of a family. Not just a ticket to heaven, but life abundant in an isolated village on the bank of a river—or it could be in downtown São Paulo. I was tackled by one of his little boys and as I wrestled happily with him I thought, “What a difference the gospel makes! I am glad to be a missionary.”
Of course I do much better in the city where there are showers and shopping centers and Pizza Hut. The wild pig is okay but I can think of things I’d rather eat…