Lessons about Tribal Missions from the book, The Spirit of the Rainforest

Today, we conclude our series on The Spirit of the Rainforest by looking at how one might communicate the gospel message with the Yanomamo or similar tribal cultures. I do not claim to be an evangelist or a missionary. These are merely a few thoughts that came to me as I read the book and seemed to stand out. They are concepts that other missionaries have tried or were shown to work in the book.

Finally, we conclude the entire series by recalling what we learned and what stood out. For anyone thinking about tribal missions, I highly suggest reading Spirit of the Rainforest. It will provide an eye opening look at what missionaries have experienced or are going through. It is a brutally honest book that caused heartfelt pain and emotion in my own life.

As I read this book right after the birth of my daughter, I was struck by the brutal reality of what some people endure and go through. Thinking about the treatment of women, babies, and children, there were many times this book was a tough read. But, the reader is not left with just stories of bad things happening to people. The reader is able to see how the grace, mercy, and light of God can penetrate the darkest of places. There is hope. While it may not be now or any time soon, for the Christian, there is an eternal hope that far outweighs the pain and sorrow of this fallen world.


 

Communicating the Concepts of the Spirit World, Humanity, and Sin to the Yanomamo

The Yanomamo understand that there are some spirits that are “good” and some that are “evil.” They even recognize a hierarchy to the spirit world in describing the great spirit or the spirit that made other spirits. In communicating the concepts of the spirit world, I would establish a common ground that I also believe in the spirit world and that there are definitely “good” and “evil” spirits. These spirits can cause them to do good and know more about peace, love, respect, and doing good; or they can cause them to continue to do evil and live in a cycle of revenge, fear, and guilt. At this point, Ephesians 6:12 is helpful in talking about evil spirits and struggles, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” These evil spirits lie to the Yanomamo and trick them into believing half-truths that cause so much pain and misery. They deceive the Yanomamo and cause them to be afraid of Yai Pada, who is the only spirit that truly loves them, can help them and is not their enemy. Unlike the evil spirits who many times seem ineffective in healing or finding food, Yai Pada cares and provides for their needs. Even these evil spirits recognize that there is nothing they can do against the great spirit.[1] The evil spirits trick them into thinking the Yanomamo rule them, but it is actually the evil spirits that rule the Yanomamo.

The Yanomamo culture is one of revenge and bravado, but even those times when innocent people are killed, many warriors experienced guilt and were troubled with what they had done. They would not tell anyone out of fear of being labeled a coward, but inside they knew that the killing was wrong. This knowledge of wrong points to an awareness of good and evil and shows the depravity of humans as we are all inherently evil. The Yanomamo typically let the men eat first and then whatever was leftover would be for the women and children. Following the ways of Yai Pada, all of the villagers are seen as wanting to take care of and help each other to ensure everyone’s needs are met. Yai Pada is able to change the Yanomamo culture where once children were the last to eat, now they are first. Yai Pada can change the hardest warrior’s heart who has done much killing, hurt, and pain into treating others with love, helping others, and being able to sleep again without the weight of guilt.[2]

This killing, raping, and cycle of revenge is all part of the lies these evil spirits have told them. It leads to a discussion on sin and how the original humans did not obey the great spirit Yai Pada. In the beginning, Yai Pada created a perfect world that was very good.  He created humans in His own image and likeness. There was peace and rest as these first humans enjoyed fellowship with Yai Pada. But an evil spirit deceived these humans causing them to disobey Yai Pada because they were prideful and wanted to be just like Him. Every child born to these humans were born with this curse of disobedience and pride called sin. This sin nature is what causes all humans to do bad and be separated from God. Every time the Yanomamo hear about Yai Pada, the evil spirits get extremely uncomfortable inside the Yanomamo and do not want them to listen to these stories. These evil spirits know they sinned and are trying to get the Yanomamo to also follow their sinful ways, instead of the good and loving ways of Yai Pada that lead to eternal life.

It is important to communicate to the Yanomamo how Yai Pada changes lives. There are many Yanomamo that are miserable, angry, and restless; but, Yai Pada offers a way out. With Yai Pada there is no longer a reason to be scared because He will give peace, protection, and remove fear. In much the same way that Yai Pada protected Jungleman and said Jungleman belongs to Him, Yai Pada does the same for all Yanomamo. Once the Yanomamo believes, they enter a relationship with Yai Pada as their eternal Father and are adopted into His family. In fact, Yai Pada offers a way to every Yanomamo to get rid of that guilt, fear, and shame. As Shoefoot describes, Yai Pada became a Yanomamo himself. He came as a baby, grew up, and showed a completely different way to live. Even though he knew he would be killed, he did it anyway. His death was a death for all Yanomamo’s.[3] “Because he was Yai Pada, he was able to come back from the dead. That is how he cut the trail to where he lives.”[4] He was never unfriendly to the Yanomamo, but is the enemy of the evil spirits from Omawa. The evil spirit Omawa deceived them into this life of fear, killing, and pain to keep them from a life of peace, happiness, and love. Yai Pada is the friend of Yanomamo that put their desires and trust in him. Yai Pada offers the greatest sense of safety and protection, more than the Yanomamo has ever known.

The Yanomamo understand the practice of putting the bow and arrows on a tree after they are done with unokai. The tree takes the killing tools and makes their hands clean so the Yanomamo’s can touch themselves again.[5] That is what Yai Pada’s death did. It changed the Yanomamo’s from being his enemies to making them his friends so they can follow his trail. Just as Yai Pada took the sins of the Yanomamo and forgave them, so too can a Yanomamo now be saved from the fire pit and forgive others because of Yai Pada’s gift.

Conclusion

Spirit of the Rainforest provides readers with real life examples and stories of spiritual warfare that is oftentimes overlooked or not thought about in American culture. Honey provides a great reminder for all of believers that our mission field is all around us; it shows how Christ’s love and power can make a difference not only in a person, but in a village and an entire community. The change in Shoefoot led to a change in a village and eventually the surrounding area. A simple but profound change of rebuking the old ways for following Christ with all our hearts can make us stand apart to live for God’s glory and be examples of Christ. Spirit of the Rainforest challenges Christians to be examples and obedient to God no matter where we are at.


[1] Ibid, 119.

[2] Ibid, 230.

[3] Ibid, 159.

[4] Ibid, 160.

[5] Ibid.

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