The hostal where we stayed was rustic and dusty inside and out, and the sickly sweet smell of cacao drying outside permeated the room I shared with Michael. I hung my mosquito net to fend off the bugs and settled in for some much needed sleep. It took me a couple of days to adjust to the humidity, bugs, and heat of the low altitude after spending the last two weeks at almost two miles higher. Jairo is pastor of the local church, a jungle missionary, and also the manager of a Christian radiobroadcasting center provided by HCJB and SIL. He and a couple of volunteers broadcast to eleven different tribes throughout their part of the jungle with Christian programming that begins each day at 3:30 AM. The credibility and testimony of this godly man who has faithfully served God in church planting, pastoring, and Christian ministry in Peruvian jungles attracted key leaders from all around to receive the training
we offered. We had students who traveled from as far as a week away by rivers and trails to study with us. Jairo arranged for them to stay in homes of church members and we all took our meals together at the training site. The students were mostly lowland Quechuas, but we also had men from the Bora, Huitoto, and Shawi tribes in our classes.
The men voluntarily divided themselves into a basic level class of 38 students and an advanced group with 6 pastors. We were humbled to find that some of the pastors who had been believers for decades and had pastored for 30 years or more placed themselves in the basic level class. These pastors set an example for the men and taught a powerful lesson about humility to us. The teaching progressed well throughout the week and the students seemed to be increasingly excited about the classes with each passing day.
We hiked one day to an area known for honey gathering and to a chocolatería–a small house where a dozen women have launched a small cooperative business. They gather and dry cacao, process it into different kinds of chocolate, and even enter it into international traditional craft exhibitions. A proud possession in their shop was a picture of them with Hillary Clinton. (I should confess that we hiked there more than once!)
On a couple of nights after teaching we went to nearby communities for our team members to preach. I was thankful that I got to go preach in a community downriver, and that we traveled by peque-peque (a small motorized boat, slightly bigger than a canoe, and so named because of the sound that the motor makes along the river. Try repeating the name over and over and you will see). We went due east toward the deeper jungle on the Huallaga River to a place called Tununtunumba. The place got its name from a powerful waterfall there whose sound seems to say to the indigenous ear, “too noon too NOOM ba” as its waters pound down repeatedly. I love the indigenous languages’ affection for onomatopoeias. I would love to say it was a beautiful little town, but we arrived after dark and there is no power there! But the church was wonderful. It was locked when we arrived but within 15 minutes it was packed with adults and children. A brother from the Bora tribe sang a hymn in his language that was as much a novelty for the people of Tununtunumba as it was for me.
We finished the week (and most of the days) with a fun time of futbol, food, and fellowship. The people seemed so innocent, the children seemed to laugh and trust like they’d never known pain, and daily life was still amazingly simple in its isolation from so much of the “developed” West. I noted that even the dogs did not bark at people walking by their homes, and wondered just what kind of place this was. We met missionaries Micah and Amy Tuttle and their family one afternoon during the week. I had wanted to meet them for a while as they worked with and knew Bert Elliot, Jim Elliot’s brother, and served with the same agency through which Jim Elliot served.
The week was hot and dusty, but the fellowship and hospitality was constantly refreshing. I marveled to watch men learning about the Old Testament who only have the New Testament available in their language. It would be hard for us to imagine learning about parts of the Bible we had never studied. On the beautiful drive back to Tarapoto for the flight out, I reflected on the week’s bounty and the bounty of the week before in Ecuador. The weeks were very different in team makeup, locations, students, and lessons learned, but I basked in God’s hand of blessing on both, anticipating the next week coming—farther out in the jungle at the end of the last road.