The era of narratives in which missionaries followed God’s calling to remotest lands are necessarily dwindling away as a new generation of missionaries stands on the shoulders of these pioneers, and technology redefines how missionary endeavors are accomplished. These stories are like rare pearls, collecting from a way of “doing” missions no longer done, when intrepid men and women sacrificed everything to obey God’s voice. Such is the story of Art and Evy Yohner, missionaries to the Wayana Indians of South America.
This is an excerpt from the book, Carrying Fire, available at Amazon.com.
Art spent a lot of time with the Indians as they worked on various projects. The MAF pilots were concerned about some very large stumps along the side of the airstrip, so Art hired a group of Wayanas to help with the improvements. This went on for many months of digging and burning out the stumps. One day as they took a break from the unforgiving sun, he and Tuwehtuwe sat together on a log in a nice shady spot. Art had been talking with this mild mannered man about God, the Good Spirit, and answering his questions for many months. This particular day, Tuwehtuwe was ready, and prayed to receive Jesus into his “liver village,” or as we would say, his heart.
Art followed up with this illiterate man by going to his hut to read to him from the Wayana verse book. One day Art was shaken by the story and the pointed question that came from the heart of this man.
Tuwehtuwe told him the story: Years ago, a group of Wayanas was out gathering leaf for their thatch roof. As they harvested the special palm leaf, one of them came upon a large bone. The whole group searched the ground, but found no other bones. They examined it carefully and pondered: No, it was not a monkey or tapir bone. They were sure it was a large human leg bone, but why just one, and whose bone could it be, and why was it here? They mused over this puzzling find.
As they continued to search the jungle floor, one Indian looked up and began studying the face of the rock mountain, and wondered at the shadows that he saw, but as he moved closer, he realized an opening in the side of the mountain had been almost closed off with large rocks. Curiosity spurred him on, and he called for someone to make a torch from tree rosin to go investigate this mysterious cave. The Wayana Indian climbed up the face of the rocky mountainside to the partially open entrance, where some of the piled-up rocks had fallen to the ground. He lifted his torch to give light to the darkness, and in doing so a flurry of bats fluttered over his head. The telltale stench of bats, he knew. He could barely see from the bright sunlight into the darkness, pulling himself up into the entrance and sticking his head in further, with the torch held high. As his eyes adjusted and the light filled the cave, what he saw astonished him: Neatly stacked around the cave stood piles organized into skulls, leg bones, arm bones, and ribs—a cave full of human bones and bat dung. At this point in the story Art had to interrupt: “Who were they, brother?”
“They were my tribe’s people, the Wayanas,” he replied.
“But how did they get there?”
Tuwehtuwe continued, “We think they were caught and eaten long ago by the Pëneyana.” Art knew the word pëne was piranha and yana meant people—the piranha people or cannibals. “They ate my people and hid the bones in the cave so there would be no revenge.” Tuwehtuwe remained solemn and deep in silent thought.
Then he looked up at Art: “Brother Art, how long have you known about Kan (God) and the Good Spirit?”
Art responded, “A long time, since I was a young man, maybe twenty one years old.”
“Brother Art, did your Mama and Papa know?”
“How long did your tribespeople, the Ameliken know about Yeisu?”
“Oh, for a very long time the Ameliken has known,” was Art’s reply.
Then his most piercing question left Art speechless: “If they have known for so long, why has it taken so many dry seasons for someone to come to tell us? Maybe the Pëneyana would not have eaten my people if they had known about Kan and the Good Spirit.”
How could Art answer this perplexing and penetrating question? “I don’t know, Konoh,” he said as he hung his head in sorrow. He never could find the answer to that question. Jesus said, Go ye into all the world—yet, there are tribes just like these which still don’t know. Who will answer Tuwehtuwe’s question?
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