“You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and new wine abound.” Psalm 4:7
When I was dreaming of all the places I wanted to travel to and what I longed to accomplish and who would make me happy in this life, the 6th Annual Jungle Pastor’s Conference on the Amazon River never crossed my mind. I had fancier plans, you know. More along the lines of whatever would bring me “grain and wine”, as the Psalmist referred to in Psalm 4:7.
On the joy hunt I was after the standard fare: People to make me happy, a fulfilling career, a decent helping of money, a little fame sprinkled in there, plus a good measure of comforts and pleasures. I’m not saying I didn’t love the Lord or the things of the Lord, but as far as what would satisfy the longings of my heart—what would bring me some serious joy—I had my own ideas of how this could be secured.
I couldn’t have imagined that a gathering of men and women who own but a couple outfits each, sleep in hammocks that hang from huts without electricity, and often struggle to put food on the table for their families, would be the ones not only to teach me joy but also to share it with me.
Fast forward to last week where I gathered with 59 jungle pastors and their wives at Justice & Mercy International’s Jungle Pastor’s Conference. I went with 21 teammates from America and England to encourage and equip these pastors, although as it always goes they teach us far more than we’re able to teach them.
Joy being the biggest lesson they present, without even realizing it.
Where we tend to rely on the joy that springs from the stuff of grain and wine, theirs is the kind the Lord puts in their hearts. The same joy He put in David’s heart.
I sat with pastor Cosme who told me that when he was first called from the city of Manaus to the interior, there were many days where food was scarce for him and his family. One morning he took his son into the jungle where he’d pick fruits from the treetops and drop them down to his boy. Cosme would scale his way up the tree until he couldn’t hoist himself any further upward. Running out of strength and wherewithal he’d burry his head in the branches and begin to cry. Had the Lord forsaken him? he wondered.
“Daddy, keep climbing!” his young son jolted him from his sadness as he yelled from the ground, “I’m hungry!” Digging deep Cosme would climb a little higher, twist the fruit from its stem as his own heart had been twisted, and feed his family for the day.
When you ask Cosme why he sacrificed so deeply and why he stayed in a village that floods every year, he says with a visible gleam in his eye, “Because there are lives there.” And he tells you this with joy because it’s a joy that comes from the Lord, which is greater than the variety you get from grain and wine. The kind that’s here today and gone after consumption or a bad draught or treacherous flood.
I met Pastor Euges who told me his testimony of how he’d come to know Jesus. He’d been trafficked to work in a marijuana plant having been told it was a passion fruit field. He escaped from his traffickers by fleeing into the jungle in the cover of night—getting caught meant getting killed. He spent 6 nights in the jungle, gave his life to Jesus on the first one—thinking I would have too—finally emerged into a village, returned home, joined the church and is now a pastor. He walks 90 minutes one-way to the congregation he serves multiple times a week.
The Lord didn’t only save Pastor Euges from trafficking and a week on the run in the jungle, but also out of alcoholism. Now he ministers to addicts of all kinds putting his arm around their necks and saying, “This life wasn’t good for me and it’s not good for you. Jesus wants to save you.” Pastor Euges’ life is hard and filled with challenges. For instance, the snakes he contends with on his walks through the jungle to his congregation. And yet his smile nearly splits his face in half like a seam about to burst. All because He’s found the source of joy that’s better than when the wine and grain is bursting forth, the Lord Himself.
My friend Steve Guthrie said the most profound thing while we were there. It was something to the effect of, “We always come back from these trips saying, ‘the people are so poor but they have so much joy.’ If we listen closely to ourselves what we’re really saying is that in order to have true joy and happiness we must have material possessions.”
In other words, we’re surprised when jungle pastors—who are persecuted in their villages for sharing Jesus, live in obscurity, are extremely impoverished—are genuinely happy. Perhaps it’s because we’re relying on our grain and new wine for our joy when David tells us that the Lord gives us greater joy than what can come from material abundance.
The question is, do we really believe this? I just spent several days with a jungle full of pastors who’ve staked their lives on it.