I just returned from the Amazon jungle where I taught at Justice & Mercy International’s Annual Jungle Pastors Conference. Ninety-four indigenous men and women gathered for a week of Bible teaching and renewal. Many traveled by boat and bus for several days to attend. This is my thirteenth year being a part of these conferences and I never return the same. I’ve been home for less than 48 hours, and while watching black howler monkeys swing from rainforest treetops while keeping an eye out for caiman seems a world away from my daily reality, the faith of these jungle pastors couldn’t be more relevant to my here and now. I have a feeling the same is true for you. If you could use a faith booster, read on.
I sat with my dear friends Cosme and Auria who serve in a village that floods annually. When I asked them why they chose to live in a community that floods every year, Cosme simply said, “Because there are lives there.” In other words, they go where people need to hear about Jesus’s love, not where it’s easy. How often do I factor in ease ahead of what people need when making a ministry decision? In addition to the geographically challenging location of their village, Cosme suffered a stroke a few months ago and has an enlarged heart. When I asked how he continues to serve with such joy, he explained that trials bring us closer to the Lord. It was a simple concept to him really—when we face crises, we get to know Jesus more. We also find out what He’s capable of accomplishing on our behalf. Cosme and Auria’s joy and hope were infectious. You and I can have the fullness of joy in Christ that transcends the trials we’re walking through.
I visited with another pastor, Rildo (pronounced “Hildo”). He has a 29-year-old son who is non-verbal. As a result of his and his wife’s experience raising a child with special needs, he now has a ministry to countless special needs children in the Amazon. It’s staggering what he’s been able to accomplish with no income and a whole lot of God’s power. I wonder what God has taken you through personally and how He wants you to help and bless others as a result of what He’s done in your life?
In addition to Rildo’s ministry to children, he also started a church in an indigenous tribe. For three years, Rildo prayed for an opening in this tribe. (I have given up on certain prayers in three days!) Eventually, this tribe invited him in because they saw the love he and his family had to offer. The chief and leaders of the tribe signed documents for Rildo to minister inside the tribal community—a rare occurrence in the Amazon. What might God accomplish in our lives, and in the lives of those we love, if we prayed persistently and confidently with a passion to see God’s will done on this earth? Whatever it is you’re praying for, Pastor Rildo reminds us—don’t give up! The Lord delights to answer us. Sometimes prayer is a process.
I was further impacted by a couple whose names I will refrain from using to protect their identities. They minister in a village where incest and childhood sexual abuse are part of the culture. This couple is seeking to change the culture by bringing Jesus to this village. Already, their modest church building is at capacity. Each week they’re teaching over 40 children about Jesus and the Bible. They’re also teaching them about the sanctity of their bodies and how to protect themselves and ask for help if someone tries to take advantage of them. While abuse is illegal in this part of the Amazon, law enforcement does little to uphold the law, and abuse is rampant in families. This couple has received death threats because of the work they’re doing to protect children. Through tears, this pastor said, “I would rather be killed than let another little girl be abused.” After talking with them, I wondered what sacrifices I was making to bring Jesus to those around me.
It’s tempting to think that these stories are confined to the jungle, but I don’t think that’s true. Powerful stories of redemption aren’t confined to a place, rather they’re attached to a faith. When we take Jesus at His Word, when we deny ourselves and obey Him, we see Him do exciting things in our lives, but we also get to know Him more deeply. Pastor Cosme said that when he faced trials as a new believer, he would tell the Lord, “I don’t know you that much, but you know me that much.” In other words, he may not have known Jesus all that well at the time, but Jesus knew him inside and out. This encouraged Cosme to rest in the Lord’s will for His life and trust Him in the middle of trials.
I don’t know how well you know the Lord, but He knows everything about you. Trust Him. Follow Him. Pray to Him. And watch Him do great and mighty things.