Thursday, April 29, 2010

Day Three - Evening Worship and a New Baptist Church...

Wednesday in the jungles of Ecuador was a full day in need of more attention. I mentioned yesterday that part of Wednesday was set aside for celebration. The purpose was to celebrate the chartering of the very first Baptist church on Huaorani land. The church we had painted the previous day and worked to build a storage room on the back was to become an official Baptist church that night.

The “Iglesia Cristiana Bautista” was a product of the combined efforts of a truly blessed evangelistic team in Ecuador. Southern Baptist missionary Steve Thompson partnered with an Ecuadorian missionary years ago to take the Gospel into the Indian nations. They were the first to reach out to the Kakatarro Indians and share Christ with them. As a result, many have come to Christ and have been baptized and discipled as believers. The church was only a building with no official start date or charter members. That would change that evening after an afternoon of celebration.

The celebration events were to be held on a large area adjacent to the camp where there was a soccer field and volleyball net. The Huaorani school teacher was not from this particular village and was placed there by the government to provide the most basic of skills to the children. As a young man in his mid-twenties, he had lived in the city where he received his education – he was also quite an athlete. When he found out that we would be competing he changed into his uniform, cleats and all and prepared to take on us Gringos. It was about then that I fully realized we were in trouble. Not withstanding the fact that every single Indian in the camp could eclipse all of the missionary team in a footrace, they could easily out maneuver us on the soccer field. Not only that, but most of us were still trying to recover from the hike into the jungle and we didn’t want to do anything that would cause more pain on the hike out on Thursday. So, most of the “celebrating” was left to only a couple in our group. As for me, and several others, we celebrated the river for an hour or so while they sweated on the soccer field. I personally liked that particular arrangement.

That evening we gathered at the church for the commissioning service. It was dark and the candles were lit. Pastor Timothy requested we gather in a large circle like their elders of years gone by for the teaching time that night. I was more than willing to teach while sitting in the circle and we all took our places and the worship service began.

First we sang songs in Quichua and Huaorani, Spanish and English. (Earlier we had sung Jesus Loves Me in all four languages at once – beautiful!) I then shared on the necessity of the Huaorani’s continuing to evangelize other Huaorani tribes deeper in the jungle. I gave them the scriptural mandates of why this was important and emphasized that these people would not hear the Gospel from an Anglo but would receive it from them. I pray that they are more responsive to evangelism than the average North American church member.

Upon my completion Pastor Timothy said that his people would dance like their ancient elders. He then called for several men and women to gather in the middle of the circle and they performed a shuffling movement as they raised their hands to God. Steve Thompson interpreted that they were giving praise to God the Father. This gave evidence of their animistic heritage where they recognized a divine creator but did not know God through Jesus, His Son. I think this was probably for our entertainment more than anything else, but it was a privilege to witness their culture and history up close. After a couple of these dances we moved into the official commissioning service.

Upon gathering all of the baptized believers in the middle of the circle – there were some 15 to 20 – both missionaries and my missions pastor, Jason Johnson, and myself were asked to pray a prayer of dedication for the new church. While we prayed the believers kneeled in the middle of the circle. Upon completion, the very first Baptist work in Huaorani territory had officially come into being as a recognized church. No, there was no by-laws and constitution. But from this day forward the baptized believers would be considered charter members and records would be kept of additions into the body of Christ by baptism. Hence forth the church would officially operate as the “Iglesia Cristiana Bautista” in the heart of the Amazon jungle as a clear picture of Jesus’ words, “Where two or three come together in My name, there am I with them” (Mt. 18:20).

Great joy prevailed as the shadows of the congregants moved about inside of the church in the candlelight. There was much chatter between each other as different gifts were exchanged and the celebration came to a close. I was visiting with Gabriel, the chief, when he took from his head a handmade Ocelot headdress which he placed on my head. Through an interpreter I asked if this was mine or what and he said he was giving it to me as a gift. Now that was a true treasure. I then pulled a large fixed blade hunting knife from my pocket that I had brought to give to him. I told him I hoped he would skin many monkeys and wild hogs with this knife. He was thrilled and the next day I saw that he was wearing it on the hike out of the jungle. There were some others who had brought things to trade and so I went to an older warrior who had made a 5 foot spear and had brought for trading. I swapped him a pair of binoculars. He was thrilled. He would have taken anything from an American just to say that he had it but I believe the binoculars will come in handy.

The night ended with us purchasing all of the artisan work the ladies of the village had made. There were bread plates, beads, carrying sacks, and other items, all made by the women for the purpose of sale.

We went to bed that night thankful for being allowed to be part of a rare and special event. We also went to bed thinking about the grueling hike we faced in the morning. I will save that for tomorrow.