Dear praying friends, I returned on Wednesday evening from a 5 day trip to visit some far away villages so thought I would share my trip with you.
Saturday 1 PM: After the rain stopped, we took off. Later than we had anticipated, but since the boat had places to hang hammocks, we were in fine spirits. After about 16 hours of running time, we were passing the village of Majecototeli. Every body way up there wants you to stop at their village, just to hear the news, if for no other reason. It was 2 PM and the village I had promised we would sleep at, so we could show the Jesus / Passion Movie, was still over 4 hours up river. I stood up and yelled at the guy motioning us in. “We will stop on our way up river, I promised to sleep in Cashola.” I waved and we continued on up the river. The last I saw the guy, he was sprinting up the bank to his village. That’s funny, wonder why he was running so hard, we all said to each other.
About 10 or 15 min later, a speed boat came roaring around the bend in hot pursuit of our slow boat, and because we were so slow, it was no contest. By this time, we could see the 6 heavily armed guys in the boat were all painted black. This is not a good color with the Yanomamö! They roared past us and motioned us to stop. They were armed with bows and arrows and one guy had a 12 gauge shotgun. We stopped! I recognized some of the guys, and one especially was a good friend.
“Hey, if I would have known it was that important for us to stop, we woudl have made time,” I tried to joke, but they were serious. As we pulled alongside, they grabbed our boat. “Oh, it is you!” The head guy finally had slowed down enough to recognize me. “Yes, friend, it is me.” I told him, glad that he had finally acknowledged that he knew me. “We thought you were someone else, If you would have been that person, you would be floating face down in the river by now! But you are my friend! You may continue your trip! But you should know when I am really angry, you should stop and tell me where you are going. This way, I don’t chase you down!” “Friend,” I told him in all sincerity, “If I would have had the slightest idea that you were this touchy up here, I would most surely have stopped!” We continued our trip. Whew!
We finally made it to the village of Cashola. This was Sunday evening. We had been traveling for a bit over 20 hours, just travel time. By now, we are way up the Orinoco river, it was late, and I had promised them we would show them the Jesus movie, so we got everything ready and started the movie. While showing the Passion part of the movie, a lady started wailing, as if she were wailing for a family member who had died. She refused to be comforted or silenced. She was deeply effected by the movie. Hearing her wails, I planned on trying to speak with her and her husband after the movie, but they disappeared into the night while I was speaking to someone else. By that time it was 11:30 PM, so telling myself I would try and speak with them in the AM we went to bed. Sadly, I did not see them the next morning. Pray the HOLY SPIRIT continues to work in her heart and draws her to HIMSELF.
While talking with the people of Cashola, we mentioned the village we were ultimately heading for. (I was carrying some letters from a major news organization to see if the village would sign the invitation for them to be able to come to their village. It was this organization whom had purchased the fuel that was allowing us to get all the way up here.) But when we mentioned the village, the men were pretty emphatic. “They are not home, the village is empty. They left on trek long ago. Their gardens are empty so they are just on wayumi, on trek.” (It is always so interesting how these people, who live miles apart, seriously, even with an outboard motor, it was going to take us almost 5 hours to get there from the village.) but somehow they knew what was going on all the way up there…Anyway, this was a big problem for us. I felt responsible to at least deliver and read the letters to them, but now, they were supposedly not home. “Who knows where they go when they go on wayumi?” I asked. A couple of guys stepped up. “Do you all want to come with me, so in case they are not home, you can find them for us?” They were exuberant. Yes! We will come.” They told me. We took off, heading back up the Orinoco river.
10 AM we got to the rapids and pulled in to walk along the shore through the jungle to try and see what would be the best way to get our boat through there. It can be a nasty portage, especially since the boat we were in was a bit larger than we normally travel in, so I wanted to walk the whole thing to make sure there were going to be no surprises. We figured out the best way through and tying the 50 meter rope to the prow of the boat, we started pulling it along the shore. I stayed back at the motor and used it to help propel the boat over hard points where the guys pulling were not able to make headway. We were making good time, when we got to a place where for some reason, even with everyone pulling and the motor screaming full power we just stopped. We worked as hard as we could, but it became obvious it was not going to get over this hump. We were stopped. Now, to back the boat back down. A bit harder to do so than to type it, I will tell you. But we finally did make it back down. But now, where to go? We were pushing the boat with a small 15 hp outboard and I was not sure if it would make it just trying to run it through the main channel. The current was strong, but we really did not have many other options. So we pushed out into the current to try again.
We did make it through Caläbä rapids. Actually, made it through fine. There were a few tense minutes, when we came to a place where the boat just stopped and we were not sure if we were going to make it through, but we moved a bit to the right, got behind some big rocks where the current was less, build up a bit of speed and pushed on through it. All good, except for the extra grey hair. 🙁
At 2 PM we arrived to Ilocai’s port and it was obvious from the lack of fresh tracks that the village was in fact deserted and had been for while. We walked on up to the village and it was empty. An empty yanomamö village is almost eery, hauntingly so. You find yourself speaking in whispers. Two of the guys who had come with us assured us they could find them and took off running into the jungle. We continued to look around and the village that at first glance had appeared deserted, suddenly was obvious it was anything but. I looked down, my pants were literally crawling with fleas! The ground appeared to be moving! Fleas were everywhere. Count stars? Sand? Abraham would have had a shorter time counting the stars, or the sands of the seashores than trying to count the fleas in that village, I’ll tell you! Mercy!
After the runners left to go try and find the missing villagers, we quickly decided that with the amount of fleas crawling everywhere, staying at the deserted village was not a wise option. We made our way back to the river bank and our boat. Coffee is always good, so we boiled up a pot and set around trying to come up with what our options were if the runners could not find the villagers of Ilokai.
We had thought we would sleep in the village, but it was pretty unanimous that with the fleas, we would just stay on the river bank. Well, we might just as well have taken the fleas because as darkness fell the mosquitoes rose out of the jungle around us and we were quickly engulfed in a fight for our lives. I am not sure how many pints of blood one can lose and still live but I am willing to bet those mosquitoes came close. Then one of the guys from Cashola that had stayed with us, came in saying he had seen smoke raising from right outside the village. We tried to talk him out of it, but he was so convinced in his mind that it was enemy “Oka” black magic, raiders, that he wanted to move. We had already swatted, and if we would have been lesser men, I would say “we swatted and swore!” but I never heard a word except grunts of pain and wails of miser from my companions. So we, figuring that the mosquitoes could not be that bad everywhere, got in the boat and moved across the river. I am not sure, if you are being swarmed, one or two million less is hardly worth writing about, but to be honest, I think they were worse where we moved to.
At first light, we moved back over to the village’s port. We had no way of knowing if the guys looking for them would even find them. So we were pleasantly surprised when at 8 AM a young guy came in, barely panting from his early morning run. He assured us the people were behind him and would be arriving shortly. By 8:30 they were all there. I read the letter to them and they were enthusiastic in their endorsement of the project. We finished up with business and I asked them how they were going to sleep in the village with all the fleas. What? No, we are leaving right after you show us the moving pictures you showed to Cashola. They told me. I tried to explain that with a video projector it has to be dark, and it would be impossible to show it to them. They did not understand, so we decided to just set it up and let them see for themselves. They really wanted to see the pictures. It seems the runners we had sent to find them had spent most of the night telling them about the man who was beaten and did not try and defend Himself.
We set it up and we were right. It was way too bright in the shabono. This is a round circler roof with an open center, so there was no “room” to darken. One of the guys with me reminded me about our large tarp. We moved the projector to a section of the shabono where we could wrap the tarp around it and it was not bad! It showed up way better than I had thought it would, so we started it. You could not hear a peep out of them as they watched the Greatest Story Ever Told! I kept being distracted by the fleas not only walking up my pants leg, but actually making my skin crawl as they marched by rank up my leg inside my pants. There was no stopping them! So I finally gave up. How in the world the naked people watching the movie could just set on the floor and hardly act like there was a flea within a hundred miles is beyond me. I love the Jesus Movie with the Passion that we have translated into Yanomamö and have watched it 100s of times. But honestly, this time felt like it was just endless. Finally it was over. Without hardly a word, the people got up and melted away into the trackless jungle. They had a long walk back to where they were living in the jungle. I wished we could have talked them into staying a bit longer. I pray God’s Spirit brings the Gospel back to their minds.
As soon as they departed, since there was nothing left there but the fleas, we made our own hurried departure. We left heading back downriver at 12 noon and traveled until it was too dark to see. We were awakened at 3 am by a fierce storm. We hurriedly took our hammocks down and moved back to the boat. Finally at about 10 AM it settled down to a drizzle so we headed on back down river. We arrived home here at 6 PM. Tired but glad to be home. Did I mention we scratched all the way home? Then to make matters worse, the next day I started feeling the pin pricks of pain that signaled the presence of niguas. Keila was kind enough to get her medical kit and go to work. All in all, she dug 8 out of my feet and 1 from under my pinky on my right hand! Mercy! Good to be home!