(EDITOR’S NOTE – This year’s Week of Prayer for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention is Dec. 2-9 with the theme of “BE His heart, His hands, His voice” from Matthew 16:24-25. Each year’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions supplements Cooperative Program giving to support Southern Baptists’ 5,000 international missionaries’ initiatives in sharing the gospel. This year’s offering goal is $175 million. To find resources about the offering, go to www.imb.org/offering.)
SOUTH AMERICA – Grace, a member of one of the indigenous tribes of South America, speaks with intensity about the future of her people.
There are outsiders who would keep them in something of a museum – as living history, she says – stuck in a time that has not been a reality for generations.
It’s not what she wants. Yet the issue is not an easy one.
“A lot of our people don’t even know our [culture],” she says. “They say they do, but they hide behind it.”
She wants her people to move ahead – to “win.” She wants them to take advantage of all that is going on about them while retaining the best of their culture.
That means they will have to change, she says.
Grace has been active – militant, she says – in the Indian rights movement. She and her sister have traveled to New York and Florida for conferences. They were part of a group that surrounded the Catholic church in a nearby town and demanded their land back, threatening to breach a dam and flood the town if they didn’t get it.
Land disputes between Indians and others have been fierce. Non-Indians have hired gunmen to threaten the Indians. People on both sides have died.
Grace recounts the religious beliefs of her indigenous people group in South America who have had limited contact with Christianity. “There have been times in my life that have been so hard,” Grace says, “I’ve wondered if there was something else out there.”
When Grace talks about Christianity, she speaks of a mix of indigenous, tribal religion; folk Catholicism; superstition and spiritualism; and Catholic dogma. Few from the tribe embrace it. They say they prefer to hold with their traditional faith.
She has met some evangelicals – her term for everyone who is not Catholic – and was not impressed.
“They have faith,” she says, “but they don’t have love. Faith without love isn’t worth much.”
A visitor tells Grace her words are straight from the Bible. “Next time you come, bring your Bible,” she says. “I want to know more about it.” The visitor says he has one with him. Grace asks him to get it. For 20 minutes they talk, flipping from verse to verse as they converse. The visitor is astonished at how much of what she says virtually is a paraphrase of the New Testament – a text she has never read.
“There have been times in my life that have been so hard,” she says, “I’ve wondered if there was something else out there.”
Grace and her tribe are among more than 3,000 unengaged, unreached peoples across the world. Nearly 400 of them are in South America. Isolated by language, culture, history and –in some cases – geography, they live mostly in small clusters of fewer than 3,000 people.
Most will never have a missionary assigned to them. Yet the church is called to take the gospel to all peoples.
Gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering allow International Mission Board (IMB) personnel to identify and understand these often forgotten people. Those efforts offer Southern Baptist churches committed to embracing unengaged, unreached peoples a basis for beginning their work among them – to be His heart, His hands and His voice.
– that Grace’s people truly will have the opportunity to hear about their Savior.
– that more churches will embrace an unengaged, unreached people group that might not otherwise hear the gospel. (Learn how at www.call2embrace.org.)
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Will Stuart is an IMB photographer. Gifts for the offering are received at Southern Baptist churches across the country or can be made online at www.imb.org/offering where there are resources for church leaders to promote the offering. Download related videos at www.imb.org/lmcovideo.)