Traveling the Pacific Ocean in a dugout canoe was not part of my missions dream, but here I was tooling up the coast of Colombia in a dugout canoe and 25-horsepower outboard motor. My co-workers and I were looking for a place where we could work with the Emberá tribal people who lived in the foothills of the northern coast of Colombia and into Panama.
They were exciting times, and we did what needed to be done. At night we would anchor the boat out beyond the surf and swim to shore in shark-infested waters. (One dark night we lost our boat, and then found it being towed out to sea by a giant hammerhead shark who had tangled himself in the anchor and chain. I fought for the boat — I won; another story, another time…)
I remember this particular trip well. It was the vampire bats! They were continually flopping down on us and crawling towards noses, ears or toes. It was amazing all the things we did to keep those bats off.
However, what impacted me the most was not all the crazy adventures we encountered; it was sitting on the beaches of the small coastal villages and visiting with the people.
One night, while visiting after a great meal cooked over an open fire by one of the village women, I tried to explain why we were making this trip up the coast. I explained we were missionaries and wanted to be able to share God’s message with the Emberá people.
One elderly man who had been sitting quietly looked at me and said, “When the Catholic priest comes to visit, we are Catholic. When the pastor comes, we are Protestant. When no one is here, we are nothing.”
His words so impacted me. That night along the coast of Colombia is seared into my memory. Many short-term mission outreaches leave the people unreached and unchanged.
This is not what New Tribes Mission is about. We are not the instant mission, flitting into one place after another. We learn the language well, we build relationships and trust, we present the foundational truths of God’s message in the language of the people and translate the Scriptures. We leave behind a thriving church.
This issue of NTM@work tells the story of the Ayorés — the very first tribal group NTM entered in 1943. Read as generations of Ayorés express their love of God and their knowledge of God’s Word.
This is what missions is all about.