This is a guest blog by my dad, John Dean, now a Columbian missionary. I hope that he will continue to write guest posts, sharing the stories of his adventures in Kingdom of God.
Puerto Inirida is a small town located in the jungles of Colombia. The only way to get there is either by air or boat. It is located near the border with Venezuela. In the middle 1940’s a young woman named Sophie Mueller, a missionary with New Tribes Missions came to the area to evangelize the indigenous peoples who lived along the many rivers in the region known a Guiana. The rivers were populated with 14 different ethnic groups, who all had their own unique languages.
Sophie was originally a reporter for the New York Times and a gifted artist. She was converted when she stopped to listen to street preachers as she was walking along the streets of New York. She eventually dedicated her life to God and felt the call to missions. She wanted to go where no missionary had ever gone before and decided that God wanted her in South America. She traveled to Bogota, Colombia and departed there for the jungle.
When she arrived in the Guiana area she met up with the Curipaco tribe. The indigenous were animists and were led by witch doctors and witches. The tribes often went to battle with each other over territory, and their religion involved getting highly intoxicated and dancing wildly. Sophie met these people and told them about Jesus. The witch doctor decided to test her and evaluate her god against his gods. He put a poison into her soup and decided to wait to see what would happen. She took the soup and eventually vomited through the night, but she survived. A couple of dogs and a few chickens licked and pecked at the vomit and they all died. The witch doctor immediately wanted to know about her God and she communicated as best she could about Jesus. He was her first convert.
Over the years Sophie Mueller traversed the rivers of Colombia and helped to start hundreds of churches. She translated the New Testament into 14 different native languages. She taught the tribal people how to read and write and gave them pride in the fact that they were the indigenous people of Colombia and Valenzuela. Today, she is revered by the various indigenous tribes in Guiana and Venezuela. Sophie died in the late 1980’s, but her influence on the people continues.
A missionary from our fellowship met with one of the indigenous people while he was ministering in Puerto Lopez. The man was from the Puinave tribe and told the missionary, Jim Gage, about the need for someone to come to the rivers and teach the people. After hearing Jim preach, he said that he taught like Sophie Mueller, and that the indigenous leaders would be anxious to talk to him. Jim made the trip to the jungle and met with the indigenous leaders and they told him that they would like to start a bible institute to educate their young pastors. Along the various rivers of Colombia there are about 1,000 churches and many of the young pastors need a solid theological education. Jim presented this need to his sponsoring church, Westwood Missionary Baptist Church of Winter Haven, Florida, and the leadership and people immediately responded to the need. That is where I come into the story. I surrendered to the call of the Lord to go to Colombia as a missionary.
I traveled to Colombia in February of this year and met with Jim Gage. A week later, Jim and I traveled to Guiana and met with the tribal leaders from the four largest indigenous ethnic groups. We started the planning stages for the Bible institute. My pastor and our missions director had made previous trips to initiate things. We arranged a Bible conference, and the church printed out 1,000 New Testaments in the four major languages. When we presented a few of these bibles to the leaders, they wept for joy at having the New Testament in their own language.
Meeting with these people and spending time in the jungle in the town of Puerto Inirida has been a wonderful and unique experience for me. I have learned that you can live very simply and still be happy. My little apartment there was very basic. I had a bed with a rock hard mattress with mosquito netting. We had plastic chairs and a plastic table. The kitchen consisted of a sink, counter, and a portable gas grill. It was not unusual to hear rats moving around the kitchen at night looking for food scraps. I had to hand wash my clothes and hang them in the living room to dry. Life was good despite the lack of modern comforts and conveniences.
I came to Colombia with little knowledge of Spanish, so in Puerto Inirida I had to learn as I became involved in daily activities. I became acquainted with my landlord, who was very helpful in my language development. The lady at the little restaurant down the way was also helpful and taught me how to order food. I like my coffee black and the Colombians like it with sugar, so it is important for me to order it “tinto sin asuca” which is black coffee without sugar. Eggs are “huevos,” and if you want them fried you order “huevos fritos.” I have not mastered Spanish by any means, but in the three months I have been in Colombia, I have made some good progress.
I had to return to the States because I do not yet have a visa. I am only allowed to stay for three months without a visa. I write this in Maryland at a Bible Conference, and I will return to Florida at the end of the week to visit my family and report to my church. I’ll make a trip to Detroit to visit my brothers, and then on July 9th, I will return to Colombia to focus my attention wholly to learning Spanish. I am going to hire a tutor. I hope that within a year I will master the language enough to preach and teach. Once I have mastered the language, I will be making quarterly trips to the jungle to teach in the Bible institute. We start our first classes this August, and I would covet your prayers for the success of this work. We Americans cannot traverse the rivers because of the risk of kidnapping by the FARC guerillas. The indigenous people can travel the rivers without risk or fear from them, so it is vital that we train these pastors in both Bible and evangelization so they can go back to their people and spread the gospel. We found out that the various tribes who do not live near the rivers have yet to hear about Jesus, and these dedicated indigenous pastors can go there and share the good news of the gospel to their brethren who still live in darkness.
I would appreciate your prayers for me personally and for the work that we are doing to help these people. I would also appreciate prayer that our church can receive the finances needed to keep this worthy project going. God has given us a unique opportunity that most missionaries do not have. We have thousands of people just waiting to learn more about Jesus. Our church meetings in the various indigenous churches surrounding Puerto Inirida have been packed to capacity with people and others crowded around the outside anxious to hear the word of God preached.