Telling the story of Jesus in every language

Cultural damage or religious freedom?

A thought-provoking update from a Recordist in Brazil

It's hard to believe that I've already spent four months here in the US. Time flies, they say, especially when you keep busy.

While I have enjoyed my time here, I'm anxious to get back to Brazil. Yet just three months from my return flight, I'm still wondering whether that's going to happen. While the Brazilian government (and the press along with it) always seems to be looking for excuses to put evangelical missionaries in a negative light, the most recent investigation comes at a time when my visa application is in process, and YWAM, first in line to be investigated, is the partner through which I request my visa.

The root of the accusation against YWAM (and other missions feel its effects because we are in the same boat) is that by sharing about Jesus we damage the culture of the tribes, and any assistance we give is a bargaining chip for 'conversion'. Oh, if they could only understand that that isn't the sort of 'convert' we hope for, and that it is because we know Jesus that we give and love unconditionally!

As for damaging the culture, the microscope couldn't have been turned on a better case. Here's the short version of the story: YWAM missionaries have been living with and serving this tribe since first contact, about 20 years ago. They speak the language, live as the people do, recognizing the value of the tribe's culture. Over the years they have seen a decrease in the number of suicides and chain suicides - traditionally, a correct response to sadness, shame and anger in the culture. So yes, the culture is changing. In the last few years, missionaries have been asked to care for children who otherwise would be killed or left in the jungle to die. Another change. And this year, for the first time, parents of two children born with birth defects asked the missionaries to take them to the 'white doctors' - to the non-indian world where doctors might rescue their children from an otherwise certain death. These changes and the changes the people are experiencing even today while they wait for surgery and physical therapy in the big city are at issue.

Naru, the father of a baby girl born with sexual organs characteristic of both sexes declared, "If the doctor doesn't operate, I will have to give her poison, she will die. I will also end up taking poison, I would kill myself. We aren't afraid of killing ourselves."

Muwaji, the mother of the other little girl, when asked whether she would stay in the city for her daughter's treatment replied, "If I take her to the house of the Suruwahá and she doesn't walk, I will have to give her poison. My heart is not even thinking about returning to the Suruwahá because of my daughter. I would stay with the white people a long time for her to get better."

It is a tricky thing, this talk of cultural change. We would never look at our own culture and say that all is good and to be preserved at all cost. Contrary to popular opinion, there are absolutes, defined first by the Creator of the universe. But key to this debate is the people's right to embrace change for better as they weigh it according to their own value system. Culture is by definition dynamic, and those who see it as otherwise do not see PEOPLE - they see animals on exhibit.

All that to say, please pray. Not just that I would get my visa, not just that the missionaries would be cleared or the babies healed - but that a victory would be won for the tribes of Brazil to be seen first as people, like us, and so given the respect and right to make their own choices: whether to stay in the village or to go to the city; whether to keep their traditions or exchange them for others; whether to believe and follow Jesus, or not.

To close, just a quick update about GravaçõesBrasil and the continued work while I have been away. Gracy and Cidinha have been busy recording, editing and jumping through the final few hoops (together with the advisory council) to register the mission in Brazil. They recently returned from a triple-header recording trip to the northeast, where they recorded and had a wonderful wish-I-could've-been-there time with the Najé, the Jara and the Tehar.

Once again, thank you for your prayers, your support, your partnership. I am thankfully and amazedly aware that all this, these last ten years in the field, the growth of the work in Brazil, that I am even alive to write you today - is the fruit of serving together with you, for God's glory. Thank you!