50 plus years ago dark, menacing clouds pressed down on the green jungle which starkly outlined both banks of the river. Our engines were hard pressed to make headway as they labored to push the heavily loaded boats against the swift and swirling current. It was rainy season and the river was full. We weren’t dodging rocks or threading our way through the narrow channel the dry season would force upon us in six months or so. Everything we could see that day, the dark rain clouds, the river running full and swift, the water flooding up over the banks, everything reminded us that it was rainy season. We could expect more clouds, more rain, and the sun could be hidden from view for days.
But then on the right hand bank just at treetop level, the clouds opened just enough and there appeared a rainbow. What we saw was just a tiny sliver of what we knew was behind those dark clouds. The rainbow, of course, speaks to us specifically of God’s promise not to destroy the world by water a second time, but also reminds us of God’s promises in a general sense. I remember thanking God for the reminder that He is always with us. He is there, always there, even when life’s problems, those inevitable clouds of difficulty weigh so heavily down upon us.
I remember that day and what we saw because of the unusual mix of the totally overcast sky with the most minimal break in the clouds which allowed us to get a glimpse of the rainbow and its beautiful colors. I had never seen anything like it before and never saw anything like it after that day. Clouds and rainbows in the same sky together were a common sight, but not in that very special arrangement. I believe God in His tender care and concern was reminding me that He is always there even when the dark clouds of adversity seem to say the opposite.
In between bailing and other tasks that day I had been doing a lot of meditating and praying about several matters of concern and wasn’t feeling particularly encouraged. The ceiling of dark heavy clouds pushing down on the treetops wasn’t helping much either.
Though at the moment we were focused on getting the supplies and passengers to their separate destinations, the all-inclusive purpose of being there in the first place was getting the Gospel out to the most isolated villages. Hauling supplies for the missionaries living along the rivers was one link in the chain of what ministry entailed in that particular era of missionary work. It was something you could see and measure, it was an observable part, it was a visible link to the underlying spiritual nature of a very real conflict between He who is The Light Of The World and the ruler of the kingdom of darkness.
Anyone who follows the international news scene knows that the country of these posts has been experiencing very difficult times over the past number of years. These events, of course, directly affect the missionaries who minister there. Uncertainty, uncertainty as to what tomorrow or next week or next month will bring is on everyone’s mind. The truth of the matter is that uncertainty on many different fronts was already the norm as soon as ministry began in the jungles in the mid 1940s.
Although I don’t remember what was troubling me when God so graciously reminded all on board of His promises and specifically that Jesus had said “I will build My Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”, I do remember very well that the tenuous nature of the permit under which we worked was always in the back of our minds. In 1952 the missionaries had been informed by the mayor of the National town where they were gathered, that their permit had expired and they must leave the jungle. My father was actually in the capital city working on the renewal of the permit but communications being what they were in those days; it had been weeks since anyone had heard from him. The short version of the long story is that eventually a permit with an indefinite expiration date had been granted which allowed the missionaries to continue their work. That was good, but the permit also stated that the authorities could revoke it anytime, giving the missionaries three short months notice after which time they would have to leave the jungle.
Soon there began an unending parade of fact-finding teams making their way into the villages where the missionaries were working. They were sent by the authorities to check on and monitor compliance with the stipulations of the permit.
Some were there to either confirm or reject the unsavory stories that had begun to circulate about the missionaries and their activities. Some of the so-called ‘activities’ were so unbelievable it stretches the imagination to think that people could even come up with such far-fetched ideas.
Other groups came with a far less noble agenda. They came looking for anything, fact or otherwise, that could be used against the missionaries in order to have them expelled. Investigators of this persuasion left no stone unturned in their sometimes-desperate attempts to malign the missionaries. Even organizations known worldwide for their dedication to protecting human rights would add their two cents worth to the stream of lies being perpetuated against the missionaries.
A typical scenario would unfold like this. A fact finding team made up of members of one of the branches of the governing authorities would come to the jungle, do their work and upon returning to the capital make out a detailed report. If they were not biased against the missionaries the report would be very favorable. Unfortunately, this would never put the lies and misinformation to rest. Now the other two branches of the governing authorities felt they had to send their teams to investigate. This, of course, was because the left hand didn’t trust the conclusions the right hand had come to. So the missionaries would have to prepare for more visitors. This kind of thing tended to get old pretty fast. When you heard of offices changing hands up in the capital you knew the whole process would start all over again. This was nerve wracking for the missionaries; remember if certain officials became convinced that the lies being told were indeed true, the permit would be revoked. These investigations also ate up huge amounts of time and resources. Sometimes we provided transportation and hosted the teams. All this could keep you perpetually off balance because you never knew if tomorrow would bring the news that in three months time you’d have to leave.
Of course some of the authorities, mostly those who had a real concern for the welfare of the country’s Indian population, were appreciative of what the missionaries were doing. They didn’t understand exactly what motivated the missionaries’ willingness to live and work in places and under conditions when nobody else was willing to do so, but they liked what they saw and worked with the missionaries. One good example was the working relationship we had with the health department. See the post, ‘That Mysterious Spirit’ for more.
Well, God’s work continued there in the jungles for a good while, along the rivers and further inland in the far South of the country. Eventually the missionaries were forced to leave and yes, it was on the basis of the same tired old lies and misinformation that had started circulating decades before. By the time the missionaries had to leave however, “The Light Of The World” would have shined into the hearts of many, many of the peoples who lived in those far away places. Those of us on board the boats that special day these many years ago couldn’t have imagined the scope of what God was planning to do. Amen