This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.
Rob Sullivan

A Morning with Missionaries

Posted from: Vida Nova
We've just had a very civilised breakfast with a missionary couple in their beautiful home in the village of Vida Nova, a tiny village deep in the heart of Vale do Javari. Paul and Cheryl Rich are an American couple in their sixties who have lived among the Marubo people for almost 30 years. They have created a little patch of heaven in the endless forest, complete with rainwater-harvesting system, solar energy, email via satellite and home-made jam. Sitting in their backyard overlooking their vegetable patch and herb garden you could easily be mistaken in thinking you were somewhere in Midwest America.

With no offence intended to Paul and Cheryl, or other evangelical Christians, I found myself shifting uncomfortably in my seat when the conversation turned to their reasons for being here. They belong to a controversial group called the New Tribes Mission, whose goal is to convert every indigenous tribe in the entire world to Christianity. They do this principally by learning the local language and then working with the community to translate the Gospels. In their own words they see shamanic practises as witchcraft and discourage the Marubo from taking their traditional snuff and drinking Ayahuasca.

It seems easy to condemn them for this, but on meeting them I realised I should not judge so quickly: they are here out of genuine love for their fellow man, and they truly believe they are helping the Indians to reach salvation. They have literally dedicated their lives to saving souls and have clearly developed very personal relationships with many Marubo people based on mutual affection and respect.

They no longer treat the Marubo health problems, as this is now supposed to be dealt with by the government agency FUNASA, but we were told by the villagers that they have saved many lives over the years. They have also helped educate hundreds of people, albeit with their own motives, but it has helped many Marubo to negotiate their way successfully in the outside world.

Their lives could be about to change dramatically. Since the establishment of the Indigenous Reserve in 1998 there have been increasing calls for all missionaries to be removed from the National Park and new legislation passed just this year will now accelerate the forces of change. But Paul and Cheryl are quietly getting on with their lives and seem in no hurry to leave.

They freely admit they have converted relatively few people to Christianity, but Cheryl says if they only manage to convert one person then it makes all their efforts worthwhile. Whatever I may think of their motives and beliefs, they are undoubtedly caring people and two interesting characters that we’ve met here in the Amazon.


This post is closed to new comments.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites