They had never heard the gospel before but the evangelist had their attention when he said: “We tried everything in the book to go up and find God but we couldn’t. But instead of us going up, He came down.”
When he continued: “We killed Him. But he rose back to life,” the semi-naked tribespeople deep within the vast Amazon jungle stood up and gave him a standing ovation.
South African evangelist Arnold van der Spuy, who has been sharing the gospel in the Amazon jungle for 23/4 years, first thought that they were just being “kind to me”.
But they were not.
“They literally believed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ because they said: ‘This Jesus who was God-Man – if He was just a man He would have stayed dead but because he rose again proves that the Spirit of God came back into the body and lifted Him up to His feet. Then He is the true God’ — and they received Him as the same.”
The remote tribes in the tropical jungle that is 4.5 times the area of South Africa are generally very responsive to the gospel as they are looking for answers to life, Van der Spuy said in an interview.
“They have only experienced the jungle but they know instinctively that there is more out there. But because of demonic oppression and worshiping of demons they are too fearful to venture out of the jungle,” he said.
“But when you reach them they want to know everything about you,” he said.
Door opened to share gospel
He said being questioned by the tribespeople opened a door to share the good news with them. They quickly get to ask you about your beliefs, which gets to their belief that there is one Creator Spirit. They believe that man used to walk with God long ago but something went wrong and man fell away from God. Later there was a big flood. Many drowned. Only a few people survived. They believe they are descendants of the survivors.
The tribespeople say they and their predecessors tried everything to get back to the one Creator God but they couldn’t. They were thus obliged to worship spirits of the forest.
“They see them [the demonic spirits] and drink their potions which are made from plants — and tell you they are not nice spirits,” Arnold said.
His South African wife of 10 months, Heidi, who has been visiting Amazon tribes for the past two years, said: “What touches me the most is when we get to villages which don’t have much outside contact and we ask them when last someone Christian came by, and the oldest one will say maybe 15, 20 years ago. In some villages they will say: ‘No,there’s never been anyone’.
“And you really realise we have the privilege of sharing Jesus with them for the first time. And just to see how open they are, and hungry they are and desperate for a solution – desperate to get away from these demons.
Sickness lifts off them
“We pray for the sick, even before we often share the gospel message with them because they need to see the power of the Lord in action and the people are healed instantly on the spot. Whatever pain they’ve had or sickness just lifts off them.
“You know the first time you pray for somebody and a whole bunch of people just get healed and you think: ‘Wow I’ve never seen this before!’ — and then it happens the next day and the next day. And then the next day there’ll be a woman who has come from maybe five hours down the river by canoe because she’s heard that healings are happening in this village. One lady had a stroke and had very limited mobility on the right side and pain. The group prayed for her and she got up instantly feeling better and she asked to be baptised.
“I think that for me is the highlight — to see how the Lord’s light breaks through that darkness and it’s Him – His power, His love and His truth. It’s just incredible to see!”
I spoke to Arnold and Heidi in Port Elizabeth two weeks ago while they were in South Africa to share their journey with Christians, to connect with people who wanted to partner with the Amazon ministry, and to mobilise believers to live out the Great Commission wherever they are. They are now in England on their way to the Amazon jungle.
Arnold looked the part of a jungle missionary. He is tall, rugged looking, with long hair and a headband. Heidi looked petite and well-groomed, fitting in with the shopping mall coffee shop environment where we met.
But the couple who first met each other when Arnold spoke at a church in Johannesburg two years ago and got married about a year later (both of them got married for the first time), are both passionate about their calling to take the gospel to unreached tribes in the Amazon.
At the age of 13 Arnold saw a picture in National Geographic magazine of scientists encountering an unreached Papua New Guinea tribe. He saw the hopelessness in the eyes of the tribespeople and he realised they were looking to the scientists for the answers to life. But he knew the scientists had no answers and that it would take followers of Jesus Christ to bring the tribespeople the only answer that would save them from the eternity in hell that they faced without accepting Christ.
At the age of 30 he went to the Amazon for the first time and more than two decades later and fluent in Portuguese and Spanish he is still committed to reaching the people he describes as the least reached and most needy in the world.
An emergency rescue operation
“These poor people are not prepared for death – they live in fear and they don’t know how to find their Creator. So we are on an emergency rescue operation. We are living in a state of emergency,” he said.
Heidi said she encountered Jesus powerfully at the age of 10 as she was reading the story of the passover and the crucifixion and was hit by the truth that “He died for us”. In her early 20s she heard Burundi missionary Simon Guillebaud talking about lost people.
“That day [when she heard Guillebaud] I didn’t stop crying, just thinking about what he had shared and over the years I went on a lot of outreaches and you see people who need Jesus and see how they respond when they hear the good news – its addictive – its a wonderful thing to see people come to the Lord. And I read Peace Child by Don Richardson, on how he and his wife reached cannibals in Papua New Guinea. All this created a desire to reach lost people – and particularly those who have the least chance to hear.”
But how was it, as a woman, to live in the jungle with its snakes, piranhas, and worse, I asked?
“The first thing I noticed in the jungle is how many children are there, and the pregnant women and women with babies. And I realised that the whole concept we have of what it’s like to be there is not true at all.
A bad excuse
“Yes, it is a wild and remote place. But hey, if a 2-year-old kid can get by in the jungle why can’t I? We look for excuses. It’s an excuse that its hot, or uncomfortable or there are too many mosquitoes. Or I don’t like snakes or scorpions or spiders. Its a bad excuse. I don’t think any of us will be able to stand before the Lord one day and say: ‘I’m sorry Lord. I know you died on the cross for them but I didn’t feel like going to the Amazon because I don’t like spiders.
“Its like camping, honestly. If you’ve been camping you can handle it,” she said.
Arnold said there are about 200 tribes living in the jungle, ranging in size from 10 to 2 000 people. About 180 of them have been reached by civilisation and about 100 of them have been effectively reached with the gospel.
“That leaves 100 [tribes] still to be reached with about 20 not reached at all — and we are zooming in on the most unreached,” he said.
He said there were many different business, government, scientific, military, paramilitary and criminal groups with different selfish agendas which were making it difficult for missionaries to get to the most needy tribespeople.
‘We will reach them’
“But we have to reach them. We will reach them. It is impossible to stop God.
“The question is: how fast will we be? Are we retarding the process through disobedience and fear? Or are we speeding it up through obedience and believing that God is in control?
“I believe a that a lot of Christians are apathetic [about reaching people who have not heard the gospel], just content to be saved. But no, if we don’t reach this generation [of unreached people] they will not be reached. We are the only catalysers that can reach them.”
He said that Amazon Missions, comprising Heidi and himself, partner with other indigenous and international missionaries and Christian groups, to spread the gospel in the Amazon jungle. As much as possible indigenous Christians discipled the new believers — “doing the maximum with the minimum and leaving the rest to God”.
People who would like to become prayer partners, contribute financially to the work of the ministry, or join them on mission trips can contact them via their website www.amazonmissions.com, Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/Amazon-Missions-455768391230318/, or email firstname.lastname@example.org .