From Warrior to Servant for Christ

by Lynn Turner

(Names have been changed for protection)

I sat on a crude plank bench listening wide-eyed to the indigenous chief who invited us to his village.  Although dressed in western clothing, Chief Lucho was a proud Mayuruna, one of the 400+ tribes in the Amazonas. "Only a few years ago I was a warrior in my village far away," he stated. "I murdered many people with bow and arrow. I killed any stranger that came to our village."

Although small in stature, I had no doubt about the violence this man could procure. And, yet, his smile was captivating.

I thought back to the journey that brought me to this village starting by car from Leticia, Colombia (a touristy, bustling port town) to Tabatinga, the port town on the Brazilian side of the Amazon River. Dozens of boats were tied up to the floating 2-story wooden dock.  It was teaming with people lugging all different kinds of supplies from electronics to burlap bags of food and clothing. People confidently walked across the rickety boards stretching across the muddy water that made up the walkway from the land to the dock. All five of my senses were overwhelmed with the clash of modernity against indigenous living.

Russ and I were excited to visit the church plants and pastors that we sponsor in the area, so we quickly made our way up the twisty, buckling boards onto the loading dock for the “rapid” (fast boat) that would take us downriver to our next vehicle. After the boat captain loaded the passengers’ supplies onto the roof of the boat, we departed. Thirty minutes later, we arrived at another floating dock where people spoke more Portuguese than Spanish. We disembarked and got into a rented car that would take us to an indigenous village.

Several months prior to this visit, Samuel, one of Russ’ former indigenous seminary students, who is now a pastor, contacted us to ask for help building a church in this Mayuruna village. We had sent the money for the brick, cement, and tin for the roof, and although we had seen pictures, we were excited to see the progress in person.

On the way to the village, we stopped at a small house to purchase gasoline. I was glad Russ knew his way around, because there wasn’t a gas pump in sight.  Russ called out, and to my surprise, a man emerged carrying three 2-liter coke bottles filled with gasoline, a plastic funnel, and a small hose. He proceeded to pour the gasoline from the bottles into the gas tank. Since gasoline is more expensive in Brazil than in Colombia, many people make a living by bringing in small amounts of gas and selling it from their homes.

An hour later, we saw Samuel and Chief Lucho waiting by the barbed-wire fence enclosing the village. Since the Brazilian government has enacted laws to protect tribes from foreigners, as well as the tribes themselves who are suspicious of strangers, we could not enter without an invitation from the chief.

After the customary greetings, we slowly walked the muddy path to the church. Adult villagers quietly appeared while the children burst through the open doorway to gawk at the strange white people. Barefoot little girls, covered in dirt, dried food, and lice hugged me unreservedly as only children can, and one in particular kept running behind me trying to unzip my backpack. She was curious as to what I could possibly have inside the backpack.  I made a game of turning in circles until she was laughing.

Moments later, I was sitting on a crude plank bench beside a beautiful indigenous woman, listening to the chief’s words being translated from Mayuruna to Portuguese and then to Spanish.

“Thank you so much for coming from so far away to visit us and help build our church,” he began. “Only a few years ago I was a warrior in my village far away. We raided surrounding villages murdering all the men and older boys in order to capture the women and children and their goods. We brought them to our village to live with us and expand our clan. This is a cruel way of life, but it is our culture. Constantly we either attacked villages or were attacked by others. I wanted something different for my children, so I came downriver 8 days and 8 nights by canoe searching for something better. When I saw how different this area was, I brought my family to begin a new life, and Samuel found me. We are from the same tribe, speak the same language, and he told me about Christ. Now my children and grandchildren will know about God and will never have to live the life that I lived as a warrior. Thank you so much for coming, for sharing the love of Christ, and for our new building where we can worship.”

This sweet smiling man was a murderer? I would never have imagined it. This man left the only lifestyle that he had known and met the Savior that transforms hearts. His whole life changed. Missions matter!