Revelation 3:7 - And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth.
The “Notice to the Public” in our daily newspaper in Boa Vista, Brazil caught our eye. It read: “No religious activities permitted by non-Indians in Indian communities under the administration of Indian affairs without authorization.” – Boa Vista, Roraima, June 1, 1988 signed by Raimundo Nonato da Silva, Regional Administrator.
What is this all about? How does this affect us and our ministry? A chill ran through our bones.
Jane and I had only recently opened up the work at the Indian village of Milho, about 85 km to the northeast of Boa Vista. The Lord had led us to the village in January when the car had broken down nearby. I had spent a full day under a mango tree waiting for help to come and it was at this time that Tito, an older Indian, came riding by on his horse and we met. Tito told me about the village of Milho and that they needed a church and needed someone to teach the village children God’s Word. That was in January and in April we held our first service in the little two room school building. There were 35 people for our first service and forty at our second. Each week the work grew in numbers. One of the reasons was because there was no electricity in the village and when the missionary came with a propane lamp and held a service, it created a community activity. We were beginning to get to know the families and the young people of the village as time went on. In our services the school classroom would fill up completely and many would stand in the door way and outside the window looking in just to participate. After the service, the young people would go outside taking their chairs and in the light of the propane lamp, sit in a circle while we sang choruses and hymns for hours under the starlit sky.
But what about this notice in the newspaper? Jane and I hadn’t received any authorization from Indian affairs to be able to work in the villages. No one told us we needed to. What should we do? Well, let’s go to the Indian affairs office in the morning and find out. That wasn’t hard to do as the FUNAI (Indian Affairs) office was directly across the street from our home.
The next day Jane and I walked across the street to the little building that had, many years before, been the post office at the edge of town. The Post Office symbol was still on the wall of the building. Already native people from across Roraima state, mostly Macushis, Wapixanas, and Yanomamis, were gathered at the doorway waiting to get in and have problems resolved. We told the secretary that we would like to speak to the administrator and she ushered us into his office and we met Sr. Raimundo. We told him who we were, that we were doing missionary work at the village of Milho and had read the Public Notice in the paper. Our question was, “How does that affect us and our ministry.” His answer was immediate, “It means that you can no longer go to the village of Milho without authorization.” We sat there in stunned silence for a moment and then asked, “How do we get authorization?” He opened up his filling cabinet and began pulling out forms and papers. “Ok, you need to fill out all these forms; explaining who you are and what you are doing. Describe your ministry, your philosophy of ministry and how you will help the people educationally and medically”. By now the ream of paper in his hand was about an inch thick – it would take weeks to fill all this out. Our next question was, “Ok, after we turn in all these forms how long will it take to get permission to go back interior?” “Oh, about six months”, he replied dryly. One more question, “We are planning to go to Milho tomorrow, the people are expecting us” He looked directly at us and said, “You will not be going to Milho tomorrow.” That was final and we were ushered out.
Back at home we looked at each other in disbelief. What do we do? The people are expecting us. If we don’t show up, what will happen to the new work? It could be six months before we get permission, the people could be scattered, maybe some other group will go there and start a church and we could lose the work. All these things and more began to run through our minds as we took it to the Lord in prayer.
The next day was Saturday and we were supposed to be going to Milho. Some teenagers from the village came by the house wanting a ride in with us. We shared with them our situation and I wrote a note to Ramiro, the village chief and sent it with them. Hopefully they would find another ride. That was Saturday morning and on Monday morning, early, at about seven o’clock there was the sound of a clap at our front gate. In Brazil the people don’t knock on doors, they clap their hands and it works well. I went out and there was Ramiro, the chief, standing there and he said, “Come over to Indian Affairs, the Administrator wants to talk to you.” We were quite surprised. What was going on?
We quickly got ready and crossed the street and the chief took us in to the administrator’s office – the same place we had been only three days earlier. Sr. Raimundo looked up at us and said, “Have a chair, your chief has been here and explained your ministry to me. I’m going to give you special permission to go back to Milho to do your work.” He lowered his voice and said, “Just don’t tell anyone that I gave you this permission.” We found out later that when the chief got my note he came right away to the city and as soon as the doors opened at Indian Affairs he went directly to the administrator, “WE WANT OUR MISSIONARIES BACK. Since the missionaries have been working at Milho there has been no drunkenness and no murders. We want them back!”
After that experience we were able to return to Milho with a new appreciation for the greatness of God and a renewed confidence and burden to reach the village of Milho for Christ. It was shortly after this happened that the first soul came to Christ and then the work really opened up and began to move forward. As we look back over the years, we see God’s hand at work and we have a greater sense of Who He is; “He is the same yesterday, today and forever.” He resolved our problems way back then, He does today, and will continue to do so tomorrow!