On Good Friday, one year ago, a desperate father named Bolivar and his daughter, Dominga, set out on a journey from the deepest corner of the Ecuadorian jungle. They were in a life & death search for a miracle. She was spitting up blood, her abdomen swollen, her body was battling a mysterious illness. They are Acshuar Indians. A remote, indigenous people who fiercely resist all advances of civilization. After three days on the trail trudging through dense jungle, up & over mountains, raging rivers, & knee high mud, they finally reached the Shuar village of Paantin. They had heard stories of a well-known witch doctor who lives there. He was their last hope. Surely, he could cure her with ancient chants and remedies; surely, he could break the curse that was stealing away her life.
Although this village has no electricity, no roads, no stores, and certainly no hospital, it does have a church. The little wooden structure on the far end of a muddy soccer field is called Centro Cristiano de Paantin. Several years earlier, in a completely different corner of the jungle, a young Shuar man named Umberto had a divine lifesaving encounter with the Creator of Universe. God reached down and gave him a second chance. Umberto made the best of that second chance by studying to be a pastor through our ‘mother’ church here in Sucua. Upon completion, he agreed to uproot his family of nine and move them across the jungle to pastor a new mission’s church in the middle of nowhere, a place called Paantin.
Easter night, Bolivar & Dominga arrived in Paantin only to find that the witch doctor was not there. Covered in mud, drenched in sweat and despair, their journey appeared to be in vain. God had other plans. Pastor Umberto was there to greet them. He introduced them to the Healer, to the One who holds eternity in His palm. In the midst of their deepest agony, they heard and believed for the first time in a Savior who went to the cross then miraculously rose from the grave so they too could overcome death. On the night of Easter, they learned of their eternal home, but time was quickly running out for Dominga, she needed immediate medical attention. Pastor Umberto lead them on the daylong journey out of Paantin to Sucua. They arrived Monday night at our new hospital, the same one where Zak was treated after falling out of the truck last year.
I wish there was another way to end this story – that somehow I could change the outcome with mere words. Dominga took her last breathe Tuesday morning. A few hours later my missionary brothers and I were wrapping her body in a sheet as her father wailed inconsolable in his native tongue. I will never forget him trying to clean the mud from her feet, barely dry from the jungle trail. As we placed her in a tiny coffin, he insisted we include her blanket that still carried the smoky smell of her family hut. He desperately ‘fought’ for every last second to be with his baby, like a bear clawing to get to its cub. How do you say goodbye to your child? Why didn’t God answer my prayers and allow this innocent child to rise up out of that coffin? Our hope is simply this – Jesus! Because He came up out of that grave 2,000 years ago, this grieving father had something to cling to, an eternal lifeline and the hope of seeing his daughter again.
Some things are not meant for us to understand. We just have to carry on, stay diligent, and not lose sight of the things that really matter in life. Jesus went to the cross, Umberto went to Paantin, where are we willing to go? I’m more determined now than ever to keep my hands on the plow. There’s an urgency in the air that we cannot ignore, but the first thing I had to do after saying goodbye to Bolivar, was get home and HUG my family.
NOTE: It’s been one year since Dominga met her Savior. I’m posting this now in her honor and to salute those who have answered the call. You may be serving in a remote lonely place, like Pastor Umberto in Paantin. Don’t give up, don’t second guess yourself or your call. You never know when that person, desperate for hope, may show up at your door. ALSO, the Acshuar Proclaimer is coming soon! Pastor Umberto will be delivering one to Bolivar. His entire village will have an opportunity to hear the message of eternal hope – we’ll keep you updated!