By Kevin McKay
The Amazon basin, also known as the Green Window, is the hidden home to thousands of indigenous tribes and communities. The people there live in what could be deemed primitive conditions and extreme levels of poverty, often struggling for survival.
The Green Window has also become home to riverside communities of Portuguese-speaking peoples living in similar conditions to the hidden indigenous tribes. Though they share the same obstacles to development, these Brazilian communities are often marginalized and have become vulnerable because they are not recognized and protected by the government.
Indigenous tribes do not self identify as Brazilians. They are usually hostile to outsiders and have their own unique culture and way of life. In recent years they have faced great risk from exposure to the darker elements of modern society. Drugs, alcohol and various other vices have reached these communities. The Brazilian government has wisely recognized the need to protect their culture and has developed certain rights and protections allowing local tribes a slightly better opportunity to avoid exploitation.
The Portuguese-speaking communities face many of the same struggles of the indigenous tribes. Marginalized and often forgotten, these communities face high levels of alcoholism, drug abuse, sexual exploitation and infant mortality. Local leader, Marcio Garcia, who has led one of Brazil’s largest missionary movements for over thirty years states, “The people in these communities live simple lives. They make their living out of what they can extract from the rivers and forest, producing barely enough for survival.”
Reliance on the provision of the waters for survival has resulted in difficult and challenging lives full of suffering because of the broad and pervasive effects of poverty. A Christian worker serving the region shared a story that conveys the struggles these villages face. “While I was attending a local church service, I saw a tourist boat come up the river and stop in the village. As the boat docked, a father came into the church service and tapped his daughter on the shoulder and they abruptly left the church service. I was confused and I asked the local villagers what was going on. I was saddened to learn the heartbreaking story that boats of tourists had brought prostitution to this community and that it was common among similar unprotected and vulnerable riverside communities. The villagers told me that many locals viewed it as their only means to survive.”
These devastating stories are common throughout the Purus river region. Isolated from the rest of Brazil and without hope, villagers sadly have become accessible targets for abuse. Marcio Garcia’s locally-led ministry in partnership with Partners International has recognized their great need and is now preparing to bring the transformative power of the gospel to the region. The Evangelical Mission for Assistance to Fishermen (EMAF) is working to reach over 1000 unreached villages along the Purus River. Through their extensive network of national workers, EMAF is working to restore broken economic, social and spiritual relationships by providing medical and dental clinics, education and the great hope the gospel reveals.
Oscar Oliveira, a national worker serving in the Green Window shares about the transforming power the gospel has on individual lives, specifically of one woman named Azeníades “Zeni, as we lovingly call her, was a sad and unhappy woman. Her husband used to hit her and the children and said that he wanted to kill them. He even reached the point of trying to burn their little hut, with everyone inside.
I met Zeni when I knocked on the door of her hut and tried to rescue her and tell her of the love of Jesus and the new life He would give her.
In the days following our first meeting I could not sleep in peace, thinking of the miserable life that Zeni was living. Touched by God, I went in search of people who would like to help her. Zeni gave her life to Christ. Her husband was expelled from the village by the people of the community, who were indignant about the abuse that he practiced against his family. Some months passed and we worked, joining forces with others to give Zeni her new house.
In the place of sadness, joy took over her life. Zeni was only smiles, a smile that came from the soul. Now she has a new house, but best of all, she has a new life with Jesus. She has new objectives in life and more dignity.”
For the first time the people of the Purus River are coming to understand that there is a loving God who sees them and cares deeply about each and every one of them. Forgotten for so long, they are now experiencing a love so great. It is a holistic transformation that is the beginning of an incredible awakening inside of the Amazon.
Marcio Garcia, will be speaking on Partners International’s Hope in Action | Amazon Awakening tour this fall.
Kevin McKay is president of Partners International Canada, an affiliate of the EFC (publisher of Faith Today).