Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | May 16, 2017

The River and Rainforest

Amazonas, Brazil

The Amazon has fascinated me since I was a boy. Learning about the river and the rainforest pushed my impressionable boyhood imagination into overdrive. I found it easy to daydream about jaguars and piranha and monkeys and spiders — and especially about the fascinating people who had mastered survival in such a difficult place.

The one thing I never imagined as a boy was that I would one day visit the Amazon. Now back for the third time, this magnificent slice of geography continues to stir my imagination. I still feel much like a schoolboy, only this time I am learning about the rainforest and the river on location — in one very amazing classroom.

Our travels down the Amazon and its tributaries have taken us deep into the territory of the Mundurucu people. They are one of many tribes that call the Amazon home. The Mundurucu have learned and mastered the keys to survival in a place that is tough and unforgiving. Their subsistence lifestyle means that there is little time for relaxing. This is definitely a “if you don’t work you don’t eat” kind of place.

Every village has its own shaded huts, built exclusively for the preparation of manioc, a key staple of the Mundurucu diet. Processing this root is a labor intensive process that includes soaking, straining, and finally cooking the yield in a massive wok-looking pan. The root provides the people with farhina de mandioca, a type of flour, and tapioca.

The villages are all located along the river rather than in the rainforest because the river provides an abundance of fish. And there are indeed some incredible fish in the Amazon and its tributaries. Every variety of fish we ate was delicious.

A long conversation with several men in one village helped me to understand what the rainforest provides in terms of animals and exotic fruits. What the rainforest provides, they emphasized, is essential but the rainforest is a dangerous place. A couple of guys shared stories of getting lost and eventually finding their way home.

Seems that every man had his own stories of near-misses with the feared jaguar, the stealth killer of the rainforest. And then there are the snakes and spiders and scorpions. Encounters with these creatures are much more common than coming face-to-face with jaguars — and yet still as frightening in their own right.

One key takeaway from our conversations was that the Mundurucu intentionally pass on knowledge of how to survive along the river and the rainforest to each generation. This naturally led to conversations about the importance of parents being the primary faith-trainers of their children and intentionally equipping their children to live in ways that please God.

Faith is important to the Mundurucu for many reasons, not the least of which is that they live in a place fraught with dangers. I heard stories about demonic creatures that inhabit the river and the rainforest — and how these creatures lead people to their deaths. The good news is that the Mundurucu are hearing and embracing the good news about how Jesus has won the victory over the demonic realm and over death itself.

Reaching one home at a time is hard enough in America but even harder in the Amazon. Sharing the message that true fulfillment (and victory over fear and evil spirits) is found only in Jesus Christ is a must if the kingdom of God is to reach into every corner of this vast geography known as the Amazon. And that means venturing into inconvenient places to have spiritual conversations with those who live between the river and their rainforest.


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