This film was created by AccessTruth, a ministry dedicated to creating cross-cultural training resources for missionaries and church planters.
Twenty years ago, an isolated people group was spotted by a pilot flying over a jungle in the Asia-Pacific. These people were undocumented, forgotten by the world, which also meant that they were untouched by the gospel and any of the hope that it brings.
A group of missionaries heard about this sighting and went to visit them, in the hopes that one day they would live among them. They could only access the isolated community by helicopter. As the jungle was so dense, they threw a chainsaw out of the helicopter before jumping out, and then they cut down some trees so it could land. A group of men wearing gourds surrounded them, bows taut and ready to shoot. Eventually gaining courage, they approached the strangers, touching their clothes. “What is this stuff? Did these strangers have a second skin?”
A Miserable Cycle
As the newly resident missionaries soon found out, life in the jungle was a miserable cycle of spirit appeasement. There were strict and bizarre rules for every occasion, ranging from the need to slash themselves when they were sick to taboos on food when they were hungry. Human life was not valued, and children were neglected if caring for them became tiresome. For every pair of twins, one was believed to be an evil spirit. The mother would guess which one the spirit was and then stomp on its chest, leaving it in a tree to be eaten by possums.
A woman’s life was not a pleasant one. Girls were sold as wives to men they did not know and were frequently beaten. It was not unheard of for a husband to strike his wife with a machete, or for a mother to strangle her child by wrapping vines around its neck. Such was the darkness in this community.
The new missionary team did not want to directly change their culture but simply introduce them to God. They wanted these people to fall in love with their Creator—to know Him, not just about Him.
So after years of grueling language and culture learning, the team (now comprised of three families) started from the beginning, unfolding God’s Story to any who would listen. The community heard first about the Creation account and then about the devastating Fall and the resulting trauma for them and all human beings. This story explained many things to them: why they were separated from God, and why their daily lives were a misery. And although this was very bad news, there was a stirring that God would do something, that He was a rescuing God. This feeling grew as they watched God rescue person after person in Old Testament stories—seemingly His favorite thing to do. The promise that was given was eventually revealed as Jesus—God made flesh—sent to rescue people and bring them into His redemptive Story.
A Church is Born
Eight people initially believed, and a small church was born. But it was just the beginning. Over several years, hundreds of believers made up the church. They read God’s Word over and over and over again. As God’s Word continued to unfold, their understanding of their place in God’s Story deepened, especially as it related to God’s plan for them as a church. One by one and clan by clan, others joined and the church grew. Some days they would act mature and others not so much, like teenagers growing in their identity and realizing who they were as new believers.
Today evil spirits no longer rule this people group. They can eat anything, go anywhere, and human life is valued. Husbands are learning to love their families and are starting to live under the same roof with them. The medical and educational transformation is remarkable, and that’s not even taking into account the spiritual change. It’s not uncommon to see families reading God’s Word together around the fire, tracing their fingers under words they have just learned to read. They see themselves as God’s people with a place in God’s Story:
Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people . . . (1 Peter 2:10)
A western visitor recently asked them, “Some people back home say you were happy the way you were, that you should have been left alone. What would you say to that?” One woman replied, “What! Who told you that talk? They should be saying, ‘They live in darkness. Let them have the opportunity to live in the light.’” Some men responded, “Before the missionaries came, we were incredibly afraid of the spirits. When we were afraid, we would cut ourselves. Fear absolutely reigned over us. You can’t fathom how bad it was. Now we’re no longer under bondage to the fear that came with the many taboos we had. We’re free.”