The Challenge of Brazils Unreached Peoples

By Florence Moore,2014-06-18 00:15
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The Challenge of Brazils Unreached Peoples

    The Challenge of Brazil’s Unreached Peoples

    By Ted Limpic

    OC International, Brazil (Sepal)

Brazil, the largest country of Latin America, boasts the world’s eighth largest economy. The evangelical

    church over the past twenty years has been growing at 3 times the rate of the population. Today, Brazil’s evangelicals number some 19 million, or approximately 12% of the population.

In spite of the tremendous growth of the evangelicals, Brazil is far from Indigenous Languages of Brazil

    being reached. Within it’s vast borders there are some 258 Indian

    ""tribes which represent today one of the biggest challenges facing the """""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""evangelical church. """""""""""""""""""""""""""""""" """""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""The Sad State of Brazil’s Indians """"""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""Brazil’s Indian tribes are generally not large. Although there are some """""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""who have populations above 20,000 (Tikuna, Kaingang, Kaiwa), most """"are somewhere between 100-1000. The small size of most tribes "Each mark represents the "geographic center""of a language group"reveals a tragedy that has too often gone unnoticed. Many Brazilian’s """""tribes have been decimated by diseases contracted by their contact "

    with the white man. Despite efforts by the Brazilian government to

    provide health services in remote Indian areas, many tribes continue to Fonte: Wycliffe Bible Translators (SIL), 1993 Vers em Portugu: SEPAL (011-523-2544)TR-011see their numbers shrink as they succumb to pneumonias and

    influenzas passed on to them unwittingly by civilization.

    Added to this sad situation is the greed of farmers,

    miners and cattle growers who often invade Indian

    lands, by force at times, and wreak ecological

    havoc as they burn the rain forest and push the

    Indians further into the jungle.

    Relatively few of Brazil’s government leaders care

    about the Indian tribes. The Indians’ small

    numbers, geographical isolation and lack of political

    know-how generally mean that they are often

    ignored when it comes to receiving government

    help for better education, health supplies or

    defining and defending the borders of their tribal


    It’s no wonder then that in some tribes many

    Indians take their own lives. With no hope for the

    future and precious few who seem to care about their “present”, the suicide rates in some tribes are extremely high. The Different Kinds of Tribes

    Not all of Brazil’s Indian tribes are alike. Besides the obvious differences of language and customs, there

    are significant differences in how the Indians live.

    ? The Village Dwellers: Most of Brazil’s tribes fall into this category. The Indian tribe has it’s land on

    which are many separate villages. Each village might have some 50-60 people who work together

    in the hunting. fishing and raising of crops: corn, rice, manioc. Most villages are situated on or

    near rivers. The tribes have their own chiefs, or sometimes a council of elders, who make the


    ? The “Protected”: In the Valley of the Xingu River there are some eleven tribes living on a reserve

    that is protected by the government against incursions by ANY outsiders. While this has helped

    preserve the Indians’ physical health, the government will not allow any missionaries to enter, even

    when the tribes request it. And the chief’s of several tribes have made such requests.

    ? The “Portuguese-speaking”: Many tribes are now physically located near cities where the

    influences of civilization have had their effect. Some tribes have become assimilated into Brazilian

    culture. But others, though no longer speaking their native language, have maintained their tribal

    customs, cultural values and world-view. The speak Portuguese, but remain culturally distant from


    those that surround them. This is especially true in the Northeast region of Brazil where there

    some 25 Portuguese-speaking tribes who have maintained their ethnic distinctives.

    ? The Uncontacted: As amazing as it might seem, there are still primitive tribes hidden in Brazil’s

    jungles. Recently a friendly contact was finally made with a tribe called the Korubos. No one yet

    has learned their language because the tribe is still afraid to maintain long-term contact. How

    many more tribes are there? No one really knows. But there are reports of many.

What Indians Believe

    Like the other indigenous peoples of the Americas, Brazil’s Indians are of Asian descent. According to

    anthropologists and archeologists, there once were some 5 million Indians, but now there are only 360


    Indian belief is basically animistic. They believe in the existence of a spirit world which interacts with the

    natural or physical world. The shaman (or witchdoctor) serves as the mediator between the two worlds.

    Indians believe that everything has life: even inanimate objects like water and rocks. Some tribes even

    believe that certain spirit entities actually inhabit the water, rivers and jungles. Indian mythology, which

    consists of a series of legends passed orally from generation to generation, serves to explain the various

    phenomena of life: birth, death, the existence of good and evil, pain and suffering, as well as the origin of

    all things.

    The relationship between the spirit world and the natural world is so close that the origin of disease or

    illness is always considered to be spiritual. Whenever someone becomes sick, for example, the witchdoctor

    is called upon to make peace with the spirit that has caused the infirmity. The same is true with such

    activities as hunting, fishing, and raising of crops. It is necessary to not break the established taboos in

    order to please the spirits and guarantee success.

The Advance of the Gospel

    Missionary work among the Brazil’s Indians began in 1913. Until the early 1980’s, most of the work was conducted by foreign missionaries (New Tribes, Wycliffe, and others). How far has the Gospel advanced

    over these years?


We can rejoice in several key areas.

    ? In eight of Brazil’s tribes there is an established evangelical church where the leadership has been

    passed into the hands of it’s own native leaders and native pastors. Today several seminaries exist

    for training Indian pastors, and several tribes they are now sending out their own missionaries to

    other tribes!

    ? In one hundred tribes there is an active work going on by evangelical missionaries. Some are in

    the beginning stages of learning the tribal language. Others have translated significant parts of

    Scripture into the language and are evangelizing and planting churches. Still others are training

    native leadership and getting ready to pass the leadership into their hands.

Despite the good news of what the Lord has already done, the challenge of the unfinished task is daunting.

    Nearly half of Brazil’s tribes are still without any evangelical missionary presence. Can they

    hear the Gospel in some other way? Sometimes yes. The 25 tribes of the Northeast which speak

    Portuguese have the best chance to hear the Gospel. But for the remaining tribes (more one hundred) the

    opportunities are greatly reduced due to their linguistic and geographic isolation.

The Translation of God’s Word

    We see a similar situation when we inquire into how the translation of Scripture has gone over the past

    years. There is much to be thankful for: 34 tribes already have the New Testament translated into their

    language, and in 49 tribes there is translation work currently in progress. But there is much to pray about:

    at least twenty-nine Indian tribes definitely need their own translation (no other language is similar enough)

    still do not have one verse of God’s Word translated into their language! There are another 107 tribes

    whose situation needs further study, but many of these will certainly need their own translation as well.


    Brazil’s Evangelical Church Although in the past much of the work among Brazil’s Indian tribes has been conducted by foreign

    missionaries, big changes are now happening. The Brazilian government no longer issues visas to

    foreigners intending to serve as missionaries among the Indian tribes. So, the young evangelical church of

    Brazil must take an even more active role in reaching it’s own Indian tribes.

Brazilians have already been very involved for many years. New Tribes of Brazil now sends out some 150

    Brazilians to the tribes, joining those sent out by the Brazilian Baptist Convention (30) and some 20 other

    agencies. In all, some 500 Brazilians are already serving as missionaries among Brazil’s Indian tribes.

But the potential is so much greater. In Brazil today there are some 70,000 evangelical churches. Plus,

    there is a growing missionary movement. Back in 1987 a huge Ibero-American missions conference was

    held in Brazil. Since that watershed event, the number of missionaries serving outside of Brazil has tripled.

    We can rejoice that 13% of all Brazilian cross-cultural missionaries are serving in the 10-40 Window.

However, the number of Brazilians serving among the Indian tribes has remained static. Back in 1989

    some 500 Brazilians worked with Indians. Today there are still only about 500.

That’s why new efforts are being made to help the Brazil church understand the great needs represented

    by Brazil’s Indian tribes:

    ? A special edition of an Adopt A People Manual has just been published which highlights the

    challenge of Brazil’s Indians. Together with a set of prayers cards and transparencies on the

    Indians, this “Indian Awareness Kit “ is now being used in churches around Brazil

    ? New cooperation among the Brazilian mission boards and agencies which work with Indians is now

    helping to better strategize and deploy resources.

    ? Some national initiatives like “Brazil 210” will be including all of Brazil’s Indian tribes as target areas

    in their effort to mobilize the Brazilian church in fulfilling the goal of seeing a healthy church

    planted in every community of Brazil by the year 2010.

The Challenge of the New Millennium

    Certainly there are other people groups within Brazil which are very needy: the large Japanese and Chinese

    immigrant communities, the Gypsies, and especially the 2 million Muslim Arabs represent key challenges.

    Also there is the challenge of the Amazon river dwellers, some 5 million, who speak Portuguese but are

    separated from the Gospel primarily due to their geographical isolation.

    stNevertheless, as we move into the 21 century we pray for the Lord to move in mighty ways to complete

    the unfinished task represented by Brazil’s Indian tribes.

    The challenges are great::

    ? The jungle can intimidate many with it’s isolation, dangers and disease

    ? The tribal populations are small, so it’s a labor of special love and divine compassion

    ? Language learning can be a intimidating task requiring patience and perseverance

    ? The government and secular sociologists do all they can to discourage missions work

    But we know that our Lord is greater. And His desire is to redeem precious lives from EVERY “nation, tribe,

    people, and language”.

Interceding with the Father

    As we look to the future, may we rejoice for what the Lord has already done, the fruit of many years of

    sacrificial service. But may we also be interceding for what He yet desires to do …

    ? Pray for the Brazilian church to catch a greater vision for the urgency of reaching the remaining

    unreached tribes

    ? Ask God to bless the cooperation among Brazil’s mission boards and agencies and cause it to


    ? Pray for more Brazilian young people to become inflamed with a passion for the Indians and be

    willing to face the challenges of reaching them

    ? Intercede for the Brazilians who train new missionaries, especially the specialized courses offered in

    linguistics, anthropology and jungle survival.


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