Let’s say you don’t have a Bible—or even if you do, you won’t read it, because it’s not in the language you think in. Besides, reading isn’t the way you learn; instead, when someone speaks, you listen with your whole self, memorizing words so that you could easily repeat them a long time from now.
And this is why a printed Bible or Christian book won’t make the kind of difference in your life that it might for someone who is American, German, or Chinese. But what if you could hear those same words whenever you wanted to listen? For a believer from an “oral culture,” obtaining a way to hear and share the words of Scripture is life-changing. And this is the heart of the Ticuna Messenger Project.
In collaboration with In Touch Ministries, members of the Amazon’s Ticuna tribe are working to create a Messenger—the solar-powered audio device that plays the New Testament and Dr. Stanley’s key gospel messages—in the tribe’s heart language. Meet a few of the individuals who have taken up the challenge to make this vision reality.
Martinho Dique was neck-deep in the work God had called him to. And now his wife Ilsa was dying.
With the help of friends, Martinho transported her across the river to the military hospital, where she stabilized. But she needed a specialist—a long, costly, near-impossible plane trip away.
In some ways, the timing couldn’t have been worse.
Martinho, a bivocational pastor, still needed to finish a demanding summer course required for his new job. But at night, he had been immersed in another kind of work—work he felt he’d been born to do.
His multilingual talents and heart for his people made him a key player as translator in the Ticuna Messenger project. This new translation would not only give believers a priceless resource to help them grow spiritually; it would also open doors for them to reach their tribe in an unprecedented way. Almost every night, Martinho would meet with producer Ezequias Leon to labor over equipment in the sweltering heat—sometimes until two in the morning. It was grueling work, but their excitement for the revolutionary potential of the finished product fueled each session.
Now that work appeared to be in jeopardy, as Martinho wondered if his life was about to be turned upside down. How would they afford the medical care Ilsa needed in order to stay alive? And if she died, what would happen to their children?
To him? This family—such a crucial part of God’s plans to bless and bring life to their tribe—was suddenly living in survival mode.
The circumstances were far from perfect, but Martinho saw God’s provision emerge from the middle of their struggle. Because of the Messenger project, Martinho’s In Touch contact had just arrived in Brazil when the crisis began; he was able to help with transportation and arrangements for Ilsa’s care in the city where she eventually recovered.
Cicera and Severo
Marriage across tribal lines isn’t common, but when Cicera Ticuna met her husband Severo—a believer from a neighboring Mayuruna tribe—it was clear that they shared more than just their faith. He, too, had a vision to reach his own people and other tribes of the western Amazon with the story of God’s love and forgiveness. Now she and Severo are a team.
Based in the small town of Benjamin Constant, they and other young indigenous believers live in the home of older native missionaries Clauber and Deanora Quadros. Not only are they training as church planters; they’re also studying hard to earn educational degrees so they can support themselves. While they live with few resources, they build their canoes little by little—all in faith that God will provide the expensive motors and fuel necessary to make journeys upriver.
The first time Cicera, Severo, and the other indigenous missionaries heard the Messenger in Portuguese, they were thrilled. Here was a tool that would make a radical difference in their current ministry—and make their dreams for the future possible.
With so many villages up the tributaries, it is impossible to minister to each one for more than a short time. Cicera and Severo would return often to visit groups of fledgling believers, only to find little spiritual growth. But leaving a Messenger behind in between visits can provide teaching and encouragement for new Christians and empower them to share the gospel with others as well. So as Cicera and Severo break ground in new places, the Ticuna Messenger will continue to tell the story they begin—fostering the next generation of indigenous believers.
The voice of the Ticuna chief standing on the riverbank was resolute: “I know who you are—so don’t land your floatplane here, and don’t come back.”
The less-than-warm welcome was no surprise for pilot Wilson Kannenberg. He understood that after enduring 500 years of colonial oppression, the Ticuna had reason to be suspicious of outsiders who might threaten their culture and freedom. Moreover, the Brazilian government, now eager to distance its tribal people groups from past abuses, had actually gone so far as to enact laws to keep non-Indians out of the Amazon’s most remote communities. Wilson knew the hurt ran deep for many Indians who’d had negative experiences with white people—including foreign missionaries.
But the jovial German-Brazilian wasn’t discouraged. He’d made the journey in his seaplane for a simple mission: to serve as a bridge. The hour-long flight to this remote village down the Yavari River tributary would have taken his Ticuna friends up to two weeks in one of their motorized canoes, traveling day and night.
Yet Wilson’s plane—the only one in that entire western Amazon region—has provided a bridge for these missionaries to start carrying out their vision now. In addition to bringing indigenous believers with him on many flights, he also begins relationships with far-off villages they haven’t yet been able to connect with.
Even when met by a clear rebuff, Wilson offers two things. First, his card—with instructions on how to contact him in any medical emergency. People living around the Amazon’s tributaries frequently die from poisonous snakebites because they’re too far away from any kind of hospital. Wilson volunteers to help airlift anyone in need without charge. And second, he leaves behind a unique gift: an In Touch Messenger. “I want to show them love by exhaling the sweet smell of Jesus, and show I am there just to help,” he explains. “And that starts to change them so much.”
João Ticuna wanted nothing to do with an outsider like Wilson or the Christianity that had come with centuries of invading outsiders. But now he was about to die, and this pilot—whom he wished would have been called for help days ago—was telling him to listen to a message called “The Way to Heaven.”
As João lay on a mat with pain coursing through his body and his hand black and rotted with venom, he listened. The recorded words, spoken with conviction, told him how his Creator loved him and made a way for him to have new life—even after death. Then he listened to another message. And another.
And miraculously, João didn’t die that day.
Not only did he believe the message and put his faith in Christ; he experienced a full restoration of his life, including the miraculous healing of his hand. João—once fervently against anyone coming to his village with the gospel—was so excited that he immediately began telling everyone about Jesus. And using the Messenger, he started a church with those who were moved by his testimony. Now, like Cicera and Severo, he’s traveling to other villages to share the gospel with anyone who will listen to his story—and his Messenger.