Monday, April 4, 2011

Wilos In The Jungle

by Anita Mae Draper

“The power of words lies not in the speaking of them but in the mental association the listener applies.”

This week I’ve been on an amazing journey. I’ve travelled by dugout canoe down the Balawa River and lived among the Wilos in the Amazon jungle. I’ve been bitten by rats and gnats. I’ve been fodder for laughter. I’ve been poked by people. And I've been stared at. Who am I?

If you answered, ‘a missionary’, give yourself a hand.

At this point you probably expect me to say I’ve always wanted to be a missionary when I grow up. Wrong. The main reason I didn’t yield to water baptism until I was 42 yrs old was because I was worried I’d wake the next morning with a pressing urge to go to Brazil or Africa or some other 'dark' place. Childish reasoning, I know… but that’s possibly because I haven't grown up yet.

Neither have I been inclined to read stories about the lives of missionaries. My sister and her husband are missionaries to Canadian natives – or First Nations is possibly more politically correct. And although I’m not well-versed in everything Bonnie and Magnar do, I know the first thing they do when they go into a new area is set up meetings to talk about God’s word.

Imagine my surprise then, when I read the autobiographical book, Our Witchdoctors Are Too Weak by Davey & Marie Jank, and discovered that is the last thing on this particular missionary’s agenda. Davey travels down the Balawa River in the Amazon jungle to live amongst the Wilo people and teach them about the Bible. Twenty-five years earlier, the Wilos heard about the Bible, which they referred to as ‘God’s Talk’ and requested missionaries to teach them about it.

Twenty-five years. And yet Davey and the rest of his team can’t tell the Wilos about God until they learn the Wilo language, cultures and traditions. To do so any earlier could pass on erroneous information taken out of context.

"Their spiritual beliefs revolved around the concept of fear; fear of the evil spirits, fear of the witchcraft of others, fear of the dead, fear of being helpless in the face of spiritual attack.”

The Wilos were tired of being ruled by fear and witchdoctors. They wanted freedom from the darkness fear instills. They wanted peace.

Using humor and wisdom, Davey taught me patience while I stamped my foot at his reticence. How many times can I say I never really thought what a missionary endures? Well, other than the Survivor-like diet of grubs and such. My son and I laughed as I read out pages of Davey’s descriptions about everything from the Wilos non-use of the word ‘no’ and ‘word’ to watching the ants do his housecleaning.

Yet as Davey struggled with the language barrier, he saw traditions enacted which curdled his stomach. He had to restrain himself from stepping forward and interfering in their culture. Yet, he did. Why?

Star Trek fans can relate – to do so would violate the Prime Directive which forbids interference with another civilization.

To put it in missionary terms, you need to look at the big picture. Interference before you know why they’re doing something could jeopardize teaching them why they shouldn’t do it. That takes you back to the agenda… learning the language, culture and traditions.

Amongst the humor and horror, however, were 2 heart-breaking moments. Here’s the first…

“Kanem was getting quite old. So were several others in the village. Did we missionaries arrive too late to give these senior citizens the chance to hear and understand God’s word? For Kanem’s husband it certainly was too late. We often prayed for Kanem and others like her in the village, that they would remain healthy during our time of language and culture study. Maybe it wouldn’t be too late for them.”

How Davey and his team suffered as they witnessed man’s seasons of life while struggling to learn the difficult Wilo language.

Of course the real tear-jerker came at the end. Let’s just say they were somewhat happy tears.

Throughout my journey through this book, I kept thinking of my Inky sister, Lisa, who served as a missionary – in Africa, if I’m not mistaken. I kept imagining her in Davey’s place, wondering how she'd react. And it dawned on me … I’ve never even bothered to ask about that part of her life or the trials she faced. Perhaps I can convince her to write a post about her experience about bringing God’s Light to His lost people.

“God didn’t have us there just so He could do a work among the Wilos; He wanted to continue molding and forming each of us into vessels that would honor and glorify Him.”

Non-fiction makes up about 5% of my reading time and yet Our Witchdoctors Are Too Weak caught my eye when Davey and Marie Jank guest posted on Rachelle Gardner’s blog. I don’t know if it was Davey’s humor or the Holy Spirit speaking to me, but I really wanted to read this book. Throughout this week, my 12 yr old son laughed along with me as I read parts out loud. He’s expressed interest in borrowing it.

My 15 yr old son hasn’t said anything about reading Our Witchdoctors Are Too Weak, but I saw him leaning against a doorframe listening. Perhaps he was interested because he’s going on a mission trip to Africa this year. Perhaps he’s just curious. Or perhaps he too is feeling a nudge.

After the boys finish with it, I think I’ll just leave the book on the back table at church for whoever else wishes to take the journey into the Amazon.

Have you considered being a missionary? Why or why not? We'd really like to know.

Credits: All photos and quotes are from Our Witchdoctors Are Too Weak by Davey & Marie Jank, Monarch Books, 2011


Anita Mae Draper is retired from the Canadian Armed Forces and lives on the prairie of southeast Saskatchewan, Canada with her hubby of 30 plus years and 2 of their 4 kids. In 2005, Anita Mae decided to return to writing and make it a priority in her life. She writes old west stories set on the prairies of Saskatchewan, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. Her characters are strong because the land demands it. Anita Mae likes to write characters who sit up and notice when that special person God’s chosen just for them walks by. The story is all about the courtship between the two main characters. But it won’t be an easy path. And if they don’t know about God at the beginning of the book, they will by the end. Anita Mae has finaled in the 2009 Linda Howard Award of Excellence contest in the Inspirational category, the 2008 Gateway to the Best in the Contemporary Series category, and the 2008 Golden Gateway in the Long Contemporary category. She’s currently waiting to hear the phone ring and have someone say they want to buy Emma’s Outlaw. Meanwhile, she’s working on another story and trying to keep her imagination in check. A pathological picture taker, she usually has a photo or two of the quirky world she lives in on her blog at


  1. Wow, what a story!

    No I have never considered being a missionary. I assume it's not for me. I'll keep assuming that unless God says otherwise.

  2. I've learned that being a missionary happens where you are. We are all called to reach out to the hungry and hurting around us, but I completely agree with Davey that we need to live the Christian life. To teach by example. And invite questions rather than criticize where people are. Believe me there is truly something profoundly different about Christianity in relation to the religions of this world. People will ask. But you need to be their friend before they will be able to hear the answer.

  3. I have absolute respect and admiration for missionaries. What a lovely, brave, heartfelt sacrifice they make for our fellow man. I'm totally in awe.

    I read a wonderful book years ago, I can't remember the title and in fact have tried several times to find it again. It was a biography about a woman who was in some kind of hospital for a debilitating illness. She thought she was going to die in the bed. She started talking to God. She told him that in spite of her situation, she wanted to learn one thing about God every day. One day about a week later, she woke up and was healed. From that day forward she went out into the mission field in Africa, and she continued to not only learn one new thing about God every day, but to help others learn one new thing every day. It was an amazing story.

    Missionaries are amazing people. You all have my heart.

  4. Good mornng, Tabitha. I hear you. Which is exactly why I was running from water baptism.

    Thanks for sharing. :)

    Anita Mae.

  5. Hey Lisa, have you ever blogged about being a missionary to the Seychelles and Gabon? I've missed it if you have and would really like to read how your experience differed from Davey and Marie.

    I know you wanted to go back, so it must have been a tremendous blessing. Were your kids born over there?

    I'm now imagining all kinds of scenarios where you go out into the jungle to have your kids without aid. sheesh

    Anita Mae

  6. Suzie, what a wonderful story. A testament of God's awesome healing power. Prayer answered. If you remember the book title, please come back and share, okay?

    btw - I just used 'please' in that para and it reminded me of Davey. I wanted to put this part in my post but it was getting too long...

    Davey is a Canadian and makes fun of our 'politeness'. One of the problems he had with the Wilos was that they don't have words or a phrase for 'please' and 'thank you'. He said it drove him crazy trying to get rid of those habits. The way he tells these tidbits of information is so very humorous. :D

    Anita Mae.

  7. I'm distracted this morning, Anita, so I forgot to say how great it is that your son is going on a mission trip. I hope he has a very blessed experience.

  8. One summer while sleeping on a cold, hard floor on a missionary trip with no pillow and quite cranky, I felt God ask me, "Would you do this for me full-time?" It took me several days to answer that question, but finally I said yes. At which point he said that wasn't what he was calling me to, he just wanted to know.

    It's all about your heart.

  9. hi Anita
    great post.
    i always considered being a missionary and didn't really have a fear about being sent somewhere "dark".
    through Teen Missions International i spent summers in Israel (at 13) and in Greece (at 15). i spent two weeks in the Phillipines with 11 other teens, singing at the meetings of one of our church's missionaries (at 18). i spent 9 months in Germany working as an intern at a Church my senior year of college (in 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell). i spent three weeks in the Ukraine when i was about 27. I went on two, two week mission trips with my church in 2002 and 2003 to Honduras to work with a school for the Deaf in Tegucigalpa.

    all short term stuff. i think my calling has been more for children - each mission trip focused on doing things for children. i don't think i'll ever be on some remote mission field for life (that is truly a gifted calling), but i hope to one day write and illustrate children's books.(maybe animate some as well...) that desire is a bit too "tekkie" for the traditional type of misison field people always think of.
    i can still be a missionary right where i am though. i think you are one right where you are as well, Anita. just my opinion, of course.

    love the topic.

  10. Thank you, Suzie. Nick's 1st mission trip was working at summer camps in Saskatchewan and Alberta when he was 14. Last year he turned 15 while in Australia. And he'll turn 16 in Africa. Some birthday present, eh.

    When I read your comment to Nick, he said he was "very blessed last year. It was an amazing experience." :)

    It would be nice if those Aussies sent back his cell phone, though. Haha

    Anita Mae.

  11. Awh, Dina. That's precious.

    You always seem too 'girly' to be a missionary (in the no-amenities way) and yet I remember the post you wrote about escaping from Lebanon with your young kids and I can picture it so clearly. You are a natural in any setting, my dear.

    On reflection, I think your golden tan might make you look a bit odd here on the prairies - unless it's August. And that brings me back to Davey and Marie's book since Davey makes frequent references to his white/pale skin compared to the Wilos brown. Have I mentioned yet how funny Davey is when he relates these differences?

    But back to you, Dina... I think the time it took you to answer says how seriously you took His question, as well as the nature of your relationship with Him. Nice. :)

    Anita Mae.

  12. Hey, DebH. :) Once before you mentioned about mission trips as a teenager, but I wasn't aware of how well-traveled you were, or of the expansive knowledge you must've gained. It's heartening to know that your trips didn't end once you 'grew up'.

    Jessica, my 20 yr old - went on another mission trip last year, this time to Trinidad & Tobago. She shared awesome testimonies with us about the blessing she received while helping others.

    Thank you for the support of my mission field, DebH. When I think back to those first emails and comments we exchanged on eHarlequin, when we didn't know the other was a believer, and yet I knew there was something different about you. It's because He's reflected in you. And if I can see it others can, too. :)

    Anita Mae.

  13. Wonderful post, Anita Mae. This book sounds like a great read: encouraging, inspiring, and full of shades of light and dark.

    Missionaries certainly need our prayers and tangible signs of support. I have so much respect for those who've responded on God's call on their lives to GO.

    I love what Lisa said about being a missionary where God has called you, whether it's in Pakistan or Africa or Nebraska. On my street, only one neighbor attends church. I knew God put us in this particular house for a reason, and maybe reaching out to the people around us is part of it.

  14. Wise words, Susie. Being a pastor's wife, you see first-hand the effects of your ministry. Between Lisa and the Inkies who are pastor's wives, I'm sometimes overwhelmed by the service you give in His name. But then someone will remind me (like you, Lisa and DebH) that I'm doing what I feel He equipped me for and that's the best I can do at this point.

    And speaking of supporting our missionaries, one of my favorite times at church is when the missionaries we've been supporting come to visit and show us slides of their work. It's like the 'armside travel prestentations' at the city library, but better because God is included.

    I try to broadcast these activities on the church blog, but there are some missionaries that I can't even mention publically because to do so would endanger their mission and possibly their lives. A very sobering thought.

    Anita Mae.

  15. It's funny, Dina. I was all set to leave for a short trip to Russia, when the Lord asked if I'd stay home instead for him. I wrestled with it. Finally answered yes and then He gave me the green light to go. I love it how he knows us so intimately!

  16. You gave us a lot to think about Anita. This book sounds really interesting. A few years ago I kept thinking about India and thought I was ready to do something, but I also found the excuses why it wouldn't work. I know that if I can't be a missionary in my hometown, it would be silly to think I could be one somewhere else.

    But it's not over yet. I remember when a retired woman in my previous church sold her house and gave up everything she owned and went to China to work in an orphanage.
    So far, I've been too selfish to give up my vacation time to even do a short term mission.

    obviously God's not finished with me yet.

    I would like to read this book sometime and learn more about the Janks.

  17. Really good post, Anita. I like being home with my family and books. Like you, I was fearful of being "called"... My daughter Elsa LOVES missions of every kind and wants to do them all.

    Prayers for the missionaries!

  18. Deb, your comment used these phrases:
    - I kept thinking about India
    - thought I was ready to do something
    - found the excuses why it wouldn't work

    It sounds like you made the right decision when you didn't go because I don't read your conviction that it was God's choice instead of yours anywhere there.

    But I disagree about being a missionary at home. Jesus gave every one of us the mission to go out and tell others about Him. That can be done anywhere - especially in your hometown. Because it's not just what you say, but how you act that spreads the Gospel. So yes, you are a missionary where you are now.

    Perhaps you can convince your local library to carry this book? Then others can read it too. :)

    Anita Mae.

  19. Thanks for sharing, Cheryl. We're just a couple of homebodies, eh. :D

    Anita Mae.

  20. "Go, or send a substitute." I'm all for sending a substitute! We met a couple about 10 years ago on their way to Papua New Guinea as part of Wycliffe Bible Translators. I remember reading her posts about nearly being killed by falling coconuts, among other things, and determined I'm missionary enough here in the backwoods of Colorado.

  21. Falling coconuts? Now that's one danger I hadn't even thought about. However, I did envision monkeys throwing them at me. :D


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