The Old Man and his Axe

The Old Man and his Axe

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With gratefulness we share the continuing story from the news

in May, from our partners in the jungle who depend on our aviation logistical support.  


It was just a few years ago, maybe about 10, when we ran into the old man with his bush ax. We had come up the river from Paraiso* on one of my first visits here to Badu. My veteran colleague and I unloaded the boat and set up the one-room, dirt floor cabin for our week-long stay. Then, in the fading evening light, we sat on our tiny “veranda” with a group of eager men, women and children squatting, Yimeni-style, around us. After so many months of isolation (hiding out from their enemies) they were anxious to exchange news, trade with us, and pick up a few odds and ends. Up through the group hobbled an older man. He carried a long-handled bush ax, an ugly medieval-looking hooked, bladed tool used for hacking effortlessly through the limbs of brush and trees… or any other type limbs that might need lopping. The old man squatted down next to us, and began his negotiation as politely and patiently as he could in his frustrated state…while fingering his limb lopper. “Being old and a leader among my people and not young enough to easily work in exchange for trade-goods, it would be good and a sign of your generosity, if you happen to have some slightly used ‘light seeds’, and that you would give them to me as this thing called ‘a present’ I’ve heard you outsiders talk about… for free I mean… I have this old light that has been without its ‘light seeds’ for many months. If you gave me some ‘old seeds’, it might light my way again.” There was an ancient, dented up, tin flashlight with a cracked lens hanging around his neck by a tattered length of cotton twine. By the murmur spreading through the group, my veteran companion took a cue, that was beyond my tenderfoot grasp, and asked “Where are you wanting to go in the dark tonight?” The old man spoke gruffly, “My second wife has run away again with that teenager… again… they took my canoe… I want the canoe back.” It is funny, in a not-so-funny way, when you’re not relieved after you realize the bush ax is not for you. The second wife was practically a teenager herself, pressed into marriage with an aging man because her older sister, his first wife, was getting too old to handle the chores of splitting firewood, working the fields, cooking, bread-making, and carrying water for the household. She, and her sister for that matter, were unhappy young women–more slaves than wives. And so began our conversational dance called “How not to offend an angry old man with a bush axe” We were strongly disinclined to aid in the maiming or murder of a couple of teenagers that night, but one’s inclinations must be voiced with calm and proper decorum when axes are in play. Though he did finally set out reluctantly without his “used seeds”, he was in a slightly less violent state of mind. That particular day no one was maimed or killed, but sadly in those early years we stitched up many wounds, and emergency flights to save life and limb were monthly occurrences. In those days, in the isolated village of Badu, death was common. Ten years later, and it is not the same Badu in which we live today. Listening to their Yimeni versions of our talking heads– that so perfectly resemble CNN, MSNBC and Fox News commentators– had never changed a thing for the better since the dawn of Yimeni civilization. On the other hand, the Word of God in the lives of a small handful of new believers has influenced their community with a profound, positive impact in a very short time.


In this context, Jonatas, our Yimeni guest speaker, just before last Christmas, had us open our Bibles to Ephesians chapter 5. It’s not your usual Christmas passage. He opened to the part subtitled in the English NIV  “Instructions for Christian Households”. Quite some time ago, I heard this passage read at a wedding in Connecticut. It was a Bible-believing church, but still, a good number of the wedding guests were visibly disturbed, murmured to one another, and a few could hardly stay in their seats because of the politically incorrect nature of some of the phrases heard out of context. Here was Jonatas, essentially a backwoods Yimeni farmer, about to open a passage that leaves some doctors of theology stammering and squirming in our “civilized” culture. Many would be frightened to think how a man raised in a severely patriarchal, male-dominated culture might interpret such a passage. I recently heard a group of Yimeni men argue that women are unable to play sports both because of their lack of physical ability, and also because of their mental and emotional temperament. On another occasion some men, obviously wanting more coffee, postulated that woman can’t handle coffee. “It would just make them feel sick.” Worse still is the frequency of domestic violence of all types. How would a Yimeni man interpret a verse “the husband is the head of the wife” and “wives submit to your husbands”? I know Jonatas a bit, so I was not too worried. Something special was about to happen. He started in verse 21 “Submit to one another out of reverence to Christ…” The entire passage is equally politically incorrect in the Yimeni chauvinistic system (where every individual–man, woman, and child–thinks they are the boss of everyone else) as it is in a modern progressive/liberal system (where every individual–man, woman, and child–thinks no one else is the boss of them). “Men and women both must submit, and a “head” is a sacrificing servant not a domineering know-it-all. To love one another is to work together with one another.” God’s word is not from inside any of humanity’s corrupt systems. Rightly handled, the Word of Truth has a dramatic, positive impact because it shatters the corrupt human rationales and rebuilds on a new foundation. Jonatas’s Christmas message was a bit of an odd selection, but it was truly about an amazing gift to the world. It is completely unlike the talking heads from the 24 hour news cycle of CNN, MSNBC and Fox News who fail to diagnose the root of corruption and only suggest rearranging the players in a fallen and broken world. We have witnessed the transformative power of God’s word on this community. It’s going on 5 years since the last serious family fight in Badu. It’s true that there is still a long way to go and even Jonatas is not perfect, but that first Christmas did happen, God’s solution from outside the box; then Good Friday, and then Resurrection Sunday… What makes the difference is the Voice who, out of the void, said “Let there be light” that has changed lives from the ground up. Politically correct or not, Christmas wins.

These communities are widely seen as “keepers of the Amazon rainforest”. If you would like to help them thrive and grow through the transformative power of God’s Word – the Word of Truth – please pray, and consider supporting this work through our fuel fund

From a jungle satellite uplink. Used with permission.

* All names changed to protect privacy.