Our vision is to aid in the establishing of viable, self-sufficient churches and healthy communities among isolated jungle tribal groups who have or will have the New Testament in their own language.
Since 1999, CPI has been co-laboring with missionaries from the Wycliffe Bible Translators to reach isolated tribal groups in the Amazon jungles of Peru, South America. These tribes are functionally monolingual, speaking their own tribal languages. There are people who speak some Spanish, but hardly any are able to understand the Gospel message in the Spanish language. There are hundreds of such tribes all over the Amazon region. Their villages have no stores of any kind. The people depend on crops, hunting and fishing for their living. Many thousands of these villages all over the Amazon region need to be reached with the Gospel. While some villages do have churches, in many cases they do not endure due to a lack of effective leadership.
When contact was first made in 1969, the Matses — a community of about 3,000 people — were known for their fierceness. They kidnapped and killed, worshipped the spirits of nature, and lived in darkness, fear and superstition. If twin babies were born, they thought it was due to evil spirits, so they would kill the babies. If someone died, they would bury the bodies under the home, burn the house and move to another area. Wives who did not please their husbands might be burned with sticks from the camp fires. After the tribe received the Scriptures in their own language in 1994, they were very receptive and began memorizing large portions of the New Testament. Many lives were transformed, destructive practices set aside, churches planted and pastors called through the powerful working of God’s Word. In the villages where God’s Word spread, even many unbelievers laid aside past destructive practices. In December 1999, CPI president, Steven Shepard, made an exploratory trip to the Matses, along with Dr. Logan Sparling of Christian Life Ministries, and Tom Hopkins, formerly of Food for the Hungry and current CPI missionary. The Wycliffe linguist who had served among the Matses for over 30 years, was approaching the end of work there. She was greatly concerned for the long-term spiritual well-being of the Matses and didn’t feel they were ready to be left on their own. Our exploratory team was invited to assess the needs and determine how we might follow up. Since that very first trip, we have returned every six months to train Matses pastors. For each three-day conference, more than 60 leaders from 15 villages travel for days in motorized dugout canoes to be trained in the preaching of the Gospel and pastoral ministry.
The Yora are an isolated tribe of about 600 people who live in a remote village deep in the jungles. The Yora have had very limited contact with the outside world and prefer to live in isolation, sometimes going deep into the jungle to avoid outsiders such as loggers. Scripture portions are available in their language thanks to the efforts of Wycliffe Bible Translators. In recent years, members of the Yora tribe have sought to understand the portions of Scripture they have; however, they’ve had no one in their villages to teach them. Because the Peruvian government has prohibited all outsiders from going to their villages, Wycliffe missionaries have flown representatives of the Yora tribe to the jungle city of Pucallpa multiple times to attend weeklong conferences led by CPI. During each conference, Steven Shepard, along with CPI Peruvian coworkers have taught through the key parts of the biblical narrative using an interpreter from Spanish to Yora. Upon hearing the Gospel for the first time, the first group of Yora to attend a CPI conference were filled with a sense of urgency. They asked for more and more stories and declared, “We want a church in our village. We are afraid we will forget. We want someone to come and teach us.” On one of the final days of our first conference with the Yora, we asked “Who will say it is true? Father God, not wanting to punish us, punished His Son, who died for our bad acts, and was brought back to life again. Who will say, ‘This is the truth!’ If we make Jesus our chief, then He will welcome us to where He is.” (They have no word for “believe” in their language). Then they all immediately and enthusiastically affirmed their faith in Christ. We believe that God made at least most of them “new creatures” during those days. Please pray for the Lord to establish His church among the Yora.
Other tribal groups and the greater need
In 2002, at the request of other Wycliffe Missionaries and Wycliffe supervisors in Peru, our team visited two additional jungle tribes, the Sharanahuas and the Yaminahuas, which we also adopted. Even though the linguists had worked for many years, there were almost no Christians and no functional churches among these tribes. In 2007, CPI began working with the Shipibos. Though there is currently a strong church amongst the Shipibos, there are still many unreached villages.
Follow-up is greatly needed for isolated Amazon tribal groups which have the New Testament in their language or have a translation in progress. Bible translators typically spend 30 plus years learning the language, putting it into written form, teaching the people to read and write and translating the Scriptures. But after they leave, a void remains. In some cases, even after many years and the completion of the New Testament, there are few, if any, actual converts. Sometimes tribes are revisited after the linguists leave only to find a handful of weakened “believers” no longer meeting. This is often due to a lack of qualified leadership. The “leaders” are baby Christians themselves or just interested people who are willing to preside over the meetings. Often these leaders fall into sin or error and the people become discouraged. For strong spiritual foundations to be imparted, leaders need to be trained and mentored.
Monolingual tribes present a challenge with their special needs. When a tribal group is functionally bilingual, there are many groups that will minister to them in the trade language. But there is a tremendous need for ministry to the isolated monolingual tribes after they receive their New Testament and Wycliffe leaves. The outside world sooner or later encroaches upon the tribes for good and for evil. Either the world will bring its evil influence of corruption, greed, cruelty, perversion and unbelief, leaving the people in darkness and destruction. Or the Kingdom of God will bring its influence of righteousness and faith, preserving the well-being of the people both physically and spiritually. These are often small tribes of between 500-3,000 people. Hardly anyone knows they are there, but God knows and cares. CPI believes that it is God’s purpose to call to Himself a good number from among these hidden peoples, that they may be conformed to the image of His Son and some day gather around God’s throne in Heaven to worship Him forever.
Before adopting a tribal group, the Peru Tribal Team conducts an exploratory trip to learn about the tribe, assessing the needs and considering ministry options. We seek to learn how they can best be helped spiritually, and whether God is calling the Peru Tribal Team to become involved. We make the exploratory trip only at the request of a linguist who has either completed or is working on a translation of the New Testament in the tribal language. In the past we have sought to recruit long-term, cross-cultural missionaries willing to make a 5 to 10-year commitment, learn the language and live with the people. None have been found. While we are still open to using long-term missionaries, our focus has shifted to sending South American Christians to minister to their own South American tribes and investing in training potential tribal leaders.
1. A Peru Tribal Project Team will periodically visit the tribes to proclaim the Gospel, encourage the believers and train leaders.
2. We will send teams of Peruvian, Indian, and other South American Christians on training missions to the tribes. These training missions will last from several days to about two months in duration depending on the tribe and the workers.
3. We will aid in the training of potential tribal leaders in Bible schools and institutes.
4. We will provide gasoline that tribal Christian leaders need for motorized canoes to go and evangelize their own people.
5. We will engage in humanitarian ministries and encourage indigenous community development projects.
How you can help
The success of the Great Commission and of church planting depends upon called and trained leaders. We need financial supporters who will help us to continue to go to the Amazon tribes to train leaders, to send teams of South American co-workers for extended periods, send tribal leaders to Bible institutes, and send tribal Christians to evangelize unreached villages. With God’s help and yours, we will be able to do all of these things and even extend the work to more tribes and more unreached villages, reaching the lost with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.