Chapter 9 - Work in Jungle Villages

Chapter 9 - Work in Jungle Villages
“To the poor the Gospel is preached” Luke 7:22

One Sunday afternoon four men visited us. The leader was sub inspector of the line, residing in Las Rositas. They wanted Don Manuel and me to go and preach in that village, so we went down with them on a trolley on the rails propelled by four men with long poles. A large, one room shack was available for us to preach in, and the villagers mostly of African extraction, turned out to hear the Gospel message for the first time. They knew nothing of order, discipline or respect and those outside were commenting freely, so Don Manuel suddenly stopped in his preaching and in a loud voice asked: “are there no authorities in this place?” Immediately a man outside answered. He was the policeman and forthwith got the crowd quiet. It was an unhealthy village where the majority were victims of malaria and tropical ulcers. These latter responded well to simple treatment, in which “labor of love” I was happy to engage when visiting there.

One evening we were walking through the village, inviting the people to the meeting, when we heard moans and groans proceeding from one of the huts. My friends told me that it was a boy called Polycarp, 14 years old. He had a streptococci infection and had been taken on the train to San Felipe, where the doctor made an incision to let out the pus but had neglected to put a drain or plug in to keep it open. The incision had closed up and the leg was double its normal size. I went inside to see the boy who was in agony and who, without treatment would undoubtedly have died. I sang a hymn to him, the Spanish version of “Oh the love that sought me; oh the blood that bought me; oh the grace that brought me to the Lord, wondrous grace that brought me to the Lord.” The boy brightened up and smiled. The same night we gave his leg a good bathing in warm water then opened the incision and out came a lot of pus. Pus was also forming in another area so I made a second incision and released more pus. With daily attention and care, Polycarp’s leg was completely healed and he became a regular attendant at the meetings.
One day, when at the railway station, I noticed a number of donkeys arriving with loads of bananas and covered with mud up to their bellies. It was the wet season and the forest trail by which they had come from a jungle settlement was for the most part mud and water. I expressed a desire to visit those places and I found some who were willing to accompany me. As soon as we penetrated into the forest we found traveling on foot quite difficult, but we furnished ourselves with long sticks by which we could jump from one tree root to another and finally reached a small village. It was like a little bit of Africa; mostly descendants of slaves, living in palm thatched huts under primitive conditions of life. A big man was sitting outside the first hut with a towel wrapped around his hand. He had an infected thumb that was greatly swollen, and he was quite willing to let me make an incision, which was done after bathing it in warm water and antiseptic. After letting out the pus, Mecca ointment was applied and the patient felt great relief. Most of the villagers had gathered around so it was a favorable opportunity for a meeting, and we read and spoke to them of the Great Physician of love, Who has brought to us the great remedy for sin-stricken souls. We then had access to their homes and they were all friendly and listened respectfully to the message we brought them.

In these jungle villages I made my first acquaintance with malaria. I was staying at a ranch house in a cocoa plantation, in the village of Agma Negra, which means Black Water. In the dry season the water in the river almost dries up, leaving the black mire. Men wade into this to catch fish trapped in small water holes. At the ranch I was relieved to see that there was a glazed filter, so with confidence I drank the water from it, but later on a woman came with a pail of water to fill it, and I then discovered that the filter part had been removed and I was drinking water direct from the river!

Whilst there I heard of a village where the Gospel had never been taken, so a friend borrowed a horse for me and he got a donkey for himself. There was a thick forest to go through and it was necessary at times to hack our way through networks of wild vines. On the other side of the forest was a wide, open grass-land without shelter from the glaring sun, and finally we reached the village on the other side of a deep river.
We called to a group of people to see if they could get us a boat to cross in, but they told us to go down to a spot where the river could be forded. When my friend who was ahead reached the water’s edge, his donkey would not enter, so he made room for me to go ahead on the horse. There was a sheer drop into deep, cold water and I was wet to the hips, but the horse struggled to the other side and then the donkey followed. We had missed the crossing. There is a safe crossing of the dark waters of the river of death; it is through the Blood of the Cross, and we fear that many are going to miss it and will never reach the “shining shore.”

The Civil Chief of the village invited us to lunch and was very friendly. We went around the homes with Gospel booklets and tracts and returned to eat. Whilst at the table, word arrived that my horse was lying on the ground with sunstroke. Someone immediately went to it and slit its ear to relieve the pressure of blood in the head. I did not escape from the ill effects of the cold river water, for the sudden shock to the system brought out the malaria that was already present in my blood. Upon reaching the ranch that night, I passed a very disagreeable time in my hammock with high fever and no remedy. Next morning, being Sunday, a springless ox-cart took me through the forest at an early hour to the village, where I made my center when in those regions, and where we had an assembly. I was present at each of the three meetings that day, then next morning a friend accompanied me on horseback to the highway where I waited for a passing truck. This took me to Valencia where we made our home at that time, and I arrived with a temperature of 102 Fahrenheit. No known remedies seemed effective and the intermittent attacks of fever, with loss of appetite made me weak. Finally a friend recommended a national medicine called, “Cholagogue Universal.” It was very bitter but checked the fever and restored my appetite, so that I regained my normal health. How grateful I felt to that friend for his timely recommendation! It always reminds me of another “Universal” remedy, prescribed by our Lord Himself: “Go ye into ALL THE WORLD, and preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” (Mark 16:15-16). It is the only panacea that gets to the root of the matter and delivers the sinner from the penalty and power of sin. After proving the efficacy in my own case of the “Cholagogue”, I was always ready to recommend it to others, and even give them a bottle when they could not afford to buy one. Likewise, we seek to recommend the far greater remedy which has done so much for our souls—the GOSPEL.

The assembly went on in Las Rositas for a number of years, but some passed away and others moved away. Some went to Palma Sola and the assembly was transferred to that village, where the testimony is still maintained.

In the jungle villages the atmosphere is so warm and humid that the people do not eat at midday. One gets a cup of coffee at daybreak; breakfast at 10 A.M.; and the evening meal at 4 P.M. In Las Rositas we slept and ate in one of the sheds belonging to the railway company, near the station. There were front and back doors and our table stood in between. The neighbours kept tame pigeons and sometimes as we were dining a flock would fly over our heads, entering by the front door and leaving by the back. There were also goats and these would come dashing through by the same route. As a finishing touch to the picture, the pigs that had been wallowing in the nearby mud hole also thought they had the right-of-way through our dining room. It reminded me of modern warfare: first an air raid, followed by a bayonet charge, and the pigs like submarines!


Whilst engaged in nightly meetings in Las Rositas, I decided to visit Palma Sola on Saturday. It was a ten mile hike along the railway track, which was laid on a bed of copper slag, very rough to walk on, so we got used to stepping from one tie to another. At the section house half way there, a recently converted member of the section gang was waiting for me with his gun slung from his shoulder, so we finished the journey together. Upon arrival at the village we found a number of sufferers from toothache anxious for extractions, so we gathered them together under a large mango tree and as gently as possible removed the offending molars and stumps. This inspired their friendship, and the section boss, a friend of the Gospel, prepared his large palm roofed hut for a meeting. Most of the villagers attended and some of our Rositas folk also arrived. There was no food for us there that evening and next morning we left early after a cup of coffee, which is a heart stimulant. At the half way section house we stopped for a rest and two or three sisters amongst the group went searching in the back yard and discovered a certain vegetable which they unearthed and boiled, and this was a great help in continuing our march. We held the Gospel meeting in Las Rositas that evening.


 tooth extraction

Tooth extraction by Sidney Saword, Eddie Fairfield helping

Later I was able to visit Palma Sola for several weeks, preaching nightly and attending to sufferers from tropical ulcers, malaria and kindred troubles. Some cases did not respond to antiseptic cleansing and Mecca ointment, so I discovered that this was due to “proud flesh” in the ulcer. Powdered burnt alum proved very effective in getting rid of this and then the ulcers began to heal. What a reminder of the ulcers of sin, which get people down and how the proud flesh hinders them from obtaining a real cure and restoration of spiritual health! Years later we were passing through the village of El Chino when we stopped the car to give out some Gospel literature to a group of men. One of them immediately recognized me and testified to having been cured of an ulcer in those early days of our work in those villages. He rolled up his trouser’s leg to let the others see the scar of the healed ulcer. After that none of the men refused the tracts. In Jeremiah’s day the prophets and priests were dealing falsely and his lament was that “They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14). We found people suffering from ulcers on their legs and the remedies they used only formed a thin film on the surface so that periodically the ulcer would continue to give them trouble. We read in Isaiah 53:5 that “With His stripes we are healed.” The only real and permanent remedy for the sin sick soul is in the finished work of Christ on Calvary.

In house to house work one afternoon I met a woman nicely dressed in the home of friendly people, and asked her where she had come from. She said she was from the village of “Two Mouths.” I then asked her if we would be seeing her at the meeting that night. “Oh yes,” she replied unhesitatingly. That night she did not appear so I enquired about her and was told that she was the prayer woman. It was the ninth day after the death of someone in the village and she had been sent for to repeat (or chant) the “Novenary” prayer, which is supposed to help the soul to get out of purgatory. I then understood what to expect from persons who come from the village of the “Two Mouths”: one mouth is for the Gospel and the other is for Romanism. In other words, it is a case of being double-tongued.

There was one young man in Palma Sola addicted to strong drink, who sometimes, as the Christians would be leaving the prayer meeting and guided by the light of a gasoline lamp, took delight in making fun of them. One night after he had been drinking heavily and was on his way home, he was overcome with sleep as he reached the railway track, so he lay down right there. As a rule there were no night trains on that branch line, but it so happened that a special freight train was running that night. As the train slowly left the Palma Sola station the loud bell was kept ringing W warn people but the sleeping man evidently didn’t dear it and the train passed over him, leaving his mangled body behind. Another solemn example of Proverbs 29:1 “He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.”

For a number of years the assembly in Palma Sola was at a low ebb. A brother who had been a great help fell into sin, left his wife and went to live with the widow of a faithful brother. This went on for several years and the man even took to drink, but when brother Joe Linares and I were having meetings there, he and the woman both got completely broken up and the morning we were to leave he came to the house sobbing like a child, very much humbled and wanting us to pray with him. He was happily restored to the Lord, and as his own wife had passed away several years previously, he arranged his marriage with this woman and they were both restored to assembly fellowship. He remained faithful to the end.

The family brings home firewood from the forest (Palma Sola). Note the axes.

My wife and I will never forget the kind of lodgings we had at that time in a brother’s large, palm thatched ranch. Our two camp beds were in a corner where the roof was very low and the rats chose that corner for chasing each other around over our heads, keeping us in the suspense of having one drop on us at any moment. The rustling in the palms and the squealing kept us awake most of the night. Often large “Tiger” snakes will crawl up into the palm roofs to hunt the rats. The newspapers reported one case where a snake had fallen from the rafters on a child’s bed and the latter died of the bite it received. Some times the people will keep a hen with its brood within the hut to protect them from opossums and other carnivera. In spite of this, snakes will get through some small hole in the wall and grab the chicks. In daylight the tables sometimes are turned. I have seen hens battling with a coral snake and pecking it to pieces.


Monche, who kept peddling with the jaguar trotting on ahead

In later years the State government converted a large area of forest lands into small farms for the people, the limits of which came within a few miles of Palma Sola. In that district, sugar cane plantations are also now in operation. These developments have helped the economy of that village and the assembly has recovered from its depression. Brother Joe Linares took charge of the building of a new hall and the saints have been revived. A sister, who has been a sufferer from tropical ulcers and had to have one leg amputated and the other scraped, has taken a real interest in Sunday School work. She earns a humble living as a seamstress, and has continued faithful in the Lord.

A Christian family moved into one of the little farms a few miles from the village. One evening just before dusk the brother and his family were on their way to the weeknight meeting. He was riding ahead on his bicycle with his small daughter in front; the wife coming behind on foot with the rest of the children. Suddenly a jaguar sprang out of the bush in front of the bicycle, but the brother kept on peddling with the jaguar trotting ahead. Finally it leaped into the bush again and disappeared. The little girl who was the nearest to it and no doubt had been very scared, said afterwards: “What big eyes the tiger had!” No doubt in the dusk the animal’s eyes gleamed, but it was a case of our Heavenly Father’s never failing care. If the jaguar had sprung out behind the mother and children, it could have done a lot of damage.

Our Venezuelan worker, J. R. Linares, takes an interest in visiting Palma Sola in his Volkswagen when possible, but sometimes the heavy rains, bad roads and overflowing rivers hold up the motor traffic.

On one of my visits to Palma Sola, I traveled on the rail car and carried several pieces of baggage with me. Friends helped to carry the stuff to the home where I was to stay, and after the customary greetings, I began to look for a small box containing my Bible and other things. It was missing, so I went to the station to enquire about it but nobody could tell me anything. I spread out the matter in prayer before the Lord and He seemed to guide me to board the rail car the next day and travel to its terminal. I asked the driver and collector, as it was with them I had traveled the previous day, and they told me there was no such  box left in the coach. Then one of them remembered that he had seen the school teacher (who traveled back and forth daily) with a small box. I was able to get the address of this man and went to his house in Tucacas that same night. He was at home and admitted that he had taken the box, and restored it to me. My wife had put a homemade cake in the box with my Bible, which the family had already eaten, but the Bible had remained untouched! I had to spend that night in Tucacas but got hardly any sleep as the crevices in the old bed were hiding places for bed bugs, and just as I killed one lot, another detachment took their place. Those were days when one of our fellow workers exclaimed, when being tormented by fleas: “None of these things move me”!

Government teams with D. D. T. spraying equipment have done a wonderful job in exterminating these pests, as also centipedes and scorpions.