Laying a New Foundation
In the vast interior jungle region shared by Colombia, Venezuela, and Brazil, men and women traversed large swaths of land and river to reach Puerto Iñírida, a small city on the banks of the Iñírida River.
For the first time, Walk Thru the Bible instructors had traveled to the region to train and
equip indigenous leaders. Some leaders made a journey of at least three or four days by boat to attend the training conference, according to Alejandro Colombo, Walk Thru the Bible’s regional director for South America. “One couple traveled 15 days from the Brazilian border to be here!” he marvels.
Forty leaders made an extraordinary sacrifice of time and effort because they couldn’t find the training and resources that Walk Thru the Bible offers anywhere else. Each leader arrived in Puerto Iñírida with a bowl and spoon, customary for travel, and an eagerness to absorb biblical truth.
Some leaders made a journey of at least three or four days by boat to attend the training conference, according to Alejandro Colombo, Walk Thru the Bible’s regional director for South America. “One couple traveled 15 days from the Brazilian border to be here!” he marvels.
Alejandro Colombo and Tim Blycker, a Spanish-speaking instructor for Walk Thru the Bible, arrived in Puerto Iñírida with a mission to plant seeds in long-neglected soil. More than 70 years ago, an American missionary named Sophie Mueller established 300 churches among the indigenous people groups of Colombia and Venezuela. She translated the New Testament into several languages and founded the Biblical Institute of the Word of God, which produced more than 450 alumni.
God used one woman to reach thousands with His Word. But the indigenous believers couldn’t grasp the full picture, as Sophie Mueller never had the opportunity to translate the Old Testament into their languages. “Because she only translated the New Testament,” Alejandro explains, “there was a belief among the indigenous people that whoever tried to read the Old Testament would be cursed. As a result, the majority of people have never tried to read the Old Testament.” Those who do attempt to read the Old Testament read it in Spanish with limited comprehension.
"There was a belief among the indigenous people that whoever tried to read the Old Testament would be cursed."
Concerned about the indigenous communities that are missing half the Bible, Walk Thru the Bible stepped in to help. With the help of translators, Alejandro and Tim trained 40 pastors and church leaders to teach otLIVE, a live event that uses hand signs to teach an overview of the Old Testament. “The Old Testament is the foundation of the New Testament,” Tim reflects. “Without the entire Old Testament, you won’t truly understand the New Testament. That’s where these leaders are lacking in their understanding.”
Whenever Tim and Alejandro tried to teach directly in Spanish, their efforts fell flat. Leaders from three different indigenous groups required translation in their own dialects to truly grasp the teaching, as they barely spoke Spanish. “It was exciting to be able to teach them 40 Old Testament stories in their own languages,” says Tim, “especially because they don’t have copies of the Old Testament in these languages.” As he taught the biblical stories, he “had goosebumps” from the level of enthusiasm and gratitude expressed by the trainees. “They felt liberated from the legend of the Old Testament curse and happy to understand God’s plan of salvation from the beginning,” says Alejandro.
In some cases, learning the stories clarified previous misconceptions about the biblical story. Alejandro tells the story of one pastor who became emotional when he learned the Old Testament story of Joseph. “Just a few days earlier in his village, he had taught that the parents of Jesus fled to Egypt because Joseph had lived there many years before, not realizing that Joseph from the book of Genesis was not Joseph
of Nazareth. This pastor wanted to return to his village as soon as possible to correct his error.”
It wasn’t just the substance of otLIVE that excited the 40 trainees—it was the oral style
of learning. “Orality is fundamental for these people groups,” says Alejandro. “It’s how they transmit culture from generation to generation, so learning the big picture of the Old Testament in an oral, kinesthetic way was extremely impactful.” At the end of otLIVE training, the group of leaders participated in a model event for the people from the town and local church. Buoyed by the enthusiastic reception, they made the long journey home to teach otLIVE to the people in their villages.
“We have the support of community and church leaders,” says Alejandro. “There’s a demand to make more Walk Thru the Bible resources available as soon as possible.” In partnership with indigenous pastors and church leaders, Alejandro envisions a new strategy for reaching the communities once reached by Sophie Mueller. If 40 indigenous leaders become missionaries to 10 communities, the group will reach the 400 communities that have received the gospel and desperately need discipleship resources. From Alejandro’s perspective, Walk Thru the Bible’s resources are a long-awaited answer to prayer in these 400 communities. “It wouldn’t be possible to dream of a project that would impact the jungle if we didn’t meet the indispensable need for spiritual growth,” he says. “Walk Thru the Bible offers that support. The conditions are ripe for results because the foundations are solid.”