By Lincoln Brunner —
Matias’ metal spearheads glint in the morning sun, a reminder that traditional hunting remains a way of life in this remote jungle village.
Like generations before them, Yef men routinely hunt in the thick, tropical forest with bamboo spears and bows. They hunt wild pigs and cassowaries — large, dangerous birds that are cousins to the ostrich and common here.
Within recent memory, Yef men carried weapons through the jungle for another kind of killing — violent skirmishes with other villages that claimed many lives and kept people in fear. The difference is the spread of the Gospel since it was first preached here in 1994, according to men who have lived through the change.
“Before, we did not trust Jesus. We just followed evil spirits,” says Matias, a village elder, through a translator. “We followed the spirits and worshiped the trees or the big mountain — and killed the men from other villages.
“Other men from the village came here, and we would take a bow and arrow and shoot them, because the evil spirit was controlling us. We did not think, ‘That’s my friend.’ We didn’t think about it like that. We just took the bow to shoot and kill him.”
These days, inter-village relationships are friendly. Though the nearest village is a two-day walk away, people trek back and forth through the jungle all the time. Sion, who was 15 when the Gospel was first preached in this village, says the raids were a back-and-forth routine for Yef people. It made for a dangerous atmosphere.
“Like Mr. Matias said, before the Gospel came in for the Yef here, people just followed the darkness to kill the men or another person from another village,” says Sion, now 38, who is studying to become the first ordained Yef pastor. “The evil spirits used Yef people before the Gospel came here.”
Today, instead of looking for blood in other villages, people from this village travel to share oral Bible stories on small MP3 players. They’re the first Bible stories ever translated into the Yef language, the fruit of an oral Bible story project called OneStory that took four years to complete.
Chase Reynolds, the Arkansas-born missionary who started the OneStory project with Sion and two other translators in 2012, has seen oral Bible stories make an immediate impact on Yef people in other villages, too. Chase says that one man, hearing the stories for the first time, said, “My heart has been so dark, and these words are like light in my heart.”
Matias says he’s played the stories for lots of neighbors, with the same effect. People hear the stories and accept them as the truth right away. Even with 50 carefully translated Bible stories in the Yef language now, believers have some growing to do spiritually, Chase admits. But with those stories, a Yef “JESUS” film in the works and Sion set to become the village’s first pastor, the future of Christian growth looks bright here.
“We do hope to do more,” Chase says. “My overall hope is that the churches in the Yef area will become grounded in the Gospel and be able to minister to their own people in their own language. [I hope] that churches will grow to maturity and be able to minister to themselves.” — The Seed Company
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