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Mobilizing Young Indigenous Brazilians to Reach Their Own with the Gospel

September 20, 2013

Mobilizing Young Indigenous Brazilians to Reach Their Own with the Gospel

September 20, 2013
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Rosangela Vasconcelos (left) and Miriam Gebb pay a visit to the mountain community of Yanacocha in Ecuador.
(Sept. 20, 2013 - by Ruth Pike) Indigenous Brazilian believers want to turn history on its head. For many of the original tribal groups in the country, the past is marked by oppression and exploitation from outsiders. Now "insiders"-those who are part of these people groups-want to change that trend and create their own path forward.

Of the 315 people groups in Brazil, 18 percent are considered "unreached," and according to Operation World, less than 2 percent of those belonging to indigenous tribes are Christ-followers. Many have never heard the truth of the gospel.

UNIEDAS, the evangelical association of Terena ethnic churches in Brazil, has a vision to train indigenous young people to return to their ethnic homelands and reach their own people with the good news of God's love. Founded in 1972, UNIEDAS runs an evangelical school and three training centers, including a Bible college, in west-central Brazil.

HCJB Global shares the association's heart for equipping local believers "so they will have skills to go into these communities" and "live out their Christian testimony," says Miriam Gebb, an HCJB Global community development nurse based in Ecuador.

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Rosangela and Miriam exchange ideas together in Ecuador.
She is working with Rosangela Vasconcelos, a Brazilian teacher at the UNIEDAS school and a practical nurse. Together they're adapting and translating teaching materials that Gebb has developed and used with indigenous communities in Ecuador. The resources will be used to train indigenous young people in the association's training centers to provide healthcare ministry in remote villages.

The project's focus is on holistic health, "not just physical health, but also emotional, social and spiritual health," says Gebb. The manual covers areas such as teaching techniques, participatory learning, intercultural communication, health principles, leadership and development principles. Gebb explains that their program complements the association's aim of equipping young people, and Vasconcelos expects that the project will also expand a missions mind-set in UNIEDAS churches.

Collaboration began in October 2012 during Gebb's three-month visit to Brazil. The two worked on translating the teaching manual into Portuguese and adapting it to be more "oriented to oral cultures." They recognized that the materials needed to be suitable for indigenous Brazilian cultures where information is typically passed on orally-often through stories-rather than through written communication. The pair will also encourage the students to customize content for the specific indigenous cultures where they will live and work.

This summer Vasconcelos spent a month in Ecuador, getting hands-on-experience with Gebb and other members of HCJB Global's community development team. During community visits, Vasconcelos identified with the jungle residents, shared her faith, witnessed warm hospitality and had her first experience of dizziness at high altitudes. Throughout it all, she said the most important lesson she learned was "trusting in God and total dependence on Him for all things."

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Members of Brazil's Terena tribe play music and dance during the opening ceremony of the 10th Indigenous Nations Games in Brazil. (Reuters photo)
The two were encouraged as they attended a church conference in the jungle community of Macuma organized by believers from the Shuar indigenous group. In the Achuar village of Mashient they met the pastor of the church who is one of Gebb's village healthcare workers. Trained to teach others in his community about health, disease prevention and first aid, he continues with this work alongside his pastoral duties-a prime example of the concept that Gebb and Vasconcelos hope to impart to the indigenous in Brazil.

In the mountain communities of Daldal and Yanacocha, they were accompanied by Tannia Lascano, an Ecuadorian trainer serving with HCJB Global's community development staff. Lascano teaches subjects such as leadership, culture, health, intercultural relationships and spiritual formation. She applies her faith to her teaching with an integrated approach, conveying God's plan for restoring human relationships with God, creation and other humans. Using participatory learning techniques to directly engage participants, she encourages them to think for themselves and apply information to their own specific cultural context.

Vasconcelos observed Lascano using these methods to teach individuals about community development, health and parasites in an interactive way. "The experiences in Ecuador encouraged me to begin my work of conveying the principles of community development to the leadership of [UNIEDAS]," she remarked. "The aim of the mission is to help their people ... to bring the gospel to indigenous peoples."

The two are back in Brazil for three months. They have already met twice with the board of the UNIEDAS church association to share their passion and community development principles. They plan to continue seeking the board's input before implementing any training programs.

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Typical transportation method in Brazil's Amazon region.
On Saturday, Sept. 21, they will begin a two-week trip, visiting UNIEDAS training centers in the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul and Rondônia where they will begin equipping students with development, cultural and oral education principles.

"My desire is to encourage Rosangela and the leaders to implement these principles," said Gebb, adding that their shared vision is to mobilize the indigenous in Brazil with development, inter-cultural communication and healthcare skills that will provide them with opportunities to further the gospel. "We want to get them to realize the potential and value that they have because they were created in God's image."

Sources: HCJB Global, Operation World, Joshua Project, UNIEDAS, FUNAI, Ultimato, Folha de S. Paulo