By Felicity Dale
A few months ago I had the incredible privilege of visiting Puerto Ayacucho, a town in Venezuala just outside the Amazon Jungle. The town was mostly made up of tribesmen recently moved out of the jungle while those living in the jungle still lived rather primitive lifestyles. While there, I met a man named Ricardo who told me a remarkable story about an extraordinary woman missionary named Sophie Muller. What follows is her story, as told to me by Ricardo.
In the early 1940s a young woman in her early twenties came to Colombia from North America; her name was Sophie Muller. At that time this area consisted of virgin jungle. There were settlements of a few tribal houses scattered throughout the jungle, often many days journey by canoe apart. The nearest town of any size (Puerto Ayacucho) was not built until 1947.
Sophie, a reporter for the New York Times, had become a Christian following an outreach in a New York street. She had seen a group of people singing and preaching on the sidewalk and, out of curiosity, had responded to their invitation to join a Bible study. Over time she opened her heart to Christ. She became interested in working with unreached peoples and so went to the New Tribes Mission. She wanted to go somewhere no one had ever been before, and by looking at a map of the world, chose the Amazon.
In 1944 she made her trek to the jungle. She came to the Guainia region where the Curipaco tribe lived. At that time, witches and sorcerers were in charge of the jungle. From them came a legend that has been passed down through the years. Someone had dreamt that a strange-looking person would come with a power greater than that of the witch doctors. With her white skin and blue eyes, Sophie certainly fit the bill of looking strange to the tribespeople. So the chief witch doctor prepared a spiritual rite in the jungle as a test. He made a chicken stew and added to it Caribbean stick poisonthe strongest poison known in the jungle. As Sophie ate the stew offered her, all the villagers gathered around watching intently, waiting for her to die. She did not die, only vomiting a little throughout the night. Still, some of the village dogs lapped at her vomit and a chicken pecked at it, and they fell over and died immediately. But Sophie herself was unharmed. As a result, the witch doctor that had prepared the stew turned his life to God on the spot. She became known as a daughter of God and was allowed to go wherever she wanted without fear.
My grandfather was the head witchdoctor of the region. Around that time he saw in a vision that there was a more powerful spirit than the one over the jungle. The story of Sophie passing the poison test spread far and wide throughout the jungle. When my grandfather heard it he sent my father to find Sophie and investigate her. My father paddled his dugout canoe for one month until he reached her. Upon his arrival, he became fast friends with Sophie. She was particularly interested in him because he came from a different tribe and spoke a different language. Soon, Sophie evangelized to my father and he received Christ. They began working together to evangelize to the jungle, spending months at a time traveling to different communities for months at a time.
I was born in the jungle and I too knew Sophie Muller. She lived just like us in a house with clay walls and a palm roof. She ate the same food as we did; she hated the comfortable life. She was a woman totally given over to walking with God. Sometimes we would get up at 3am and we could hear her singing to the Lord in the next house. My mother would go with Sophie on trips sometimes and with her, she saw many supernatural things happen.
When I was around ten years old one of the most important of these supernatural incidents occurred. It quickly became known by all the tribespeople throughout the jungle. Incited by the Catholic Church, the Colombian army persecuted her. She was put in a jail with double doors and double locks. As she lay there, she could hear the soldiers fighting amongst themselves as to who would be the first to rape her. They decided to play a game, and the winner would be the one to go first. But while they were playing the game, Sophie fell into a very deep sleep. When she woke up, she was in the middle of the jungle.
In the meantime, my father had gathered together a group of men armed with bows and arrows to go and rescue her. As they were paddling up river in their dugout canoes they saw a beach with a big turtle sitting on it. Of course, their immediate reaction was foodin fact, banquet! So they pulled up onto the beach to jump the turtle.
As they did so they heard a whistle. My father recognized the whistle and went looking. It was Sophie, hiding behind a rock. She had lived for days just eating roots and was too weak to even call out. She was covered with cuts and scratches with even some maggots living on her wounds. So they put her in the bottom of the boat wrapped in plastic and paddled up the river. When they came to Sophies house there was a team there from the mission who came to greet her. Emotionally and physically exhausted, she retreated to the north for several days to recover; fifteen days later she was back in the jungle.
Having learned the Curipaco language, Sophie used others who knew both that language and another of the tribal languages to help her to learn the new language and to translate the Bible. Sophie Muller translated the New Testament into seven different tribal languages. During her first year with a new tribe she would clear some ground and write letters on the ground with a stick. She learned the language very fast the Holy Spirit taught her. Then she taught the people to read and write. Even though they could read, Sophie soon realized that many of the Indians were just speaking the words without any deep understanding of what they were reading. So she added an italicized question in parentheses after each verse to be asked by the leader of the group so that they would stop and meditate on what they had read. She also asterisked a verse or two in each chapter for them to memorize.
She didnt stay anywhere for very longusually only a few days. She would leave them with a Bible and move on, trusting the new church to the Holy Spirit. Over the years, leaders were trained. She taught the villagers to have daily meetings to sing Gospel songs, read the Scriptures, answer the questions, and pray for one another.
After a while Sophie left the New Tribes Mission and continued the work on her own, being supported by just a few churches at home. Sophie was more of a sower than a reaper. She opened the door to the jungle. She was uniqueutterly consecrated to God.
After 20 years, there were around 200 churches that Sophie had started. She had 50 named leaders in charge of all these churches. She
organized conferences every six months to try and keep in contact. These were know as rendezvous, and attracted thousands of Indians. Sophie and my father worked together for fifty years. During that time, Sophie started maybe 500 churches. When Sophie finally left the jungle twelve years ago, she was an old woman. She had asked the Lord for fifty years of service to him. She died in her sisters arms of stomach cancer three months after her arrival back in the States.
After the deaths of Sophie and my father, the work in the jungle was abandoned. The churches began dying and the people returned to their tribal customs. Even the rendezvous ceased to exist. Before his death, seven years ago, my father challenged me to go back to the jungle. At that time I was pastoring a church in the city. At first, it was a difficult battle but eventually I decided to try to revive the work in the jungle. So far I have trained 33 people to evangelize and plant churches in different jungle communities. We are continuing Sophies work and pray we continue to see change.
If you liked this article, check out Getting My Hands Dirty, Part I
Felicity, author of Getting Started and An Army of Ordinary People, is on the editorial board of House2House Magazine.