Holding onto Scripture like a weapon for protection
One day not too long ago, a Bolivian farmer was cultivating his watermelon crop with a gun slung over his shoulder. After a while, he set the gun against a tree. As he kept working, he moved farther and farther from it. When the Ayoré men watching from the jungle saw that the man had separated himself enough to render the weapon useless, they pounced — killing the farmer and taking his watermelon crop and gun.
This tale, passed down from one of the first Ayoré believers in the 1950s, depicts a former common practice — hunting for food using any means necessary. But it has now become a teaching lesson for their tribe’s faith.
“I want to make sure that I have my protection, the Word of God, and do not get separated from obedience to it,” Jusei, a current church leader, explained. Surrounded by a dozen of his neighbors in his village, he quoted Psalm 119:11: “Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You.”
Jochacai, one of the eldest church leaders in the village, expressed a similar devotion to Scripture.
“When I started hearing God’s Word being taught, it became sweeter and sweeter as I heard it,” he said while drinking tereré tea under a tree. “To this day, it’s the sweetest thing for me.”
Over the past 75 years, this indigenous people group has grown to embrace the Word of God and the saving work of Jesus Christ. The Ayoré church continues increasing in their faith, strengthening their communities and now sending out their own missionaries.
“It’s taking God’s Word and making it ours,” Jochacai said. “We’ve grown to know what joy is by being obedient to His Word. Now we are teaching those who have a desire to walk in obedience to the Lord and want to grow in their love for the Lord.”
Gatherings have become a key part of this effort. The believers hold frequent meetings in their villages to cultivate one another’s faith, and they also organize conferences nearly every month, rotating among over a dozen believing communities in southeastern Bolivia and northwestern Paraguay. At these gatherings, attendees come from multiple villages to encourage one another, teach from the Word and worship together.
“The meetings are not empty. We stop and we listen; we talk. It produces sincerity in our hearts,” Jochacai said. “We want truth; we want to live it. It has resulted in a peace within us. That’s one of the contributing factors for why we keep growing.”
Of the 85 families in the village, they estimate about 90 percent currently profess faith in Christ.
Jochacai said the first Ayoré Christians learned to lead by example, and their children and grandchildren are following in their footsteps. “Before the foreign missionaries left, they taught our own people how to do this, and we help one another now.”
Passing faith to the next generation like carrying fire
In the jungle, the Ayorés always carried fire with them to save time and effort. Sometimes they would fan it into a big flame; other times they used the glowing embers. Regardless, they didn’t let the fire burn out during the day.
“That’s the way I have found it in my Christian life. If I’m not around other hot Christians, burning Christians, my fire is in danger of getting colder and colder until finally I would need to be revived,” said Ajnocai, one of the eldest Ayoré believers in Garai, a village of about 190 families.
“With stopping and taking time to be with other Christians, my fire is built up again, and our fire is collectively built up again so we can continue to live and experience that warmth that God intends in our relationship with Him.”
Ajnocai sat in a green chair near the family’s water pump, while his granddaughter played nearby. After more than 45 years of teaching God’s Word, he can barely stand up and is relying on younger believers to carry the torch.
Ejoadi and Rolly have embraced this responsibility. The men completed training at a local Bible school, where they discerned God’s call to make disciples among their own communities.
“I came to realize that missions is also working among my own people group,” Rolly said. “There was a real need for an Ayoré missionary to be reaching out among the communities of Ayorés.”
Further, Rolly and Ejoadi feel specifically equipped to minister to the children.
Ejoadi explained, “As I began to learn more, I realized God had given me a gift for communicating with kids. I’ve always loved being around kids, teaching them things and talking to them.”
“This is a very important time in their life to instill these principles and truths in their hearts,” Rolly said.
Sadly, an all-too-common trajectory for young people from these communities involves losing their lives to drugs, alcohol and prostitution in the cities. The men recognize the crucial opportunity they have to point the way to true life with Christ.
Ejoadi has taken eight mission trips to minister to the Ayoré children in Paraguay and is encouraged by what God is doing in the younger generation.
“Some of the ones I started with are now teenagers, and they are influencing their younger siblings and associating with more mature believers,” he said. “I am seeing some of the fruit of what I’ve invested.”
Likewise, Rolly is training young people to trust the Lord in their circumstances. He recognized that the Apostle Paul brought along others, so he identified a young disciple in Barrio Bolivar who now travels with him, learning how to teach. They don’t always have enough food or housing, but Rolly said he reminds the boy: “It’s only in these situations that you’re going to see what I’ve learned — that God provides for what He wants to see happen.”
Worshipping God stirs up hearts like a pot of food
The Ayoré still cook outside over fires, putting on big pots of rice, beans and yucca. They stir the food often to keep it cooking properly.
Patricia, a church music leader, used this practice as an example of how worship helps the people stay sensitive to God’s voice.
“Sometimes we come into our meetings and we are just feeling so-so, and the songs encourage us. They prepare our minds and emotions,” she said. “After our hearts are stirred up like a pot of food, we are ready to sit and cook some more.”
She hummed a few bars of her two favorite worship songs and explained that her desire to help with church music began as a child.
“As I got older, I started trying to sing along and learn the words, and eventually I think God gave me understanding,” she said.
The Ayoré are now writing their own songs, and Patricia said the various communities enjoy getting together and exchanging tunes.
“We love to get recorded music from other Ayoré camps, learn their songs and be encouraged by them telling us how they developed the song and the stories behind the choice of words,” she said.
Like many of the other church leaders, Patricia is also passing her role down to her children. “Now I’m telling my daughters, ‘I want you to learn how to sing well so you can take over when I don’t have a voice anymore.’”
Growing in Christ like the roots of a cacha tree
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BOLIVIA’S TOWERING CACHA TREES HAVE ROOTS AS DEEP AS THE TREES ARE HIGH. AYORÉ BELIEVERS SAY THEY WANT THEIR RELATIONSHIPS WITH CHRIST TO BE SIMILAR.
“We realize that our lives are an example, and we want it to be a good one, like in the illustration of the cacha tree that our roots and faith in God are deep and strong,” Ajnocai said from his green chair in Garai.
In just several generations, the Ayoré church has grown firm in Christ. God used the first missionaries to plant the seeds, others have come along to water and tend to them and the harvest is now multiplying.
Durasei, one of the first Ayoré schoolteachers, helped explain various ideas the church has for the future, like translating biblical materials and videos, constructing a building for their conferences and even developing a phone app with sermons and music. They aren’t able to move forward with these projects yet, but the believers have watched God work wonders among them before and know He can do it again.
When asked if he had seen God provide for the Ayoré in the past, Durasei took a moment, smiled and nodded his head.
“We are constantly recognizing and thanking God for the missionaries who brought us out of the dry desert and brought us to this land,” he said. “I often think of it like the children of Israel. God had made promises, He fulfilled those promises to them and He’s fulfilled them to us.”