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‘Royal’ treatment helps family share true King

[SLIDESHOW=40272,40273,40274,40275,40276,40277]AMAZON REGION (BP) — Most girls dream of becoming royalty, but few have the opportunity to realize that dream. For Naomi and Hannah Jansen,* teenage daughters of Southern Baptist missionaries among an unreached tribe in South America, it wasn’t quite like the fairy tale of wearing bedazzled ball gowns and living in spacious castles.

Their skin and hair, not their dresses, were what was decorated when they were inducted by the tribe to be ceremonial queens of the village, tribal peacemakers who hold positions of honor and reflect a high level of respect given to their parents.

The most notable sign a girl has been deemed a village queen is that locals are not supposed to argue in her presence, or it brings shame upon the families. Naomi and Hannah haven’t been called into service yet, but they know their role is to silence an argument, should one erupt among villagers.

“The main reason they wanted me and my sister to do this was because they respected my father,” Naomi said. “For someone’s daughters to be queens, it’s a huge honor for the parents.”

That didn’t mean their father, Jacob,* didn’t think twice about his daughters accepting this honor. He spent several hours asking a member of the tribe what responsibilities this role encompasses before giving his consent.

Part of the family

Besides Naomi and Hannah’s honorary status, each member of the missionary family has been adopted into a family within the tribe.

“When someone comes into this village, they like to adopt you to accept you as one of them … so they’ll know who you are, where you fit in,” Naomi explained.

As part of being introduced into this familial society, villagers ask: Who is your family here? Who is your mother here?

“Until they know who your mother is, they really don’t know where you fit in,” Jacob said. “We were each adopted so that we would have a mother and a family that we fit into, and then everyone knows their relationship with us. They know whether to treat us as an uncle, nephew or brother” or as someone from another family.

‘Rural’ versus ‘remote’

The International Mission Board missionaries thought they knew a little about rural living. But there’s rural and then there’s remote.

“I used to think we lived remotely when we moved from Texas to Tennessee and lived 20 minutes from a Wal-Mart,” Jacob joked.

Now, they are about four hours away from where they can buy supplies. In some ways, the family of seven has learned to be self-sufficient. Jacob, with some basic construction know-how, built the small family dwelling with a common living space and bunk-style quarters. His wife Jessica* homeschools the children still living at home; one is at college. But in other ways, life among this tribe isn’t meant to be individualistic; it’s
corporate living dependent on one another.

For example, if a family needs an ingredient to complete a meal, they ask another villager.

Jacob learned this give and take while building his dwelling.

“I stayed with my adopted family. … They prepared my food for me,” he said. When he gathered his clothes to wash them in the creek, his adopted mother asked what he was doing. She told him she was supposed to do that for her son.

Princess in title only

Despite their honorary titles as village queens, Naomi and Hannah help their mother with cooking and other chores — no princess complexes allowed here. The couple’s son, youngest daughter and Jacob similarly pitch in with household duties. As with the villagers, most everything is a cooperative effort.

There are no dishwashers, except those with hands, Naomi said. There are no restaurants or telephones, so family time is easy to come by and hard to avoid.

They have electricity in their main living area, so they can play DVDs, but they don’t have lights by their beds so that usually means going to sleep early, Jessica said.

She uses an outdoor tub to do laundry by hand with a scrub board. Before that, she washed clothes in the creek.

Jessica was familiar with from-scratch cooking, but with limited ingredients and once-a-month trips to town that take nearly a day to complete, meal preparation requires time and planning — four to six weeks’ worth of menu lists at a time.

“I’ve always been a list maker, but I’ve learned to make lists more than I’ve ever done,” Jessica said.

She can’t always count on a steady bread supply in town, so she makes her own. The family has planted a small garden since pre-packaged vegetables are difficult to find.

Transporting supplies has been easier since they obtained a 4×4 vehicle, made possible by Southern Baptists’ giving through the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Before that, the family rented rides to town on a flatbed truck.

“We want to say thank you for giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering because without you, we would not be able to be here … to do our part in sharing the Gospel,” Jacob said. “Our people … need to hear the Word of God. They have so many influences from the people around them.”

Sharing about the true King

The people group that the family works with is unreached with less than 2 percent of its population being evangelical Christian. The ethnic religion is deeply rooted in the people’s identity, and conversion to Christianity can equate to feeling separated from one’s culture.
Language learning is another hurdle for the Jansens, since villagers speak a tribal language different from the region’s primary language.

When Jacob tells Bible stories in the village, a member of his adopted family who knows the regional language translates the stories into the tribal language. This process enables locals who know both languages to hear the stories again. Jacob tells stories chronologically from Old Testament to New Testament to give the people a fuller understanding of God’s Word, since most of them don’t read.

Jacob and Jessica work with language tutors, then Jacob spends time in the village practicing what he has learned that day while Jessica homeschools their children. Jessica practices language later while interacting with village women.

As Jacob strikes up conversations with locals, “people get to laugh at me, people get to correct my pronunciation, and so part of daily life is just being laughed at as I learn the language….

“The only way they can really have their hearts opened in a good way is to hear the stories of God in their own language,” Jacob said. “So we are motivated, we are driven, not by our desire to learn another language but by our desire to communicate clearly the Gospel.”

So far, six believers in the village have been baptized and meet together weekly. “We were able to see them come to understand who God is and what He can do for them and how they can love Him,” Jacob said.

The goal is for one of them to eventually lead the services, Jacob said. Other villagers interested in hearing God’s Word are beginning to attend.

On Sunday mornings, the missionaries gather 60 to 80 village children to play games associated with a Bible story that will follow. Jacob makes follow-up home visits to tell parents the stories their children are learning.

Fridays and Saturdays are youth and family game nights, including a type of field hockey using sticks.

Naomi started a weekly Bible study for girls, weaving arts and crafts in with girl bonding time and conversations about Bible stories.

Where God wants them

Jessica felt called to missions as a teenager at church camp. For Jacob, it was as an adult on a mission trip. He had felt called to and studied ministry, but it wasn’t until one of his mission trips to South America that he realized the location for that ministry was going to be in South rather than North America.

The family didn’t end up where they thought they were headed, but in retrospect, this is where God was leading, Jacob said. During a plane layover on a mission trip to the region, Jacob and his mentor had prayed, “God, would you send one of us back here to reach the people?”

Years later, the older mentor told Jacob he had prayed God would specifically send Jacob to reach the people of this area where the Jansens now live.

*Name changed.

Watch the Jansen family talk about the joys and challenges of living in a remote Amazon region:

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  • Kate Gregory