SBC Life Articles

Colombia’s Indigenous Tribes Transformed by the Gospel

Sweat dripped from Dut's short, slender body as she hollowed out a grave in the floor of the Colombian rain forest.

Only minutes earlier the Nu* Indian woman had given birth to her ninth child, a boy, but something was wrong. The baby's head was misshapen, pointed — a temporary defect doctors would recognize as the result of an intense labor.

But there were no doctors here. Dut was ignorant and alone, save for several of her young children who had tagged along with their mother as she ventured into the bush that day.

They watched as Dut laid their brother's tiny body in a shallow hole and began to cover him with dirt. The newborn shrieked in protest, his arms and legs struggling against the handfuls of cool, damp soil that pressed against his skin.

His cries weakened as a wave of earth washed across his face, followed by another and another. Abruptly, the jungle fell silent. Without pause Dut stood, brushed the caked blood and grime from her hands and turned toward home.

Lee Rojas* felt sick to her stomach. Watching her own two-year-old daughter, Grace,* playing with friends in the Nu village, the Colombian missionary struggled to comprehend the cruelty described in Dut's macabre confession.

What Lee didn't know was that the Lord would use these brutal sins to transform Dut's life. Through Lee's witness, Dut would soon be one of the first Nu to begin a relationship with Jesus Christ. The resulting change in her life is a glimpse of the mighty way God is making His Son's name known among Colombia's indigenous, a group of more than one hundred native tribes scattered across a nation nearly twice the size of Texas.

Spearheading that effort are Southern Baptist missionaries Fernando and Brenda Larzabal. Born in Argentina, Fernando began his ministry career as a missionary pilot. He met Brenda, a teacher from Saranac, Michigan, on a mission trip to Belize. Four boys and twenty-two years of marriage later, the Larzabals are charged with mobilizing Colombian churches to take the Gospel to every indigenous tribe.

"Our problem is that the average Colombian Christian has the perception that missions belongs to somebody else," Fernando says. "But missions belongs to the local church.

"The Gospel has been in Colombia for more than one hundred and fifty years. We believe it's time that what has traditionally been considered a mission field turns into a missionary force."

Lee and her husband, John,* are among a growing number of Colombian missionaries who've accepted that call. It's a big job and there's no one-size-fits-all strategy. Each tribe has a distinct language, culture, and worldview.

What they have in common is their need for Christ. Of the one hundred-plus indigenous tribes, at least sixty have no Gospel witness. Most are animists, spirit-worshippers who live in fear of gods they can neither know nor love.

"The overwhelming need of these people is to be delivered from the fear of Satan," Fernando says. "Without Christ there is fear, and that's what they breathe day in and day out."

To raise awareness, the Larzabals spend much of their time crisscrossing the country visiting churches. At Berea Baptist in the city of Pereira, Pastor Eliecer Henao has invited Fernando to preach a missions sermon to help educate and inspire his congregation.

"My dream is to come to a point where one of our own families would be sent as a missionary and would be supported by us 100 percent," Eliecer says. "We need prayers on our behalf so the church will wake up and understand that the missions responsibility is theirs."

* Names changed.

IMB Fast Facts

Field personnel under appointment (10/20/08) – 5,521
Career/associates/apprentices – 4,227
2-year ISC/Journeymen/Masters – 1,294
Field personnel appointed 2007 – 844
Career/associates/apprentices – 339
2-year ISC/Journeymen/Masters – 505
Student volunteers 2007 – 4,271
Overseas baptisms 2007* – 609,968
Overseas churches 2007* – 157,890
Overseas church membership 2007* – 9.9 million
New churches 2007* – 25,497
People groups engaged** – 1,183
People groups of the Last Frontier** – 5,913
Population of the Last Frontier peoples** – 1.6 billion
World population 2007** – 6.8 billion
Lottie Moon Christmas Offering goal for 2008 – $170 million
International Mission Board budget for 2008 – $304 million
World Hunger/General Relief 2007 receipts – $5.2 million

*data from 2007 Annual Statistical Report (End-of-year 2006 figures)
**data from Global Status of Evangelical Christianity (February 2008)

    About the Author

  • Don Graham