the early 1940’s 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 dreamed 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 poison-the 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 food-in 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 Sophie’s 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 didn’t stay anywhere for very long-usually 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 unique-utterly 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 sister’s 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
Sophie’s work and pray we continue to see change.