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This Piece of Wood

“Mission starts with friendship.” Multiply worker Einer Zuluaga shared this strategy for reaching the Wounaan of Colombia. Although it seemed natural to send believers from among the Wounaan of Panama to bring the Gospel to this same people group in Colombia, they are not, in fact, friends. 

“The Panamanian and Colombian Wounaan have been divided for one hundred years,” Einer explained. Drug trade and terrorism in the Darién jungle continue to keep these two Wounaan groups apart. “They do not know each other; they do not trust each other.”

While the Wounaan of Panama had fifty years of missionaries sharing the Gospel among them, those in Colombia experienced only the opportunism and religious abuse of false teachers. “The Panamanian Wounaan know the Word,” Einer said. “They know to resist animism and sycretism. But they have not been able to reach their Colombian brothers. They needed something more than knowledge.” 

That something turned out to be a piece of wood.

In late 2021, Einer and a team of Wounaan believers from Panama travelled to Colombia to make contact with the Wounaan there. Their strategy involved a focus on artisanal crafts. Wood-carving, they decided, was one skill that could be easily shared, and within a few short days the two groups were carving together and sharing about their lives. 

“We became friends,” Einer said, “eating together, drinking coffee, laughing, lamenting.” The Colombian Wounaan listened with interest to their visitors’ stories of the Great Spirit, or Ewandama, whose son Jesus had been grievously misrepresented to them by religious authorities in the past. The conversation deepened, and the pile of wood shavings grew. 

“This piece of wood is nothing,” Einer told them, holding it up, “without hands to turn it into a work of art. In the hands of an artist it becomes transcendent. So it is with our lives. Without Christ, life is hopeless.” The Colombian Wounaan nodded, familiar with the ways in which the hopelessness of violence, drugs, alcohol and suicide were eroding their community. Einer went on, “When we place ourselves in the hands of Jesus, our lives take a beautiful shape.”

By their last day together, Einer and his team were invited to plan a second, longer visit. Come back soon, they were told by their new friends. Bring more stories. Bring more wood.

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