In August 2011, I saw the Amazon River for the first time. It was while I was traveling from Lima, Peru, to Iquitos, a city of approximately 700,000 people located in the Amazon Basin of Peru.
The city is surrounded by rivers and is only accessible by air or boat. Little did I know that during the next two years I would fly into the small Iquitos airport 13 times and with repeated opportunities to look at the world’s largest river.
Every two months, my wife and I go to a jungle camp two hours outside of Iquitos to train national believers in cross-cultural missions principles. Beth and I also have been involved in two conferences for pastors and leaders in towns outside of Iquitos. One of these was down-river on the Amazon and allowed us a much deeper understanding of the life of our Peruvian brothers and sisters as they labor to proclaim the Gospel among the people living in villages in the Amazon Basin.
During the two years that we have continually visited the Iquitos area, my life has been deeply touched by the lives of those we go to teach and train. Those with whom we work in this jungle area see me as their teacher. They show me great respect, which in itself is very humbling. But as I listen to them and observe their lives, they teach me some very important lessons about what it means to follow Christ — and I believe I learn more from them than I could ever teach them.
Several powerful traits in their lives have become obvious to me. Foundational to everything else, many of these servants of the Lord demonstrate a single-minded devotion to Christ. Jesus is at the center of their lives. They are simple and humble people who are motivated by pleasing their Master. It is common to see well-used Bibles, and prayer is an important part of their lives. In times of corporate worship they sing with great enthusiasm and listen attentively as the Word of God is proclaimed.
They also have a deep desire to learn and grow. The greatest encouragement to a teacher is to see that his students are really interested and actively participate in the learning process. Often, conversations about our study themes continue well into meal times. It greatly motivates me to better prepare my lessons when I see that many of the students are eager to put what they are learning into practice.
But perhaps the defining trait of these people is a passionate commitment to take the Gospel to the yet-unreached communities along the countless rivers of this region of Peru. I have noticed among them a burning desire to always go to the next community where the Good News of Christ has not yet reached.
Life on the rivers and in the jungle is very difficult, but I see in my students — my teachers — a willingness to endure hardship for the cause of Christ. They are passionate about taking the Gospel ever deeper into the jungle of Peru.
I believe the Lord will use that very passion to call some of them to go as missionaries to the unreached people groups of the world.
It would be grossly unfair to put these brothers and sisters on a pedestal. They would be the first to say they are who they are only by the grace of God. Surely they struggle in their lives and in their walk with the Lord. However, in those very struggles they are able to find the Lord faithful and trustworthy and will grow closer to Him.
I have been impacted by their simplicity, humility and earnest devotion to the Master. I have been challenged to constantly evaluate my devotion to Christ and to examine my priorities in life. How committed am I to do all I can to take the Good News of Christ to those who have not yet heard?
I am deeply grateful to learn from these, my teachers.
— Tommy Larner is an International Mission Board worker in Peru.