Jungle Missionaries

School Days

Early one morning before school started for the day, Mother and the girls were working in the classroom. Mother sat at her desk writing in her notebook. She was writing down all the new Indian words she had learned. One shy little Indian boy, who was waiting for school to start, crept up behind her and peered over her shoulder.

Suddenly he said, “Atchica.” Then he pointed to the last word Mother had written.

Mother stared at him in surprise. “How did you know that?” she asked.

They boy just shrugged. So Mother pointed out another word. The boy pronounced it also.

“But I haven’t taught you how to read any Indian words,” Mother said with a perplexed look. “How can you read these words already?”

“You teach sounds in English,” the boy answered. “I read words in English. I read words in Indian.” Then he gave Mother a hopeful smile. “You have books in Indian?”

“I’m sorry.” Mother shook her head. “There aren’t any books written in your language yet. But I would like to write one. Would you like to help me?” she asked. “I would like to start out with a song book first. I think that would be the easiest.”

For the next few weeks the girls and Mother worked with the Indian boys to learn new songs. They found out that they all knew a number of the same songs, only they would sing different words. Mother tried to write down the Indian words for the songs so that others would be able to sing them.

Although it was rather fun to learn more about the Indian language, Leona wished that she could learn more about some of the Indian girls. Soon she felt very bored living so far out in the jungle. When she realized it was only a few weeks until her birthday, she complained to Mother.

“Nothing exciting ever happens out here. It’s almost my birthday, and it will be just another day. There won’t be any presents, and there’s nothing to make a cake out of, and I can’t even invite any friends over to play because I don’t have any friends out here yet.”

“I’m sorry,” Mother comforted. “We knew it would be hard to live out in the jungle. You just have to be brave and be thankful that you are having another birthday, even if we can’t celebrate it in the same way we have before.”

Leona was not convinced. As her birthday came closer she tried hard to be thankful, but she still wished that something new and exciting might happen.

Finally it was December 5, Leona’s birthday. As usual they were in school for the afternoon. Everyone was busy studying quietly, when suddenly a new and different sound could be heard above the normal jungle noise. It was a strange, loud roaring overhead. All the boys left their desks and rushed outside. The girls and Mother followed right after them.

Up in the sky, circling over the mission station, was a small plane. There wasn’t any place for the plane to land around the mission, but after the second circle, a small object came tumbling down from the plane. Then the plane flew back off over the jungle. One of the bigger boys ran toward the place where the object had fallen and soon came back with a small can in his had. Inside the can was a note to the missionaries. The boy handed the note to Mother, and they stood around excitedly and listened as she read it, although most of them still didn’t understand much English.

The note said, “I have landed two white men where the Kamarang River flows into Mazaruni. They are en route to Mount Roraima and want to hire Indians to pick them up at once and guide them up to Mount Roraima. They will pay them well.”

“Run and get one of the men,” Mother said to the biggest boy. “Someone has to go down the river a ways and bring back some men who want to do some traveling around here.”

The boy ran off toward the Indian village.

The Indian boys were excited about the plane. They got some sticks and twine and made airplane shapes. They held them high over their heads and made funny motor noises. One of the boys even found a small piece of paper. He showed the girls how his plane could fly around, and then he dropped the paper to the ground from his plane, just like the note that had come from the big plane.

Finally some Indian men from the village showed up at the school. When Mother explained that they needed to go downstream and pick up two men, they all nodded.

Then one said, “Tomorrow.”

“But you have to go now,” Mother explained again. “The message said to come at once!”

The Indians didn’t like the idea, since it would be dark before they could return. But they finally left, taking some lighted torches along with them in three paddle boats. It started to rain soon after that, and it rained all night.

The Indians didn’t return until the next evening. They came back with two very wet and relieved white men.

“Hello, I am Dr. Zahl,” said the taller man. “I am so glad the Indians could come and rescue us. The pilot dropped us off on a little empty island in the river, because that seemed to be the most open space around. But when it started raining, we quickly figured out why the island was so empty. When the river gets high, it completely covers the island. The dry land was almost gone when we finally heard the Indians coming down the river.”

“And I am Mr. Chislett,” said the other man. “Do you think there is some place we could put our supplies and equipment to dry out? We seem to have gotten everything wet in the rain.”

Mother let the men stay in the workshop, where they could spread everything out to dry. The next day they bargained with the Indians about guiding them up to the mountain. Mother and the four girls listened to their plans.

“We want to travel around this area and take pictures,” Mr. Chislett explained.  “And we are looking for a special animal that may carry a poison that we need to make medicine.”

“We would like to go on up this river and then hike over to Mount Roraima,” Dr. Zahl said. “We need quite a few Indians to come with us and carry our supplies.”

“There is a large boat that my husband built,” Mother told the men. “You would be able to put all your supplies in it. But it would only be able to go up to the station, where the Brookses live.”

After they talked it over for a while, they decided to use the boat up to Pariama and then hike from there. Mother decided that since the boat was going up the river, it would be a good time for her and the girls to go and visit the Brooks family. Since the men planned on staying out for over a month, Mother and the girls would be able to spend Christmas with the Brookses.

Even out in the jungle they could celebrate Christmas. Mother had made some new dresses for the girls, and everyone gathered together for a party.

About a week and a half after New Year’s Day, Dr. Zahl and Mr. Chislett came back. Mother was very surprised to see them since it was Sabbath  morning. Then she noticed that the Indians carrying the supplies were not the same ones from Waramadong Village. She asked Dr. Zahl what happened.

“Well,” Dr. Zahl admitted with a grin. “We got tired of being out in the jungle and were in a big hurry to get back. We knew we didn’t have very far to go, but your Indians wouldn’t travel on Saturday. So we found a few others to come on in with us this morning. The rest will come in tomorrow. You know, we’ve ‘kept’ the Sabbath for almost six weeks now.”

“We had to quit smoking too,” Mr. Chislett added. “The Indians kept telling us that smoking was harmful to our bodies. We just finally quit so we wouldn’t have to listen to them anymore.”

Mother smiled and told them she was glad the Indians were such good witnesses.

The next day, everyone traveled back down the river to Waramadong and back home.

Things settled back into a normal routine for a few more weeks. Leona still wanted to try to make some friends with the little Indian girls. Mother decided that they could have some sewing classes with the treadle sewing machine. They would see if the women and girls would be interested in sewing classes.


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