Posts tagged #darien jungle

Jackie's Journey: Earthquakes!

The day started like any other day.  The stark silence of the night was broken by clamoring voices on the path outside our bedroom window that led into the dense jungle floor.  Moms with babies were arriving at our front door to trade eggs for sugar and oil.  The happy and animated chatter of two little girls jumping up and down, hungry for those fresh eggs, motivated me to move into high gear!

It was only daybreak but life was already on a steady fast track.  As moms, we long for stability and a safe place for our children to grow up.   Sometimes we look for it in the comfortable and familiar…our best laid plans.  Dressing was next and it was easy…I owned two Kuna dresses and wore flip-flops…no closet required!  Hot coffee, fresh eggs with rice and beans were on the breakfast menu and then off to the river to wash clothes.

Humming and comfortable that the day was programmed from start to finish and clipping along as planned…I proceeded back up the bank to hang the clean clothes, get started on homeschool, then some language study before lunch.  I love it when a good plan comes together….

The house was full of Kunas when we returned from the river.  My husband, Ralph, was seated…Bible open.  The hammock was stretched across the center of the room welcoming us… but no time!  It was almost 11:00 a.m.  It really was a day just like every other day… until the unthinkable happened…

“Suddenly, in an instant, the Lord Almighty came with thunder and earthquake and great noise…” Isa.29: 6 

The ground began to shake; an abrupt jerk, a rumbling sound and then a LONG roll.  Our lantern, hanging from the 10’ ceiling, began to swing 2’ in each direction.  The floorboards began to buckle and the entire house began to sway!  I looked down and Kim’s high chair was rocking from side to side.  I grabbed her and reached for Christina who was already moving toward me.  She wrapped her arms around my leg. Stumbling toward Ralph, I was having difficulty standing; I was bobbing like a boat in a storm!

When everything is moving, what does one grab for safety?  Ralph, immediately on his feet, saw my dilemma and reached for us across the room.  With one hand he grasped Kim and me and set us securely in the swinging hammock in the middle of the room.  With his other hand he lifted Christina up into his arms and tucked her in against us. 

Turning to look outside, we all watched the ground heave and fall in surges.  The dogs were struggling to stay on their feet.  Every house in the village was moving.  The bark walls and thatch roofs were unstable and the tremors were continual.  We lived on a riverbank and the river was turbulent and threatening.  I am a California girl and I have experienced my share of earthquakes, but this one was in a class all its own!   It was longer, stronger and more forceful than any I had ever known.

This, definitely, was NOT a day like any other day!

In the jungle interruptions are expected.  The Darien is full of them…creepy crawlers…poisonous spiders, frogs, snakes, ants and caterpillars… Drug runners or sick or injured Indians from other villages from Colombia passing through… These were predictable and probable challenges, but an 8.3 epicenter earthquake?  NO…NOT!!

I was reminded that God honors us most when He puts us where we will trust Him most.

Safety was NOT in our house in the Darien jungle!

I was excited when weeks later someone offered us a third story apartment in Panama City for a few days to renew our visas.  Secretly, my hope was that half a country away in the city the tremors would not be felt!   Our arrival was after dark so we settled in and headed for bed.  As my head hit the pillow, to my utter astonishment, the earth began to shake and the entire three-story building began to sway!  Again, I was reminded that our true character is what we are in the dark!  

Safety was NOT in Panama City!

In those first few moments in the Darien with everything rattling around us, the Kunas in our house stood up totteringly and began to sing and pray!  We had found our safety in those first few moments…found only in a Sovereign and Almighty God who gives direction to the elements on earth.  For the weeks that followed the initial earthquake we had tremors of varying degrees every hour on the hour!  

Safety isn’t in a place or our best laid plans…
Safety IS in the Lord!

“…Then you will go on your way in safety and your foot will not stumble.”  Proverbs 3:23

~Jackie Johnson - I am a former tribal missionary to the Kuna Indians on the Colombian border in Central America.  Fluent in several languages, my husband and I currently pastor a Spanish-speaking church in Southern California.  My passion is discipling and equipping dedicated young women for life, marriage, motherhood, and beyond. I am the mother of two daughters and the grandmother of three Princesses and four young Knights. 

Jackie's Journey: Jungle Fire!

Fires can be devastating!  In the jungle there is no 911, no

Fire Department, Fire Fighters or fire hoses and trucks… 

One afternoon the entire village stood on the riverbank and watched across the swift moving waters as a raging fire approached our settlement.  Like a tornado it swept across the forest floor consuming everything in its path.  The entire area was a patchwork quilt of gardens planted with bananas, rice, yucca, corn, and sugarcane…

Many of the new believers had fields laden with produce, as did their unbelieving neighbors.  Shocked at what we were watching, the believers began to pray.  Could that fire jump across the river?  The blaze began to pick its fields to blister as it “zigzagged” toward us.

 To our utter astonishment the fire leapt over the believers’ fields and consumed the others.  Not one field of a believer was touched!  God’s demonstration of Sovereign control over the elements of that wildfire was undeniable. 

God was in that fire!

“And I myself will be a wall of fire around it, declares the Lord,

and I will be its glory within.” Zechariah 2:5

Since time and memorial the Darien jungle and its unpredictability had ruled!  Whether it was the fluctuating weather, the epicenter earthquake, the remote isolation, the absence of communication to the outside world, the challenge of transportation or the miscellany of wild animals, poisonous insects, army ants, snakes and vampire bats…we were captive to the jungle around us. This was one of those days when my mind concurred with the reality. 

We all stood amazed at God’s presence in that most obscure place.  He had been there all along.  The boldness of His Sovereignty was magnified in that raging fire. The assurance that regardless of the circumstance we were experiencing, we were “…shielded by God’s power…” (I Pet. 1:5) was our pre-eminent thought as we stood “shaking in our boots”.  The promise that “the beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by Him; and the Lord shall cover him all day long” was as real that day as it ever would be.  We surely sensed that covering as we surveyed His handiwork!

While buried in the jungle, I often sang a song taken from Psalm 32:7.  “You are my hiding place. You will protect me from trouble and you surround me with songs of deliverance, whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You…”   Delivered and protected, standing on the edge of the Pucuro River, I was reminded of the truth “God makes winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants”! Psa. 104: 4

Ralph, my husband and God’s servant, teaching in our Kuna house.

Ralph, my husband and God’s servant, teaching in our Kuna house.

We are saved to serve, called to be “flames of fire”.  Alive, dancing through life, consumed with the burden on His heart… controlled by His sovereign will.

HE makes his ministers a flame of fire…” Psalm 104:4

~Jackie Johnson - I am a former tribal missionary to the Kuna Indians on the Colombian border in Central America.  Fluent in several languages, my husband and I currently pastor a Spanish-speaking church in Southern California.  My passion is discipling and equipping dedicated young women for life, marriage, motherhood, and beyond. I am the mother of two daughters and the grandmother of three Princesses and four young Knights. 

Jackie's Journey: Final Farewell??

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   Kim, my companion, in those last days!

Kim, my companion, in those last days!

“On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.  Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.”

Psalm 63: 6,7,8. 

The Darien is an earthy, steamy environment of thick rainforest.  The humidity was thick enough to slice and the heat was barely bearable.  With our return to Pucuro after my surgery came the responsibilities that we had left three months prior.  Our partners, Jay and Sue Gunsteens and their family, had gone on furlough and returned to the States. My strength had not returned and I tired very easily.  I started resting in the afternoon and within a few months I was having difficulty getting up. 

Ralph had fastened a battery tape recorder to the wall above the bed so I could listen to the Book of Psalms.  They brought me great comfort as I listened to David in his distress and God’s continual deliverance.  God became my refuge and consolation in ways I had never experienced before.  The isolation from civilization, the absence of medical convenience and the sense I was dying was exchanged for finding Him more than enough to meet all my apprehension.

How does God meet you in a tight spot?

 The daily opening of the clinic, delivering of babies in the night, homeschooling Christina, the care of Kimberly, the linguistic work and the daily opportunity to share Christ… all brought profound joy.  In spite of my physical state, my circumstances brought life-lessons I would never have recognized, experienced or understood apart from this plan God had for me.

“If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses?  If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?

Jeremiah 12: 5; Proverbs 24:10

We kept thinking if we could just persevere a few more months we would see our Kuna family in a spiritual place where we were comfortable leaving for an extended furlough and seek medical help.  We did not want both missionary families among our tribe to be on furlough at the same time.

The people would come and sit with me as I lay in bed.  Nangel, the village midwife, grandma, and precious new Christian, came daily and I looked forward to her visit.  One day she kept saying to the other women in our bedroom, “Purkwis tani!”.  Usually, that phrase is reserved for those who are dying.  It is translated, “Death comes!”  I remember thinking…it had been over a year since the surgery and I must look bad!  As a young mother, death seemed illusive, an impossibility…until my health failed and God began to speak to me gently, resolutely and unmistakably through His Word…

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   Did Nangel see something I couldn’t? 

Did Nangel see something I couldn’t? 

A few weeks later a couple on the field committee, Don and Pat Barger, came in by plane for a day visit. The look on their faces when they entered our home told me that what Nangel had said might be true!  They immediately encouraged us to leave the village with them and to take an early furlough and get medical help in the States.  I had one small round mirror interior, and I had watched my face become thin and gaunt over the months, but I did not realize how tiny I was all over!

 

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  Waiting in Panama City for our flight to the States

Waiting in Panama City for our flight to the States

I will forever be grateful for their divine intervention in our lives that day.  After a few days and friendly persuasion, we packed a few things, said our good-byes and headed to Scripps Diagnostic Hospital in the States.

As the plane lifted into the sky, I caught a glimpse of the entire village waving to us in what could have been our final farewell

Do you hear His voice daily speaking to you through Scripture?

Gently?  Resolutely?  Unmistakably? 

Are you listening?

Jackie's Journey: "If You Can Imagine..."

Life had become routine in the Darien jungles of Panama. The sounds of Howler monkeys, the screeching of magnificent multicolored parrots, and the beauty of the bright colored Toucan had become commonplace.  One morning we woke up to find two little spider monkeys on the front porch crawling on the girls’ bikes! 

I still could not reconcile with: the colossal spiders, the over-sized scorpions, the copious species of snakes, the blood-sucking vampire bats or the jungle army ants!  Nor would I ever find harmony with the dripping humidity and the ever-present roaches, chiggers and mosquitos!  However, I learned to appreciate the large iguanas for their tasty eggs.

Daily the Kunas would greet us early looking for sugar or oil and a morning visit.  We had become part of the community, and they had begun to accept us.  We had brought medicine, oil, and sugar after all!

The Indians had, somewhere along the line, become part of our family and we had become attached to them and their way of life.  We had learned so much from them and were amazed at their physical strength compared to their small stature.  Their ability to take one bullet and return with a deer or two bullets and return with two deer was uncanny.  We, also, learned much from their survival skills in the dense jungle.  But their openness to listen to the truth of God’s Word after a year and a half of total mistrust and resistance was the most astounding of all!   

Watching the young mothers with their babies and the respect and trust these women had for the older women in the village was heartening.  We had grown to love these very special people and had developed a mutually fulfilling relationship.  As they came to know Christ, our hearts were full of gratitude for the privilege of serving the King in such a rugged border region. 

The women swept the village once a week during dry season, and it was an opportunity for Sue Gunsteens, my partner, and I to listen to the women chatter and hear the community gossip.  You didn’t want to miss the sweeping because you would then become the object of their conversation that day!  The sweeping stirred up the tuberculosis germs.   

The Lord had given me a verse during missionary training that I claimed as I swept.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and future”.   Jer.29: 11

I was consistently on guard because of something my Uncle, an orthopedic surgeon, had told me while he was visiting us at Language School.  He spoke quietly: “Jackie, you carry the TB germ from birth; it lays dormant now, but could activate in the right environment or as you get older”.  I was 25, so I only had to focus on the environmental issue, I thought to myself at the time!  During Congreso meetings we knew we had reached a level of tribal acceptance when they offered us a gourd filled with “Chicha” and everyone would drink from it!  Needless to say, I did not want to offend by NOT drinking from that cup

 God’s promises are continually sufficient

The Lord used these powerful words of promise, in the verse above, to banish my fear and sustain me as we swept the village, drank the “sugar cane-sweetened platano (cooking banana) drink” and treated the TB patients in their homes and the clinic.   

He knew my future and had it planned. There was, therefore, no reason to be troubled.  My focus was not on my fear but the need to keep in harmony with Him, His assignment and His will. 

Are you ever preoccupied with the future and what it holds for your life? 

In a world full of uncertainties, it is easy to “roll into” the pattern of helping God design your future, rather than simply submitting to Him and His plan, which comes with assurance and hope!