Open Doors in the Heart of the Amazon

By World Team Manaus

In the northwest corner of the city of Manaus sits an informal settlement of over 4,000 people. The residents hail from over 30 different Amazonian tribes, some of which have little to no gospel witness. This is Parque das Tribos and is one of many indigenous settlements that have sprung up in and around the jungle city over the past few decades. Its existence opens a world of possibility in a region that has been nearly impenetrable for generations.

Changing Currents

The story of missions in the Amazon has historically been further downriver, deeper into the jungle, one life at a time. Courageous missionaries like Jim Elliot, Nate Saint and countless others gave their lives to reach individual remote tribes scattered throughout the dense, 2.6 million square mile rainforest encompassing land from eight different countries. To this day, there remains at least an estimated 1 million indigenous people living in the Amazon.

“What if there was a movement to mobilize the urban indigenous in Manaus to become missionaries to these closed-off regions?”

Over time, a shift happened. While the indigenous rights movement was emerging in the 1980s, Brazil as a country was democratizing from a military to a civilian government. The result was that when a new federal constitution was drafted in 1988, civil and land rights for indigenous peoples were included – a historic moment 200 years in the making. Then, in 2003 the Brazilian federal government introduced a new social welfare program called the “bolsa família,” which provided financial assistance to people accessing social services for their children, which were mostly available only in urban areas.

Indigenous had always traveled and traded up and down the vast, winding Amazon River. Yet now, with guaranteed claims to land, voting, education and financial assistance, indigenous people began moving to cities to access these newly granted rights. The wave of migration created a new kind of indigenous identity: the urban indigenous. Composed of a variety of distinct languages, tribes, and customs, these migrants were still distinctly indigenous yet plunged into a modern, globalized world completely unlike the communities they had left.

New Fields

In this context, the foundations for World Team Manaus’ work were formed. Recognizing the unique needs and opportunities of the urban indigenous, a World Team couple advocated to open a field in the city itself. Many organizations were already sending expat and national missionaries into the interior. However, this strategy had its challenges. Access to many areas was and still is legally restricted to non-indigenous peoples. So, World Team began thinking, “What if there was a movement to mobilize the urban indigenous in Manaus to become missionaries to these closed-off regions? Could the surge in indigenous urban migration be a pivotal moment for missions in the Amazon?”

By focusing on the urban indigenous, we are investing in the future of Amazonian missions: raising up urban indigenous missionaries who could return to their homelands and beyond, reaching the last of the last.

Our approach is simple. We evangelize, disciple, train and encourage urban indigenous believers with the aim of seeing leaders raised up and launched to indigenous communities in the city and beyond who will then train and launch others! Since multiplication is part of our DNA, at every level of our work, we strive to bring national brothers and sisters from indigenous and Brazilian backgrounds into the process so that efforts are reproducible from the outset. Like cells multiplying exponentially, we want to see disciples making disciples and churches planting churches, impacting communities that we might never see or know. Our heart’s desire is to see a flourishing, indigenous-led Church in Manaus reaching their Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8)!

It Starts with One

One example of such a promising indigenous leader is Jessé, who is from the Hixkaryana tribe in a region called Nhamundá. At a young age, the gospel was presented to his village, and he started following Jesus! In 2017, through the invitation of a pastor, Jessé moved to Manaus to study at a missionary training center. While there, he connected with World Team Manaus through the network of indigenous church leaders we helped start.

When his studies concluded in 2019, Jessé returned to his tribe as a church planter, and World Team Manaus went with him through prayer, pastoral care, and training.

Today, along with planting an indigenous church, Jessé is part of a team translating the Old Testament from Portuguese into Hixkaryana. He and his family are called by God to bring the gospel to their own people amidst hardships, difficulties, and sacrifice.

Join Us

There are many more Jessés who have yet to hear about Jesus. There are many who have heard the gospel message but have never been discipled. There are a handful of urban indigenous church leaders, serving faithfully in isolation but with little pastoral or practical support and limited training.

World Team Manaus wants to change that. We are looking for Jesus followers who long to evangelize, disciple and invest themselves in others to see an indigenous-led missional movement in the Amazon. If that’s you, get in touch with us. We would love to have you join our team!

Learn more about World Team’s ministry in Manaus and current opportunities to serve by visiting the Manaus page.

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