Guido is a ten-year-old Matsés boy from the Peruvian rainforest who is visiting the big city of Lima for the first time. After a long and arduous trip—three days in a small boat, seven days in a larger riverboat, and an hour and a half by plane—he is standing before a roomful of Wycliffe USA Board members and executive leaders that includes my wife, Dallas, and me.
Dressed in crisp new blue jeans and shiny white tennis shoes, he takes the mic and begins to recite from memory, and without hesitation, passages from Matthew and Luke in his mother tongue. This is his language; these are God’s words for him, and he is confident in sharing them. Verse after verse after verse, he goes on and on. The group listening is awestruck! When asked where he learned to do this, he says he learned it from his parents and his grandfather, who are all believers. Guido is a third generation Christian, and these words from the Bible transformed his family and his community.
The foundation for this transformation was laid in 1969 when translators Harriet Fields and Hattie Kneeland first made contact with the Matsés. Described as “fierce,” they lived deep in the Amazon rainforest. Guido’s grandfather was watching from the edge of the forest the night Harriet encountered the two Matsés who stepped into the clearing to meet her. He watched as they hesitantly walked toward Harriet, bridging the huge gap between their worlds.
Harriet and Hattie moved into the Matsés community and, amongst other things, were the incarnational representation of the words they started translating. Lives began to change. Guido’s grandfather became a health promoter. Others left raiding, killing, and kidnapping to become Bible translators, teachers, dentists, and pastors.
When the Book of Ephesians was printed, Scripture Use promoters Glenn and Linda Smith, along with their children, were living in the community. Glenn remembered some Buck knives used for hunting that had been sent to the village by mistake. They’d been lying at the bottom of a barrel for two years, and Glenn believes God gave him an idea. He told the people, “I’ll give a hunting knife to anyone who memorizes the whole book of Ephesians.”
Bible memorization quickly became a passion for the Matsés—with or without prizes. Children recited chapters to their parents at bedtime. Wives recited to their husbands, and husbands to wives. Guido’s other grandfather (his mother’s father) memorized fourteen New Testament books, including Romans. People quickly discovered that getting close to God’s Word affected their lives. Glenn says, “It changed all of us.”