Spirit of the Rainforest: A Forty-Something Book Report

Salma Gundi's picture

“We want people who will really care about us, like the man who came into my village and put his arm around me when I was covered with dirt, sweat, saliva, and mucous…He showed us something we knew nothing about—love.”–quoted from Spirit of the Rainforest

            Eight years ago my husband announced he would quit his corporate job to go to seminary full-time. I reminded him of his disdain for reading and writing. Not that I wanted to dissuade him, but I didn’t believe him for the aforementioned reasons. Years later I joined him and I took a fascinating class on Angelology. I expected the extensive required reading list. But I had not anticipated the unforgettable tale of spiritual warfare that still makes my head spin (no pun intended). In Spirit of the Rainforest, anthropologist and missionary Mark Ritchie, uncovers the autobiographical story of Jungleman, a Yanomamo shaman in the Amazonian rainforest. In line with Yanomamo tradition, Jungleman turned to spirits in search of guidance and security, only in his later years to trade them in for the Great Spirit, Christ.   

            Rather than writing his own version of his observations in the rainforest, Ritchie took Jungleman's word-for-word account, making the story come alive. (This also eliminated the potential for Western bias.) The detailed accounts of murder, gang rape and an abundance of other mostly non-consensual sex, along with the bashing of infants’ skulls until "white stuff" came out took me back to the time my babysitter force-fed me her egg soup, which culminated in my vomiting into said soup bowl. (To this day I can’t even glance at an omelet without dry-heaving.) Add to that mind-altering drug use, occult worship, and the power of demonic spirits. Jungleman drives the point home: the Yanomamo do not live in a modern-day Eden. The Yanomamos live a toilsome life in an unyielding rainforest with frequent raids, restless sleep, scarcity of food, and starving children. The Yanomamo shaman put their hope in the one thing out to destroy them. These evil spirits tell them killing other villages will feel good. The brutal story drags the reader into the rainforest with Jungleman, and doesn't let go until the reader's been shaken and stirred. Now, I know my description makes you want to run to Barnes and Noble right now. But bear with me. Because the Yanomamo eventually come to know The Great Spirit, who says to love, forgive and not take revenge—concepts foreign to the Yanomamo. And because of God's love and regeneration of their souls, the killing and raping stop, and they start living with joy and peace.    

            Of course, not all Yanomamo supported their converts. Some feared giving up their traditions. I experienced something similar with my own family when I professed my faith in Christ. My disapproving parents explained to me how Christian missionaries go to India to prey upon poor people trying to escape the Hindu caste system. They added that missionaries lure the poor by taking care of their medical needs, providing food, and building homes, all the while mocking and stripping them of their cultural traditions.

            So why all the fuss over this book? Because as humans, we long for love. The Bible says without love, we are nothing. And in Spirit of the Rainforest, Ritchie has successfully illustrated that God’s love can redeem any situation and soften any heart, no matter how bitter, vengeful, violent, or steeped in human tradition.

            The story is educational, awe-inspiring, shocking, and a necessary read for anyone sheltered from what takes place in underdeveloped parts of the world. American missionaries inexperienced with foreign cultures will find it eye-opening, and the story invites evangelicals to consider how they behave amongst unbelievers on the foreign mission field.  This book is a must-read for all Christians, atheists, agnostics, and anyone in between who doubts that God exists or that His love can transform even the most depraved human soul.   

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