By Connie Davis Bushey
News Editor, Baptist and Reflector
CLIFTON — He’s adventuresome, admitted Randall Runions, pastor, First Baptist Church here. One might agree when learning Runions also is a prison chaplain. But this missions trip really stretched him, he admitted.
He traveled 61 hours one way on the Amazon River and a tributary in Brazil to reach a village of the WiWi (pronounced WeeWee) people.
Of those 61 hours on boats, 11 were upstream in a motorized dug out canoe.
“It was like white water rafting upstream in the dark,” explained Runions. The darkness was like he had never experienced before. At this point he was traveling on the large Mapuera River.
Finally he and his team arrived at the village in the “pitch dark.” The WiWi people do not have generators.
Of course, Runions also was not able to communicate with the outside world during most of the trip.
He was never afraid, he added. After arriving at the village, the main danger was panthers, so he didn’t roam away from the village. “The Lord was with me,” said Runions.
After making the challenging trip, another obstacle he faced was communicating, this time not with the outside world but with the people there. Runions’ English was translated into Portuguese by a translator and then from Portuguese into WiWi, the language of the WiWi people, by another helper. Runions was there to teach the Bible and lead worship services.
Despite the challenges, the missions effort, “was a tremendous, tremendous time of refreshing and blessing. My blessing was to teach the Bible every day,” reported Runions who is chaplain, South Center Correctional Center, Clifton.
Working with Christian people
The Tennessee Baptist was serving with AMOR — Amazon Mission Organization, based in Mountain Home, Ark. (www.amorbrazil.org). AMOR was started by Richard Walker, former pastor, First Baptist Church, Murray, Ky., to help people in the Amazon River basin, including the WiWi people who live in north central Brazil near the country of Guyana. AMOR is led mainly by Southern Baptists.
Some 50 years ago when Walker first met the WiWi people, he and some missionaries learned of their witchcraft and child sacrifice practices. Yet the evangelicals introduced them to the Gospel and saw them accept Christ.
The WiWi still hold Christianity as their main faith and culture. AMOR sends teams to provide support to the isolated people.
Runions who worked with about 20 Southern Baptists from Arkansas and Kentucky, served Dec. 27 – Jan. 13. They ministered in one village which had 29 families installing a water purifying system, doing construction, leading Vacation Bible School, holding a clinic, and helping in other ways.
He was needed
The WiWi people were “begging for knowledge” of God and Jesus, said Runions. Though they have the Bible which has been translated recently into their language and many of the people are literate, they need training, he added.
He was there to mainly teach the preachers, but he ended up teaching nearly everyone because they all wanted to attend the training sessions, he reported.
Thankfully Runions also was able to translate into writing several summaries of the main Christian doctrines for the church leaders and leave those posted in the church. Another high point of his ministry was conducting a communion service.
The WiWi people “have a heart for the Lord” and are “good people,” the Tennessee Baptist reported.
Several told him through a translator that if he would stay and teach them, they would believe what he taught them.
Runions has been involved in missions work for many years. Every summer for the past nine years he has led a missions team to Mexico and seen it grow in numbers, in its effectiveness, and in its impact on the lives of the Americans who go.
He never thought he would serve in such a remote and challenging area — but God worked it out miraculously, said Runions.
“It was so interesting,” and “a tremendous, tremendous blessing.”