We’d ridden for hours along the hard-packed dirt road. Every few minutes, a truck burdened with freshly cut logs would speed by in the opposite direction, throwing thick clouds of red-colored dust over us, filling our nostrils, stinging our eyes, and making breathing difficult.
I checked to make sure that my equipment was still protected from the swirling grime. If I was to return from this trip with a photographic record of what we saw, the cameras and film hidden within the cases at my feet had to be sheltered at all costs.
My assignment was simple. Travel into this South American jungle and take motion pictures of a certain village filled with very unique people. What made them unique? Every member of the settlement was a Seventh-day Adventist Christian. Unlike their neighbors who worshiped many gods—some of whom they said lived in trees and rivers and snakes—these men, women, and children worshiped only one: the God of heaven.
The settlements we passed revealed in vivid detail the poverty that gripped the land. Far from the relative wealth of the cities, these villagers spent their days doing little more than trying to survive. Because of their great need, they had little self-esteem. Their houses, yards, and roadways reflected the emptiness and discouragement filling their hearts. Their surroundings were unsanitary to say the least, and there had been reports of violent unrest between the different people groups in the area.
The much-traveled vehicle in which we were riding slowed, turned off the main road, and began moving deeper into the jungle. Soon we came upon a small, isolated village set in a clearing beside the rushing rapids of a river. The driver found a shaded spot under a grove of trees and turned off the ignition.
Very focused perspective
Looking at the world through the viewfinder of a camera offers a very focused perspective. As film moved silently behind my lens, I witnessed the daily lives of a people whose very existence had been transformed. Their simple houses, furnished with only the bare essentials, were clean and orderly. Their lawns were clipped, roads well marked, and potholes filled. Where were the wandering pigs, the piles of refuse, the unmistakable odors of disease? Where were the ragged-looking children and the ashen countenance of parents? These people looked healthy and lean; eyes clear, faces shining with hope. Had this village really been like the others? How was such an amazing change possible?
I was led to the small log and thatch house of the Adventist missionary teacher for this area. He welcomed me with a broad smile and allowed me the privilege of seeing the place he called home. Through the eye of my camera, I observed a grass mat on the floor, a neatly folded blanket, a tiny dresser sitting low by the bed, and a pair of sandals.
Then I understood. Resting on the blanket was the reason for the transformation—the reason why this village looked, smelled, and sounded different and the people acted in more supportive ways. With its covers worn from use and pages yellowed by time, a copy of God’s Word waited in the stillness of the stifling afternoon air, ready to lift the spirit of reader and hearer alike, ready to create clear images of how life is supposed to be lived even when burdened with poverty. The owner of that Bible had taken the words to heart and had spread the good news throughout the village.
That was his mission. The Bible was his weapon of choice in his battles for social justice and the equal treatment of all people. It’s what he used to proclaim the transforming and reconciling message of the gospel.
Charles Mills is the author of more than 50 published books and over 300 articles. Mills began his career at Faith for Today and the Adventist Media Center in Newbury Park, California. For the past 35 years, he has been an independent media producer, writer, and radio/television host.