RICHMOND, Va. (BP) —Weary travelers stand alongside a river somewhere in South America’s Amazon Basin.
After three hours of trying to maneuver upstream by motorboat to a remote village, Southern Baptist International Mission Board missionaries grudgingly accept the realization that the day’s journey has ended.
Shallow waters, exposed rocks, tree limbs and a rough current that nearly capsized the boat won’t allow them to go any farther.
Score a victory for the Amazon.
Thousands of miles of dense jungle create a daunting wall for Christians who want to take the gospel to this area. For some of the people groups in remote areas, their only hope to hear about Jesus is through faithful Christians praying the gospel message will reach them.
More than 400 people groups—roughly 26 million people—live in the Amazon Basin. Of that number, 270 people groups are less than 2 percent evangelical, with no IMB missionaries living among them.
About 85 of the people groups survive completely isolated, deep in the jungle. Some groups have been spotted only by satellite.
Two key factors keep these groups unreached by the gospel. The government prohibits missionaries from having access to them. And most of these groups live in areas considered too dangerous for outsiders.
Dangers include guerilla fighters, hostile tribes, poor flying conditions, crumbling or nonexistent roads and unpredictable waters.
Over the years, many missionaries have lost their lives attempting to take the gospel to these isolated peoples.
One of the most well-known incidents occurred in 1956—recounted in the 2006 movie, The End of the Spear—when a group of Huaorani Indians in eastern Ecuador killed Jim Elliot, Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming and their missionary jungle pilot, Nate Saint.
But not all was lost among the Huaorani.
“When (those five missionaries) died, it really raised up a host of prayer warriors (who) began to pray for the Huaorani,” said Russ Bare, an IMB missionary and Texas native who leads work among indigenous people in Ecuador.
“Today, we have many Huaorani believers. There is power when God’s people pray.”
Many Southern Baptists are joining other Christians globally in prayer and fasting for world evangelization on Pentecost Sunday, May 11.