It is mid-morning and the sun is already sweltering in the community of San Francisco. We seek refuge under the shade of a nearby tree as we begin our next CHE (Community Health Evangelism) lesson. We begin by discussing the different parts of the tree – the roots, the trunk, the branches, and the leaves. You see, each part of the tree represents a part of our culture and our lives.
With our beautiful jungle tree in front of us, the first question is what they think the leaves represent. It is immediately determined that the leaves, which are like the fruit of the tree, represent the fruit in our lives. The consequences of how we live, both good and bad. In sequence, we work our way down the tree, and with continued ease they relate each part to their lives. The leaves are an expression of the branches, much like the consequences in our lives stem from our behaviors. Things like our actions, our thoughts, and our words. These behaviors determine the consequences we see in our lives, both the good and the bad ones. And the trunk? It represents the values of a community or culture. What we value as good or bad, as this determines our behaviors. And what determines our values? Our beliefs do. What we believe, whether they are truths or lies, determine our values which determine our actions and subsequently determine the consequences in our lives.
As we stand there discussing, you can almost see the wheels turning inside their brains as they process and understand, ask questions and come up with examples of each part of the tree in their own communities. It is a beautiful thing to watch them draw conclusions and understand deeply what we are discussing, to the point of applying it to their own people and lives. What amazes me the most is the very little prompting they needed to do so!
We return to our spots on the benches arranged in a circle in the one-room church, the half walls surrounding us, allowing a slight breeze to sweep through. Women sit with their papers rolled, swatting at the bees who are determined to get to the hives they’ve constructed under the benches. They are much braver than me, taking on the giant bees.
There are three pictures of trees growing in different types of soil in front of us. The first, a small tree that appears to be dead, the second a tree of about the same size with some leaves, and finally a large, plush tree full of life. Under each tree are M’s and V’s representing mentiras (lies) and verdades (truths). The dead tree is growing in soil filled with M’s, the next in soil with an equal number of M’s and V’s, and the large tree’s soil is full of V’s. It takes only one question to get them talking – What do you observe about these trees?
In a matter of minutes, they have come to the correct conclusion. The dead tree is not growing because of the soil it is rooted in. The lies provide few nutrients for growth, and the same applies in our lives. When we regard lies for truth, our lives look a lot like this dead tree, producing few good consequences. The plush tree, on the other hand, planted in soil filled with V’s, is full of life and produces many good consequences because of the good, nutritious soil it is growing in. It is surrounded by Truth.
We then take it one step further with this question – what strategy does Satan use to destroy people and nations? Reading several passages and keeping in mind the lesson of the tree, they quickly realize that Satan’s strategy uses wrong philosophies, false teachings, and even traditions to deceive the nations. He uses our very culture and beliefs to deceive and destroy us!
This is when my favorite part of the lesson begins. Knowing how Satan deceives us through our own culture and knowing that often our lives are filled with lies we hold as truths, we break into small groups to name these lies. And it is surprisingly easy for them to do so. Without hesitation and with little shame, the list of lies grows. And much to my surprise, laughter fills the room. They are almost making fun of these lies they believe. They cannot believe they believe them! They begin to realize that these lies keep them from working, keep them from building a strong family, keep them from living healthy lives, hinder their relationships, and so much more.
Here are some of the lies they named:
- If you dream of a pig it brings bad luck and you shouldn’t go to work that day
- If you hear a certain bird while you’re out in your field, go home or you might be injured or die
- Selling salt at night brings bad luck
- When a new bridge is constructed, someone is to be sacrificed under it so that it doesn’t fall
- You pass a cuy (guinea pig) or a raw egg over someone to remove a bad spirit
- Don’t sweep your floors in the afternoon or you will become poor
- If you sit in your doorway your children will have different parents
It is easy to see how damaging these lies can be in our lives once we put a name to them. Easy to see how the Truths and lies in our own soil that we believe so easily affect our actions and therefore consequences. This is one of my favorite CHE lessons. Every time we do it. Not only does it help me gain insight and a little more understanding of the Yanesha culture, but it is so fun to see them get it. Like really get it. To see that lightbulb go on in their heads and their faces shine with understanding as they recognize the need to fill their lives with Truth.
CHE, or TIC (transformación integral comunitaria), is a community development tool used around the world to equip communities in identifying issues and using their own resources to resolve those issues leading to positive and sustainable change, change that lifts them from the cycle of poverty and disease. We have begun working with one of the Yanesha communities, Santa Rosa, in starting a CHE program. It has been so fun to participate in the first of the CHE trainings alongside of them and learn so much about their culture and beliefs. Many of the foundational lessons bring many of their core beliefs to light. I loved listening to their stories and seeing the ways they interact with the lessons and witnessing that “ah hah” moment flash across their faces when they understand what is being taught. These are beautiful moments and glimpses into the incredible things God has planned for this community.
CHE progresses slowly. It is an exercise in patience. And that can be so frustrating, especially from my Western mindset. It is hard to sit back, refrain from taking control or moving the process forward, but it is all about the community taking control of their own development. And in order for that to happen, I have to take 10 GIANT steps back. Maybe more. Surrendering my need to control. It is not about me, or my desires, or my vision of what could be. It is all about God. His timing. His glory. His purposes. His people. His church. His transforming power. And we could not be more excited to see how God is going to use CHE to transform Santa Rosa for his glory and draw people to himself.
My roommate Ellie and I are both nurses and have loved serving the Yanesha people through CHE over the last year. We are excited for the program to get underway! One-year in and we are loving it– we cannot wait to see what God has in store over the next year and the incredible things He is going to do among the Yanesha people.