I remember coming home from my first trip to the Amazon in 2014. Amidst the boat traveling village ministry, our leaders made sure we had some time to enjoy the rainforest. My kids were thrilled to see snapshots of dad holding the caiman and even more so, the sloth.
Lillie Cate is a twelve-year-old walking encyclopedia of random animal facts. Upon returning from my first trip, sloth-hugging-photo ready to share, she explained ad nauseam how very important the sloth is for the entire rain forest ecosystem. At a young age, she committed PBS Kids episodes of Wild Kratts to memory. For us, this is nature at its best because her fascination with all of God’s creation is nothing that Susan and I have nurtured. It’s literally a hunger and an instinct that God placed uniquely in her. I knew full well how the jungle would have her heart from day one.
Seeing her hold a sloth for the first time had both me, and it, melting in her arms. She literally loves nature. A bit of further research reveals that her Wild Kratts knowledge was wildly correct. [See what I did there?] Sloths really are an essential part of God’s creation. Shimmying down the tree only once a week [at the threat of great predator peril] to eliminate, moths that live on the fur of the sloths and lay eggs in the sloth’s waste. From larvae to full blown moths, ready to take up residence in their host’s fur once again, this simple [normal] act actually feeds other organisms and fertilizes the jungle. An array of other life-saving bacterium also call sloth fur their home. Such organisms are now being studied, developed, and utilized to cure diseases and even slow the growth of certain cancers. This tiny animal, created by God in the shape of a literal hug, can literally save lives. And they remind me of jungle pastors.
Through JMI, the central piece of all of our Brazilian ministry is the jungle pastor. He and his family are life-givers to the villages God has called them and they are our entry point into those communities to provide resources and minister to people. This week, we were fortunate to make first-time visits to the villages of several pastors who have attended our annual Jungle Pastor’s Conferences over the years. What a joy to bring the very best of what JMI has to offer to their turf, putting faces and images to the stories they shared with us at the John Pac Center. These men make incredible sacrifices and face incredible losses just to plant Christ in the hearts of the people to which they have been called. They do it for the sake of the gospel. They do it to save souls and they are an inspiration to us all.
Sloths can live in the same tree for up to three years. Talk about long obedience in the same direction. While they are central to the survival of so much of God’s jungle ecology and even offer life-saving pharmaceutical hope to the rest of us, it’s the jungle pastor that is central to the plight of the gospel in the jungle, and to our ministry of justice and mercy, too. How will people hear if no one tells them? How will someone tell them if they don’t go? How will someone go if they are not sent? Like the sloth, some of the progress may be slow, but help is on the way to the most remote parts of the Amazon, in the form of a pastor who is ready to plant his life and pour himself into the lives of people who need to know that Jesus loves them.
Per my usual, I can’t wait to go back. I want to meet more pastors, hear more stories, share more joys, and of course, hold more sloths. When I do, I’m reminded that God loves me so that I can love others.
– Nic Allen, Rolling Hills Belmont Heights Campus Pastor