A Field “White for Harvesting”
At the northern tip of South America lies the Guajira Peninsula. It is in northern Colombia and northwestern Venezuela. Scorching sun and limited rainfall are the bane of this semidesert, where temperatures reach up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit [43°C]. Despite the weather, people here are busy and productive farmers. Steady ocean breezes and northeast trade winds make life bearable, allowing visitors to enjoy captivating landscapes and beautiful beaches.
WELCOME to the land of the Wayuu Indians. There are some 305,000 Wayuu, 135,000 of whom live in Colombia. This tribe lived here long before the Spanish colonization.
The primary livelihood of the Wayuu is raising livestock and farming. They also engage in fishing and cross-border trading. The women do masterful weaving in bright colors, and their products are popular with tourists.
The Wayuu are known for their sincerity and hospitality. However, they too are living in “critical times hard to deal with.” (2 Timothy 3:1) Poverty is one of their major problems that, in turn, leads to other troubles, such as illiteracy, infantile malnutrition, lack of medical care and, in some areas, delinquency.
For decades, churches of Christendom have sent missionaries to live among the Wayuu. As a result, the majority of teachers’ training schools and boarding schools are under church control. Many Wayuu have accepted so-called Christian customs, such as image worship and infant baptism, but they have not abandoned beliefs and rites rooted in traditional mythology and superstitions.
In general, the Wayuu fear God and respond favorably to Bible truths taught by Jehovah’s Witnesses. In the early 1980’s, there were only seven Wayuu Witnesses in Guajira, three of whom lived in Ríohacha, the capital. In addition to the indigenous Witnesses, 20 other publishers preached the Kingdom good news there in Spanish.
Message in Their Own Tongue
The majority of the Wayuu living in Ríohacha use limited Spanish in addition to their native tongue, Wayuunaiki. At first, very little was accomplished in the preaching of the Kingdom message. The natives seemed to shy away from the arijunas, as they call the non-Wayuu. When the Witnesses called at their homes, most Wayuu responded in their own language, not in Spanish. The Witnesses simply moved on to the next house.
By the end of 1994, however, the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses had assigned a group of special pioneers, or full-time Bible educators, to serve in the Ríohacha Congregation. The pioneers asked a Wayuu Witness to teach them Wayuunaiki. After memorizing some simple presentations, those ministers went to the territory and immediately noticed a marked change in the people’s response. Even though the Bible teachers were speaking in broken Wayuunaiki, the householders were pleasantly surprised and were willing to listen, at times continuing a lively conversation in their own limited Spanish!
“White for Harvesting”
The apostle Paul likened the Christian disciple-making work to the cultivation of a field, a comparison that the agricultural Wayuu understand well. (1 Corinthians 3:5-9) In a figurative sense, the Wayuu field is indeed “white for harvesting.”—John 4:35.
Neil, a Wayuu Indian who lived in Manaure, suffered from a congenital defect. Blaming God, Neil was depressed to the point of attempting suicide. A Witness who took the opportunity to preach from house to house while visiting different towns in connection with his secular work spoke to Neil about Jehovah’s Kingdom. Neil was only 14 years old. Discerning Neil’s interest, the Witness started a Bible study with him. Neil was happy to learn about Jehovah’s loving personality, leading him to the conclusion that God did not cause his suffering. How deeply touched he was when he read about God’s promise of an earthly paradise, where there will be no more sickness!—Isaiah 33:24; Matthew 6:9, 10.
At the time, Neil’s family was caught up in a feud with another family. Trying to ensure their own protection, Neil’s relatives performed certain tribal rituals. Neil recalls: “At first, I was afraid to speak to my family about my newfound faith, especially to the family elders, who are held in high esteem.” Neil’s parents were angered to learn that he would neither follow unscriptural beliefs nor practice spiritistic customs. Neil then moved to Ríohacha and began associating with the congregation there. He was later baptized. In 1993 he was appointed as a ministerial servant, and three years later he became a regular pioneer. Then in 1997 he was appointed as a congregation elder. In the year 2000, he expanded his ministry, becoming a special pioneer.
Consider, too, the case of Teresa, a Wayuu native who started to study the Bible with the Witnesses. Daniel, her live-in partner, ridiculed her and physically abused her and their three children. Even though he later agreed to study the Bible along with Teresa, he often went on drinking sprees with his friends, sometimes for four or five days. His family was left impoverished. Teresa continued to study faithfully and to attend Christian meetings. This helped Daniel to see the importance of studying the Bible. Then one of their children accidentally fell into a boiling kettle and died of severe burns. Besides enduring the deep grief of losing a son, Teresa had to face pressure from friends and neighbors to observe unscriptural funeral customs.
During that difficult time, this couple received encouraging help and comfort from members of congregations nearby. After the funeral, they continued to receive comforting visits from the local Wayuu-language congregation. Upon seeing Christian love in action, Daniel was moved to make spiritual progress. He stopped drinking and mistreating Teresa. Daniel and Teresa got married, and he began working hard to support his family. They progressed spiritually and were baptized in 2003. Both conduct several Bible studies. Thanks to the excellent witness that Teresa has given to her family, her relatives are now willing to listen to the Witnesses when they call. One of Daniel’s nephews is an unbaptized publisher, and two of his nieces are studying the Bible and attending congregation meetings. Teresa’s sister-in-law, who also lost a son in an accident, and her family have shown interest in studying the Bible.
Spiritual Food in Wayuunaiki
In 1998 the booklet Enjoy Life on Earth Forever! * was released in Wayuunaiki. This became a valuable tool for cultivating the Wayuu field and conducting home Bible studies. Arrangements were made in 2003 to train several brothers to translate publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses into Wayuunaiki. Thanks to the hard work of a group of translators in Ríohacha, more brochures have been made available, contributing to the spiritual growth of Wayuunaiki-speaking disciples.
Since 2001, some parts on the district convention program have been interpreted into Wayuunaiki. Bible students are stimulated spiritually when they hear the program in their own language. They anticipate the day when Bible dramas will also be presented in Wayuunaiki.
A Flourishing Field
Uribia is a town some 60 miles [100 km] northeast of Ríohacha. The Uribia Wayuu Congregation has 16 Kingdom publishers, many of whom are expanding their efforts to preach to the Indians who live in rural areas. One of the congregation elders says this about such a witnessing trip: “We visited a ranch compound made up of about a dozen houses with low roofs and small windows. In front of each house is a flat roof made of yotojolo, the woody inside stem of a cactus. There, family and visitors are protected from the scorching sun. We were happy to see that many showed great interest, so we made arrangements to return and start Bible studies. Upon returning, we noticed that many were illiterate. They told us of a school that had been abandoned for lack of funds. The person in charge kindly gave us permission to use one of the classrooms to hold literacy classes and to conduct Bible studies. Six Wayuu have learned to read and write and are progressing in their Bible study. We are touched by the appreciation shown, so we plan to hold meetings on the ranch.”
A number of nonnative Witnesses have learned Wayuunaiki, and their assistance is greatly appreciated. On the Guajira Peninsula, eight congregations and two groups now use this language.
Jehovah’s blessing on these efforts is evident. No doubt, much more can be accomplished in preaching the good news among the Wayuu. The prospects are promising as those who are conscious of their spiritual need become Christian disciples. May Jehovah send more ministers to cultivate this field, which is “white for harvesting.”—Matthew 9:37, 38.
^ par. 18 Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
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Wayuu camp below: Victor Englebert