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In the northeastern sierras of Colombia live an ancient people group named the U’wa. Although they only number in the seven to eight thousands, they are known on the international stage for successfully preventing oil drilling on their lands and for creating de-facto biological reserves by prohibiting all human access to large tracks of forest. Fiercely traditional and primarily oral, the U’wa use song as a way to pass their culture and spirituality from generation to generation.
Given their oral traditions, reaching the U’wa by means of audio Scriptures seemed like a no-brainer for the Foundation for the Development of Minority Peoples (FDPM). FDPM is a Colombian organization that’s spent years producing audio visual materials to advance the gospel in indigenous communities. They are used to traveling deep into Colombia, often going by boat up treacherous rivers or braving small aircraft to reach areas that would take months to access otherwise. But the U'wa recording presented special hurdles.
"[It] was probably one of the most difficult challenges we took on in the past 16 years,” writes Sandra, FDPM audio technician, “The U’wa authorities denied us entrance to their territory, so we had to record with only two readers.”
Those two readers sacrificed their vacation time for four years in order to finish the entire New Testament outside of U’wa lands.
In 2017, Sandra and her colleagues loaded their vehicle with New Testament players in U’wa and embarked on a long journey across the eastern zone of Colombia. They traveled through four departments, traversing regions with beautiful flora and fauna, immense cultural diversity, and a strong presence of guerrilla and paramilitary forces. “This made our trip a bit tense, peppered as it was by military checkpoints and notices about bomb threats and military confrontations,” Sandra recounts.
At one military checkpoint, several of the soldiers were very suspicious of the FDPM team. After all, their car was full of apparatuses that looked like radios —radios that could contain messages for the enemy. “They were surprised when we finally succeeded in explaining that it was the Bible in audio in an indigenous language,” writes Sandra. Then something incredible happened, the soldiers wanted to know if FDPM had audio Bibles in Spanish that they could listen to. The military checkpoint became a class on how to download a Spanish audio Bible from the internet. The military commander was one of the first to do so, and enthusiastically showed the rest of his troops how to follow suit.
“Although we were going to deliver the [Bible players] to the U’wa, God also wanted these soldiers to hear His Word in their language, Spanish,” writes Sandra.
Now thanks to those successfully delivered audio New Testaments, many U’wa pastors are taking God’s word into some of the areas most strongly affected by the armed conflict.
“I want to give thanks to God for this huge blessing with the Bible players, an efficient tool that makes it possible for us to reach ethnicities and communities where they don’t have the written Bible.”
— Enrique, pastor that works with the U’wa, Colombia
“In our communities, most people don’t speak or hear Spanish, and that’s why it was so important to record in our own language.”
— Giovanni, Tuyuca speaker, Colombia
FDPM’s next challenge is to provide indigenous children with Biblical audio visual materials in their own language. There is a huge lack of this kind of material and FDPM would like to step in to the gap, but to do so, they need the economic resources to develop their vision.
“The young indigenous generation is growing up at a time when their leaders are rejecting the gospel,” Sandra explains. “[We want them] to know Christ from their childhood and be able to find the true purpose for their lives.”
“Colombian Conflict.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 7 Sept. 2018
Entrevista Tuyuca AGA. FDPM
Izquierdo, Rebeca. “The Thinking People: The U’wa Battle Oxy.” Cultural Survival Quarterly Magazine, Cultural Survival, Sept. 2001
Kenney, Phil. “FDPM Recordings.” Received by Yvonne McArthur, email, 22 Aug. 2018
M, Sandra. “Datos para el sitio de Ethnoma.” Received by Yvonne McArthur, email, 29 Aug. 2018
Testimonio Pastor U’Wa. FDPM
“The U’wa People of Colombia’s Cloud Forest.” Amazon Watch
“U'wa People.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 12 Apr. 2018