Mission Resources International

Life out of Death - The Tylee Story Full Circle


Wes and Trudy Seng

(Written 2004)

It was 1984. Our family stood together on the ridge, taking in the wonder of the wild valley held incommunicado below. We were on a ministry trip with students from Kadesh Barnea Bible Institute. I remember an eerie feeling that caused goose bumps and made the hair stand at attention on my arms and the back of my neck. Something unseen disturbed the hush of the moment, and a raucous screeching of parrots, macaws and howler monkeys suddenly ripped through the air over the valley. We sensed what our eyes could not see. A silent figure slipped unnoticed to a vantage point and, hidden by thick foliage, checked out the unfamiliar noise of our clumsy Toyotas as they grunted their invasion into primitive terrain. We later learned the lookout had followed us for hours - the vehicles no match for his speed and agility.

From upon the ridge, it looked like God had dumped the vegetation out of a giant wheelbarrow. A thick green mass tumbled down the side of the mountains, all tangled together - vines and jacaranda, palms, ferns, giant hardwood and Pau Brasil (Brazilian Palm)... falling helter-skelter, reaching out crooked finger limbs to clutch whatever lay in the way so as not to spill into the river far below. A wisp of smoke, floating lazily up through this emerald mist, warned any intruder there were jungle owners to be reckoned with. Feeling vulnerable in unfamiliar territory, it was not hard to imagine the tragedy that had taken place fifty years earlier. This was Nhambiquara land.

The year was 1930 and a much more unsettling situation was unfolding. Arriving for their second term of service at a plateau not far from the place described above came a man, a woman, a wee child and a medical nurse. Arthur and Ethel Tylee and Mildred Kratz had not come to die. They had come to live. These were no impractical idealists; just excited Jesus followers with a burning desire to say to those shunned by society at large, "You have GOT to meet my Jesus!" So they faced the untamed wilderness undaunted, though keenly aware of the reputation of the Nhambiquaras as demanding, surly and violent. Surely the God Who had called them would protect them.

It appeared life never even had a chance. Death struck in swift fury, sparing the victims even the luxury of terror. All Mrs. Tylee felt at first was a startled reaction and like any mother, her thoughts flew to her child. The strikes to her head from a hoe came hard and fast, and she fell into oblivion. Mercifully, she did not witness the cruelty that bashed the life out of her husband and little daughter or see her friend fall, an arrow in her back. Three dear Brazilian companions also met death that fateful day. And hell muttered, "That's the end of that story." But it wasn't.

Mrs. Tylee survived. One can scarcely imagine this woman bleeding profusely, half-blinded by blood and pain, staggering the six kilometers to the nearest telegraph station. She recalls trying only to remain conscious and focus on getting help. Her arms were bereft of child, her heart heavy with unspeakable grief. All she had loved now lay lifeless on the ground. She had no desire to live beyond simply telling what had happened. Her heart could make no sense of what her mind was forced to accept. Death seemed to have won.

But that day, a great paradox was set in motion. Jesus said. "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." (John 12:24) Seven people died that day. Even Mrs. Tylee who kept on living. Her own dreams succumbed to the blows of clubs and poisoned arrows. Her sweetest loves were buried under the trees, swept into anonymity by the sand of a desolate, windy plain. But one thing defied death. The faith that had brought Ethel Tylee to this place remained - battered, shaken and sifted, but intact. It survived, clinging tenaciously to God Who gathered this pregnant, broken woman in His arms and held her steady through the grief that poured over her. As the reality of her loss gripped her, she chose not to retreat into black depression. Back in the U.S. , she became a staunch recruiter for missionaries to the unreached tribes of South America .

The kernels fell into wilderness ground that day in seemingly senseless and random fashion. A cruel antonym on the pages of missionary history was registered. Those who had come to bring life had bowed to death instead.

Fifty years slipped slowly into history. Other missionaries came and went. Like the rainy and dry seasons, each one had an effect on the seeds lying lifeless in the ground. And though not as dramatically as the Tylees, these too faced the dying process in one way or another, as lives were held up to God in living sacrifice.

Then spring arrived on God's calendar. His Spirit hovered over the valley and the breath of life came warm and gentle. The kernels stirred, then fine young healthy shoots multiplied and burst into the sunlight. First came Natan, then Evaristo, then Osvaldo. And Fatima . And Natan's father. And others ... and more and more. Many came to the Ammi Training Center , hungry to discover more about God. All spoke soberly of the ugly day when death had snatched the Tylee family. "The people did not understand anything back then," they said with eyes lowered and clouded by sadness.

A letter of application just arrived at Ammi in January. It was written by Carlos Sul Kithaulu, a village chief, on behalf of a young man from his village. Let your heart quicken and listen; let your soul be in awe with the words of a descendant of those whose heritage had held mainly fear, vengeance and hate!

The chief writes in somewhat broken Portuguese (and I translate verbatim):

"Oh, Senhor Wes. We first thank God and you for your humility to accept one more student there at Ammi. We are very happy with what God has worked in the life of the Nhambiquara people, we of the village now understand how truly God is good and faithful to do His work.

Even now we are going to very much miss one more person that is leaving, but we know that God wants to do the best in the life of these people who are beginning to understand the word of God.

We have seen that God is now doing an excellent work among the Nhambiquara people. I know that it is [only] the beginning but God will continue to work.

We of the village support this young man who is presenting himself in preparation and growth in the kingdom of God , and so I finish here. May God bless you, Senhor Wes.

Obviously, "Senhor Wes" had nothing to do with the miracle of life taking place among the Nhambiquaras! But that day he danced into the kitchen to show me the letter. Words like these from a Nhambiquara chief are nothing short of miraculous. God's great law of life had proven true. When a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it will indeed produce fruit!

Today Natan Nhambiquara is the first of his people to become a "foreign" missionary. On separate occasions, Natan and his nephew, Evaristo, had pondered the fact that if people who were not even Indians had given their lives to bring the message of life into the pervading darkness of Nhambiquara land, they surely should be willing to cross barriers into unreached tribes. The cost had already been graphically modeled for them. They understood.

So it was that recently Natan and Evaristo led an expedition of four on a visit into an isolated people group who, like his own ancestors, were known for an intense aversion to outsiders and an uncanny willingness to kill on the slightest provocation. Sure enough, the group was met with suspicion bordering on scorn. In short order, each was roughly relieved of packs, shoes and most of his clothes while enduring a minute bodily examination. If a tick had been found, the bearer would have been killed. A jungle is tick heaven so few outsiders could escape such a grim verdict. Probably the angels were kept busy tick-picking all the way in because the nit-picking hosts declared the visitors clean on arrival! A friendly contact was made, though the group returned unhindered by weight on back or limb. The process of dying was put in motion.

Later, in the safety of a city jungle, Natan's nephew called us. We listened in awe to an account of the expedition. They had limped out of the bush shoeless, facing a two day journey to where they had left their boat. When one of the group could no longer walk because of his infected feet, they stopped for special prayer. God answered and they reached their river destination exulting at the victory. One of the group even had to borrow a pair of pants from someone in order to go into town. Yet they were cheerfully philosophical about it all. Evaristo declared, "Actually, we had a good visit. We still have our villages to come home to." Natan added later, "I only regret not having more clothes to leave. The people are so destitute."

I wouldn't be surprised if God called a special meeting with the Tylees, Ms. Kratz and the other three up in heaven to share the news of the first Nhambiquara missionaries who were following in their footsteps seventy-three years later!

This year marks the 90th anniversary of South America Mission. The Tylee story does not stand alone. Down through the decades, God continues to patiently form a people for Himself from many different tribes throughout South America . The theme of each story is not the sacrifices made but the faithfulness of God. He declared with no uncertainty that "The gates of hell would NOT prevail against His church." They have not. The victory in the arena did not go to the lions.

Someday we will all kneel before Jesus alongside Nhambiquaras and others from every tribe and nation. All memory of wretchedness and death will vanish as the sound of a universe singing rises in one heavenly language, "To God be the Glory forever and ever! Amen." But there is no law against starting the rejoicing now!

Written in excitement because some things are too good to be left unshared!

Wes and Trudy Seng

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