Four ladies from the Cocama and Yagua tribes prepared meals every day for us during our recent seminar in a Peruvian jungle village. They didn’t have any modern conveniences –only a bucket of water, some pots, a butcher knife, a couple of spoons, and a fire grate over an open fire. Throughout the day in the humid jungle heat, they worked over the fire, cooking fish or duck soup, boiled bananas, rice, and vegetables. The food was simple, but tasty.
The ladies smiled when we greeted them, and at times we heard them laughing among themselves, but I could see hurt and suffering in their eyes. To show my appreciation for their work, I gave each of them an unexpected monetary gift. Surprised, they didn’t say much, but I could read thankfulness in their eyes.
After the cooking was complete, and we were enjoying the meal, I asked about their lives. Where were their husbands? Where did they live? How did they earn money for food and basic necessities? They began speaking and revealed an unexpected story.
These four ladies were destitute mothers, eking out a living in their gardens, and depending upon the help and goodwill of neighbors in the village. “Our husbands were hired by the ‘narcos’ (drug traffickers) to harvest coca leaves, haul it to the jungle labs, and process it into the paste used to make cocaine. One day government soldiers swept in and began an eradication program. They captured our husbands and imprisoned them,” said one of the ladies.
“What happened to the narcos?” I asked. “The narcos disappeared,” they said. The narcos just fade back into the jungle and then reappear in another location.
These wives were suffering for their husbands’ mistakes and were barely able to feed their children. At mealtime, they would offer us our plate of food, as the children stood outside and hungrily looked at the food.
“Please feed the kids first!” I would say, but they insisted that we take our plate of food first. “There will be food enough for the children too,” they replied.
After hearing their stories, I made a strange request, “Would you give me back the money that I gave you?” They looked at me with surprise, but reluctantly gave it back. I immediately increased the gift and gave them more than twice what they had previously received. Smiles broke out on their faces!
What a joy to practice James 1:27 religion! Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this: To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
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