As the sun descends over the jungle, Mike Dawson stands at the bank of the Orinoco River, watching for any sign of the motorboat. He checks the time, his ears straining for the far-off hum of an engine. Diesel fuel is a scarce but crucial resource needed to visit the unreached villages of this region, and today, it looks as if it won’t be coming.
Deep in the rain forests of southern Venezuela, Dawson’s location is remote. “I tell people,” he says with a chuckle, “that if you go past us, you’re starting to get close to somebody without getting close to anybody else.” He and his family live with the Yąnomamö tribe near the border of Brazil. Much of his time is spent traveling, evangelizing, and hosting discipleship groups to strengthen believers and leaders. Dawson was born here, raised by parents who were among the first missionaries to the Yąnomamö tribe.
When the fuel doesn’t arrive, Dawson, who’s used to the unpredictability of living remotely, busies himself by checking his newest tool for sharing the gospel: the Torch, a solar-powered Messenger Lab resource that is both audio Bible player and lantern—something he’s excited to share once he receives fuel for his next journey.
Until recently, there were no Bibles or discipleship resources for the members of this listening culture to enjoy on their own. Dawson would bring the JESUS film and read the Bible to a large group in each far-off village. Then he would stay on and discuss the lessons before heading back out on the water to another village. For too long, Dawson was their only lifeline to the Scriptures.
But the Torch changes everything. Now the Yąnomamö will hear God’s Word even when Dawson is not with them. With fuel difficult to find and purchase, it’s simply not possible to visit all of the villages within his care as frequently as necessary. And since Venezuela’s political and socioeconomic crisis began a few years ago, he’s had even more cause for concern. About that time, all non-natives were forced to leave indigenous regions, but by God’s grace, Dawson’s family was spared relocation because he was born among the Yąnomamö. Nonetheless, they’ve experienced shortages of nearly everything, including medicines and tools. “The fact that we can still run a generator and function is nothing short of a miracle,” he says.
In the morning, with the arrival of more diesel, Dawson quickly readies his small boat for the three-day journey. He knows the villagers will be anxious about his delay yet overjoyed to see the life-altering gifts he brings. No longer will they need to wait for God’s Word to come; they’ll be empowered to study it together for themselves. Dawson expects he’ll have time to take his boat farther still to reach more of the Yąnomamö. “I wish we could have had the Torches 50 years ago,” he says. “But praise the Lord—we have them now.”
Photograph by Joseph Lee