Renew traces its roots deep into the Amazon jungle. In 1998, David Palusky and a small team of missionaries piled into a boat and traveled several days through the rainforest of Peru up the Amazon river. They hoped to share the Gospel for the first time with members of the primitive Urarina tribe. Thankfully, the tribe welcomed them and soon after, friendships began to form. It wasn’t long before David began to notice the severe challenges that the people were facing: disease, malnutrition, and early death. So, naturally, he asked how he could help. The chief responded with his own challenge:
“Bring me God’s Word in my own language.”
In response, David and his wife, Stephanie, visited Ron Manus, a Wycliffe Bible Translator, who was in the process of translating the Bible into this Amazon language. They discussed the frustrations of trying to explain the Gospel story to a tribe so foreign to even the ancient Biblical culture, and Ron suggested partnering to record the JESUS Film into their language.
When the film was completed, David gathered another team and returned to Peru to show the translated film. A group of Urarina tribal members attended the first showing. As they watched the JESUS Film that evening, the Holy Spirit began to move in an astonishing way. These people, who had never even seen a film before, suddenly developed an understanding for Biblical culture. They understood what donkeys were, that it was an angel who spoke to Mary, the hypocrisy of the Pharisees – they even understood the cruel treatment of the Son of God by His own people. Deeply moved, the normally stoic and reserved Urarina wept at the crucifixion of Jesus. David and the team marveled at how this digital media tool spoke Truth more clearly and efficiently than any of their previous attempts.
Suddenly, the Urarina’s joy at seeing the Gospel in their own language was overshadowed when their chief became ill. Hours passed and the chief grew worse. David decided to try and find a doctor, even if this meant traveling 12 hours through the jungle.
Picking up the corners of the woven grass mat, the missionaries prepared to lower the chief into the boat. They decided to offer one last prayer. Members of the Urarina tribe circled their chief and joined in, just as they had seen in the JESUS Film. As they prayed, the dying man suddenly lept to his feet and began dancing with joy. In utter shock, some of those watching screamed and jumped back, but the chief continued to dance wildly. Then in a strong voice he proclaimed,
“this Jesus has come, not just for the Hispanic or the white man, but for our people as well!”
He kept dancing as he shouted,
“and this is how He wants us to worship Him!”
This miraculous healing sparked a movement in the tribe. Urarinas were choosing to follow Jesus and wanted to then take the Gospel to other villages. David and Stephanie helped get the Jesus Film, the visual Gospel, translated into the Urarina language, but then they ran into a dilemma. The only tools for Jesus Film showings at that time were reel-to-reel projectors and generators that weighed a ton. David was not about to attempt to load an enormous projector and generator into a dugout canoe. He knew there had to be a better solution.