Woman has spent 51 years doing missionary work in South American jungle
By Bill Martin
Why would she do that? Why would a young woman in love be willing to give up her wedding plans and move to some dark corner of a South American jungle?
I’m talking about Marg Jank, a woman from small-town southern Ontario who spent the better part of the last 51 years in the jungles of Venezuela. She has been in our area for the last number of weeks, speaking about her experiences as a life-long missionary.
The more I listened to her story, the more I asked myself, “Why would she do that?”
By her account, she felt the call to mission at a very early age, before her teen years. The call remained, despite the challenges and urges as a teenager and later as a young woman. She tried to bury the feelings and focused instead on the diamond ring she accepted from her love.
But, the time came when she had to make a choice and she felt there was no choice but to say goodbye to the diamond ring and the loving man who offered it.
Little did she know that her young man had been struggling with the same question, and he also decided the call to mission was greater. Each fumbled to broach the issue with the other, fearing the consequences of such a great decision. And when that emotional dam finally gave way, they realized their lives were inextricably entwined and they were going to travel the same mission path, together.
So now my question extends to him. Why would he and she do that?
As the story goes, they moved to a jungle in Venezuela and eventually to an Indian village, deep enough in the interior, with a subsistence lifestyle that gives us the word primitive.
It was there they would raise their two children. That’s right. They were now a family and living in a mud hut on the fringe of nowhere.
What kind of courage is this? What kind of motivation would move you to take your babies into the jungle?
In fact, the couple had two more children and their foray into the unknown became their life. The children knew nothing other and when asked later about their childhood only one negative was uttered and that was regret for those times when they had to return to Canada on furlough.
Now I ask, why would they do that? Why would a husband and wife, and their four children find such solace in such a faraway place, in a culture so foreign to what we know?
They were in a jungle, complete with clear and present danger. There were jungle animals, insects and snakes entirely unknown to us in Canada. There was the ever-present threat of disease. In fact, they endured a malaria outbreak that did not respond to the usual malaria medication, an outbreak that devastated the tribe but left our missionaries standing.
To make matters worse, their neighbours were a fierce and warring lot, given to tribal jealousies with other villages that often brought arrows flying in raids of revenge.
Why would anyone want to persist in such a threatening environment? Why would they stay?
In time, her husband would succumb to a heart attack. We’ll never know if the stress of the place was a contributing factor, nor if the remoteness denied him the medical treatment that might have prolonged his life. But now Marg is a widow. Surely now she will leave such a place. But no.
By now, her life mission had taken root. By now, she, her late husband, and her children had impacted the culture of that little village. By now her neighbours, her friends, were responding to her teaching and her example of life.
Together they learned to communicate, to read and write and capture the permanence of the written word, that truth could be treasured and conveyed from one to another.
So, why did she do it? Why did she give her life to once hostile people in such a foreign and faraway place? Simply put, because God called her!
Bill Martin is pastor at Debert Baptist Church. He teaches: the most memorable people are the friends who love you when you are not very lovable.