I first met Renaldo and his wife, Blanca, as a pilot for Mission Aviation Fellowship in the mid 90′s. I, along with my family, was a missionary pilot with MAF, serving in the eastern jungles of Ecuador (called there the “Oriente”).
Our base was located in Shell, Ecuador, made famous by the ministry of several men in the 1950′s who were martryd in a savage attack on a sandy spit of sand called Palm Beach on the Currarí River by a group of indigenous people then known as the Auca Indians. Today they are know as the Waorani (aka Huaorani)
These five missionaries were Nate Saint (MAF), Jim Elliot, Roger Youderian, Pete Flemming and Ed McCully. The event became known as Operation Auca
So now fast forward to the mid 1990′s
Renaildo, Blanca and there small son, Michael had moved to Shell a year or so after we arrived in 1995 working under the organizational umbrella of a North American Missionary, Lloyd Rogers. Lloyd had staked out the jungles of Ecuador for God back in the 1960′s and was so well thought of by the Ecuadorians and Indian populations alike, that at one point they nominated him for Provincial Governor. That tells you a lot.
Renaldo was one of Lloyd’s shining stars, working with the Waorani principally. However he shared with the pilots one day during a prayer circle before that day’s flying began, that he was sensing God’s call to establish a Bible Institute among the Waorani Indians actually in the jungle. He said his concern was that they had become to comfortable with the missionaries doing the heavy lifting. He had challenged the “Wao” leadership to consider their responsibility to evangelize their own people. Going further, he said he believed they needed to get accustomed to doing it without the use of the MAF airplane as much as possible.
The seed for the Waorani Bible Institute was born
Over the next several years MAF donated flights to carry in materials, supplies and even carpenters to help in the construction of the “Instituto Biblica”. I personally flew the Bernals in and out over the course of building the Institute many hours. Both Trish and I became very fond of the Bernals. Their son, Michael loved airplanes and said one day he might want to become an MAF pilot.
Whenever I flew them, I would always let Michael ride in the “co-piloto’s” seat. Since all the MAF pilots wore helmets, one day they showed up for a flight to the jungle and Michael had his own little helmet and a pair of cheap sunglasses for the flight. His parents had found it all at a small store somewhere and with their meager missionary income purchased them for him to wear on their flights.
Trish then had the idea, “He needs a pilot shirt too!” So she found a small blue shirt and material to make epaulets with gold bars. The day we gave it to Michael he freaked!
Eventually the Instituto was finished and I was asked to be MAF’s representative at the dedication ceremony. The day was very rainy when Trish and I, along with another MAF family, took off in our Cesssna 206G for the village of Daimontaro where the new institute was.
Arriving over head the strip was very wet but workable. We landed and the next four hours included a feast, lots of singing, preaching (in Waorani, so I didn’t get much of it ) then with the 100 or so people gathered there joining hands around the main buildings to pray. I along with several others was honored to be asked to pray over the Instituto.
Since that day the Instituto has been a success
The goal is to have the Wao Bible Institute students walk to the school and not rely on the MAF plane as much as possible. Going further graduates are encouraged to then travel by foot village to village sharing the Gospel and building up believers in the rainforest.
To many it is a surprise that the Waorani as a group are not more thoroughly Christian. In fact since the 1950′s the percentage of Wao believers dwindled year after year. That is changing today though.
Since the Bernals began to work with the Waorani exclusively and the Waorani Bible Institute has been established the Christian message alive an well these days in the jungles of Ecuador.
Since returning to the US in 2002 to continue with MAF as the Eastern US Recruiter Trish and I have continued our support of the Bernals through their US affiliate, Ecuadorian Harvest Ministries. EHM collects and distributes funds collected in the US for the Bernals and their work and does not take out any administration fees. We see that as selfless and benevolent conduct in a day when most non-profits in the US take out extraordinary “admin fees” to pay salaried staff.
The Bernal family is dedicated and have always put God first in every decision. Reinaldo and Blanca are two of the Godliest people we know and count it a pleasure to be able to be able to continue to be a part of their support through Coffee 4 Missions.
If you would like to find out more and possible support this great ministry with us here is a good link to Ecuadorian Harvest Ministries with contact info, income and financial data. They are based in Redmond Washington.