Bible and airplane: how missionaries seek out Indigenous people in the Amazon
"We respect governments up to the point where they speak against the word of God. (…) The word of God [is] above everything." Although it sounds like a political slogan of the Brazilian far right, the statement is by evangelical missionary Andrew Tonkin, who has been prosecuted in Brazil for trespassing on Indigenous land.
Putting religion above laws is not Tonkin's exclusive rhetoric, but an indication of what some religious denominations are capable of in order to evangelize Indigenous peoples, especially in the Amazon.
Some missionaries are pilots and use their own aircraft to travel long distances. Most of these organizations are based in the United States and use virtual crowdfunding to finance their activities, such as training pastor-pilots and translating the Bible into the native language of the communities. Some translations, however, are of questionable quality.
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These groups also show special interest in reaching isolated peoples—a violation of the Federal Constitution and international treaties signed by Brazil that preach respect for the customs and ways of life of Native peoples.
One of the regions with the greatest harassment is the Javari Valley, the region with the highest concentration of isolated peoples in the country. "We see an increasing presence [of evangelical missionaries], of different doctrines," says Eliesio Marubo, legal attorney for the Union of Indigenous Peoples of the Javari Valley (Univaja).