28 March 2010

a journalist encounter with a missionary

John Crosby was a long time columnist for the New York Herald Tribune.  Below is an excerpt from his book With Love and Loathing in which he describes meeting " a white-goateed man, tough as wire, had been missionarying through Africa and South America for thirty years."

“One day I found myself sitting cross-legged on a split bamboo floor in a large palm-thatched hut on the Atacuari River in Peru, playing chess with a missionary named Herbert Grings.
“My purpose in being up the Atacuari, a tributary of the Amazon and quite a large river in its own right, was to look for Indians, not to play chess.  There had been reports of a tribe of Yagua Indians in that area, but on the Amazon such reports are largely conjecture, and if you want to find out the truth, you simply have to go look for yourself.  So, in an aluminum boat powered by a 30-horsepower outboard, a couple of us went up the broiling Amazon a hundred miles, took a sharp right turn and went another hundred miles up the Atacuari to find out, firstly if the Indians were there and, secondly, if their costumes and customs and dances and pets and handiwork were interesting enough to justify sending a camera crew up there to photograph them. 
“The Indians weren’t there.  Señor Aguirre, a plantation owner who is patron of these particular Indians, told us regretfully that his Indians were on a two-day march into the jungle, cutting chicle. The patrón operated what amounted to a company store.  That is, the Indians bought say, a shotgun from him and then worked a year for him to pay it off, but, as the missionary explained, if it weren’t for the patrón system, the Indians would never get a shotgun. 
“It was fortunate for me that the missionary, Mr. Grings, a white-goateed man, tough as wire, had been missionarying through Africa and South America for thirty years, living with the wildest tribes on both continents, and it was only occasionally he ran into someone who could play chess. ( He won. )
“The upper Amazon teems with missionaries, all of them marvelously resourceful fellows.  Along with bringing the word of God, they must know how to take an Evinrude apart, heal the sick, teach the children, rescue the flooded, speak two or three languages and half a dozen Indian dialects, and do about a million other things only dimly related to the Gospel.
“Grings was just passing through this little stretch of river in pursuit of the same Indians we were seeking.  The next day he loaded his pack on his back and plunged inland on foot—there is no other way to travel in that area—through roadless and almost trackless jungle to find his Indians.  If I wanted to come along, he said, I’d have to take my shoes off; otherwise, I’d slip and fall in the cataracts that lay ahead.
“I told him I didn’t want to see the Indians that badly.  He wanted them for God.  I just wanted them for color television and—well, frankly, there weren’t—and still aren’t—enough color sets out yet.” 
 (John Crosby. With Love and Loathing, New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1963. Pages 28-29)