Outside the rough unpainted walls of a wood-planked house, Lorenzo Krachogi, 88, sits in a green plastic armchair. Children race by in flip-flops and colorful tees, taking turns snapping a makeshift whip at the dirt. Lorenzo stares at them blankly. Holding an In Touch Messenger in his left hand, he listens to the Bible.
Like the other people living here in Puerto Barra—a small village along the Ñacunday River in southeastern Paraguay—Lorenzo is part of the Aché people. Though they live in six communities spread over about 340 miles, the Aché make up less than two percent of the nation’s 113,000 indigenous people.
A year ago Lorenzo depended on someone else to read Scripture to him. He’s like the other elders in his village—unable to read because, until recently, their people didn’t have a written language. But with the Messenger, he can independently access every chapter and verse of the New Testament in his tribal tongue. It’s one of the many ways God has blessed his community.
But the people of Puerto Barra feel the burden of progress. Their harvest pales in comparison to soybean and sugar cane crops of the wealthy farms surrounding them. It becomes increasingly difficult to live in isolation, as life outside the village becomes faster. But they’ve staked their future on a greater claim. They want to glorify Jesus and make Him known, and they’re using the Messenger to do it.
Cowering in the Jungle
For generations, the Aché had dominion over the forests, a rich hunting ground for armadillos, monkeys, and tapirs. But their world began to change in the middle of the 20th century as ranchers and peasant farmers cut into the jungle, causing widespread deforestation. When raiding parties began to kill off their men and enslave their women, the Aché were nearly wiped out.
They retreated deeper into the trees, keeping their weapons close, but eventually they were overcome. Many Aché were captured. When Lorenzo was taken in the early 1970s, his captors made him a slave, intent on selling him on the black market. And soon enough, they had a buyer. But Lorenzo’s new master was one he never could have anticipated—a North American missionary who had tried for 10 years to make contact with the Aché. Rudolpho Fostervold set Lorenzo free that day and followed him into the forest to finally meet the people who had eluded Rudolpho for so long.
Today, the irony isn’t lost on the people: If Lorenzo had not been enslaved, his people might all be dead. He and the other residents of Puerto Barra live with gratitude for the years Rudolpho invested to earn their trust. He left small gifts to draw them out of the forest and then taught them how to plant and harvest. There were just 29 people remaining in Lorenzo’s community in 1976 when they decided to move out of the shadows and establish the village. As Rudolpho learned to converse with the community, he led them to Christ and taught them all how to pray.
Creating the Aché Messenger
It was a missionary’s greatest hope realized. This particular group of Aché had become decidedly Christian, yet there were no Bibles or discipleship resources available in their language. So the generation that followed Lorenzo’s learned Spanish. They taught their children biblical values and educated them, using Spanish-language curriculum. But there was nothing like it for the first generation. They wanted a Bible in Aché—both for the elders and to preserve their language.
In 1991, all six communities came together to develop the written words for Aché, setting in motion a decade-long effort. From there, the Puerto Barra community went to work on a Bible. Lorenzo’s son, Lorenzo Jr., led the translation effort, relying on multiple Spanish translations to develop the Aché New Testament.
In 2012 In Touch Ministries was looking for opportunities to reach the indigenous people groups of South America, partnering with long-term missionaries and local organizations to discern where to begin. Through that process of collaboration and discovery, the In Touch team learned of the work going on in Puerto Barra and wanted to join in the efforts to help ground them in the Word of God. What’s more, they were inspired by the village leaders’ goals to reach other Aché who hadn’t yet received Christ. They knew the Messenger was just what they needed to complete their mission.
Around the same time, a ministry in Bolivia began production of the audio Bible while Lorenzo Jr., 38, took aim at translating 65 of Dr. Stanley’s sermons—including his “Life Principles” series—from Spanish into Aché. Joining Lorenzo Jr. for the project was Ramon Wachugi, 34, a teacher in the Puerto Barra school, who hopes to attend seminary in Santa Rita.
The two men headed west to work with Xavier Bohórquez Sánchez, an audio engineer in the capital city of Asunción. “They worked the whole [first] day,” remembers Xavier, “and did not even finish [translating] one script. If we ran at that pace, the project would not finish even in two years.” So he had an idea: One of the men would read the Spanish script, while the other interpreted it into the studio microphone. But who would be the voice of Dr. Stanley?
Everyone in Puerto Barra expected that it would be Lorenzo Jr., but Xavier’s experience as a producer told him otherwise. Because of his pastoral cadence, Ramon was chosen to record the messages—an assignment that humbled him and filled him with no small amount of fear because of the responsibility the task required.
And the process wasn’t without obstacles. Far away from home, Lorenzo Jr. and Ramon struggled with homesickness, stress, physical illness, and the seemingly endless stack of scripts. Yet in spite of all that, the recordings were completed in less than three weeks—a feat they credit entirely to the grace of God. Through the process, a sweet spirit of fellowship grew between the men. They recall that during those weeks, the presence of God felt very near. Often they would pause their recording sessions to repent and pray together.
Today Xavier confesses that he almost canceled the project. “I realized it was an impossible task.” But what Ramon did in such short time, “not even a professional person could do. Only God could give him the ability to do it.”
Shaping the Future
The believers in Puerto Barra see a mission before them, and there’s plenty of work to be done. They may not have much in the way of money or land, but of the six Aché communities, they are prospering the most. The other villages want to know what makes them different. Now, with the extraordinary love God has shown them, the Puerto Barra people are going to their neighbors. They’re eager to share the story of the Son of Man who came to serve and to give His life as a ransom for the world.
In May 2015, the first boxes packed with Aché Messengers arrived in Puerto Barra from Atlanta, Georgia. Ramon worried that his rough translation from Spanish to Aché would not make any sense to the village elders. But as his voice began to rise from the speakers of their solar-powered devices, he recognized the light of understanding on their faces.
“We faced many challenges from the enemy,” says Lorenzo Jr. Yet every morning, they hear the words of Scripture and Dr. Stanley’s teaching throughout the village, spilling from cracks in the walls of homes. It’s a beautiful sound—one that reaches all the way to heaven.
Photography by Ben Rollins