The Trial in the Wilderness

2 Corinthians

The Trial in the Wilderness

September 13th, 1964 @ 10:50 AM

2 Corinthians 11:26

In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

2 Corinthians 11:26

9-13-64    10:50 a.m.


On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  This is the pastor bringing the eleven o’clock morning message entitled, and it is a phrase out of the letter that Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, entitled “The Peril in the Wilderness,” The Trial in the Wilderness. 

The subject that is announced for this hour was arranged and selected when I was in Limoncocha, in the jungle at Ecuador, and that message will be delivered tonight.  It was largely prepared after I had visited the Auca Indians and had seen the marvelous grace of God among those primitive, Stone Age savages.  It is entitled, the sermon tonight, The Savage Meets the Savior.  And I hope all of you, either on the radio at 7:30 p.m. or here in this great auditorium, can listen as the pastor seeks, with God’s help, to depict the power of Christ to save as miraculously this hour, this day, as ever He saved in the days of The Acts of the Apostles.

But the sermon this morning has changed because of a providence that happened in Peru, after I had left Limoncocha in Ecuador and had gone to Yarinacocha in Peru.  In the eleventh chapter of the Second Corinthian letter, Paul writes of his missionary journeys, and beginning at verse 26 he says:

In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers . . . in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea . . .

In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.

[2 Corinthians 11:26-27]

And from that word, “in perils in the wilderness” [2 Corinthians 11:26].  I was introduced to the Wycliffe Institute of Linguistics in the summers of 1943 and 1944.  I was called to be pastor of the church here in September of 1944.  So those two years I was in Muskogee, Oklahoma, it was in the days of the war and the United States Navy preempted the campus of the University of Oklahoma, which is the home of the summer Institute of Linguistics.  So they moved that year and the year following, ‘43 and ‘44, they moved to our Baptist Indian college, Bacone College in Muskogee.  And you can imagine the effect that three hundred missionaries attending our church had upon me and upon our congregation.  And not only that they were three hundred in number, but I had never seen such people in my life.  I had never known such devotion existed in this present world.  And in a message at a future time, I shall seek to demonstrate that devotion that made an indelible impression upon my soul.

Well anyway, I met for the first time Cameron Townsend, who heads the Wycliffe Institute of Linguistics, and his teachers, and three hundred of their missionaries.  They go to tribes whose language has never been reduced to writing and they listen to the spoken language; make an alphabet for it, make a vocabulary of it, and translate the Word of God into that language, and thus seek to bring those savage, Stone Age tribes to a saving knowledge of our LordThey never go any other place, just to a tribe that is lost to God and lost to civilization, and they seek to bring them the story of the love of God in Christ Jesus.

They asked me on the radio, “Do you have missionaries there?”


“Does anybody have missionaries there?”’


“Well, why don’t you?”

I said, “It’s a very simple reason.  Nobody else will go, nobody.”

But the Wycliffe missionary goes.  Now why did I make this trip to the Amazon and Orinoco Basin?  Because sometimes I lose my soul and my heart in the nicety and the amenities of religion—it’s the usual, it’s the accustomed, it’s the gracious, it’s the nice things to do.  We go to church on Sunday, and we go through a certain ritual or liturgy, and then we go out and forget it.  I just wanted to know for myself, for my own soul’s good, I wanted to know if the gospel of the Son of God had power and ableness to save a naked, murderous, Stone Age savage and lift him out of the blood in which he lived all of his life, and make of him a sweet, precious, gracious disciple of the Lord.  I had heard of it, I had read about it, but I had never seen it with my eyes, or experienced it in my life.  So for a long time I had it in my heart to go to the jungles of South America and visit those Wycliffe missionaries as they work with those tribal savages.

In the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, Paul and Barnabas begin their first missionary journey [Acts 13:2-3], and they had a young man from Jerusalem reared in an affluent home by the name of John Mark [Acts 13:5].  And after they left Antioch and gone through Cyprus and then entered Pamphylia and in Asia Minor, faced the interior of those fierce and Phrygia natives, John Mark turned back, went home to Jerusalem [Acts 13:13].  It was too much for him.

I can sympathize with John Mark for the jungle is an awesome thing to me; its very size is awesome.  The jungles of the Orinoco and the Amazon Basin are three thousand miles from the Andes to the Atlantic Ocean.  And they are from four thousand to six thousand miles from the Caribbean down to Argentina.  There is not a road in it, there is not a railroad in it, there is not a trail in it that I could see.  It is an area twice as large as the United States and is filled from one side to the other with an impenetrable jungle.

When you are in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, you are nearer New York City than you are to Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina.  The vast extent of that impenetrable jungle is awesome to me!  The thickness of its growth is terrible to me; those great trees rise up and up and up, and form a solid carpet as you look down upon the jungle from the air.  And about halfway up the height of those trees grows a vast impenetrable undergrowth of bamboo and banana-like plants and thick, matted vines.

And then on the ground, where you would walk, are plants that like moist, dark, damp earth.  In a day, if a man would work hard with a machete knife, he might be able to walk in that jungle a hundred feet; clear his way out a few yards in a day.

Cameron Townsend met me in Bogotá, the capital of Colombia.  We flew over the Andes to Villavicencio, and there I met my first JAARS pilot on this journey; “Jungle Aviation and Radio Service.”  These are the dedicated missionary pilots who fly the Wycliffe missionary from place to place in the jungle.  His name was Forest Dander, and he picked Cameron Townsend and me up at Villavicencio, and we flew to the new base they are creating in Colombia.  They have named it Loma Linda, the beautiful hill; it’s on the Araguari River.

And then for three hours, after our several days visiting Loma Linda, we flew over that impenetrable jungle to the Putumayo River where Cameron Townsend disembarked at Puerto Asis.  That’s the boundary between Ecuador and Colombia.  Then in that little plane, we flew again for a long, long time over that same continuing jungle to the Napo River, by the side of which is located Yarinacocha; by the side of which is located Limoncocha in Ecuador.

As Forest Dander and I flew over that jungle hour after hour, he said to me, “To fall into that jungle is to be lost forever.  You sink out of sight.  You do it immediately.”  And he said, “You know, God has been good to us.  He saw, almost every other week there will be a Colombian or a Peruvian plane that will fall into the jungle.”  He said, “Just yesterday, a United States plane in the geodetic service —making an aerial photograph of South America—yesterday, a plane in the geodetic service fell and two men lost their lives.”  But he said to me, “You know, God has been good to us; we have never had a plane to fall and we have never lost a pilot.”

I said, “Oh, that is fine!  That is good news.  May the Lord continue His mercies.”

The jungle is awesome and terrible to me because it is so largely swamp.  I was astonished to learn that from the base of the Andes, for 3000 miles to the mouth of the Amazon there is a fall in the elevation of only 500 feet.  I took a pencil and figured it out.  The waterfall is less than one-tenth of an inch a mile for 3000 miles.  That means every little swag in the elevation, every little dip in the land immediately becomes a swamp.

The rainfall in the Orinoco and Amazon jungle is from 107 to 115 inches a year.  Last year Dallas had 17 inches of rainfall.  The forest drips in the morning from the heavy dew and the oppressive humidity, and the vegetation is lush and luxurious and fantastic to me.  The jungle is awesome and terrible to me because of the life that infests it—mosquitoes, insects, blood sucking gnats, flies by the billions and the billions—and the snakes, and the reptiles, and the alligators, and all of the things that go with a tropical swamp and in impenetrable jungle, it’s awesome to me!

It is awesome to me because of disease.  There is not any disease vile and vicious and fatal that isn’t in the jungle; malaria, yellow fever.  There’s nobody lives there of those natives but that is almost destroyed by parasites; the diseases of the jungle, and of course the savage people who inhabit it.

Limoncocha, the jungle base in the interior of Ecuador, is located by the side of the Napo River.  Don Johnson, who heads the work in Ecuador, Don Johnson said to me, “Right there is the Napo, and on the other side of that river is the terrible Auca.” And he said, “Just to cross over that river is death.”

Flying over that Auca jungle with Roy Gleason, another JAARS pilot, I said and pointed to the side of a beautiful lake on the side of the Napo River, “Look at that beautiful lake.”  He said, “Yes, that is a beautiful lake—but it is on the Auca side of the Napo.”  He said, “About a week or two ago there was a Quechua family that lives on this side of the Napo.  He took his family over there for fishing at that beautiful little lake and” he said “the Aucas came and speared him and his whole family,” the savages that infest it.

It would never occur to a Latin American to enter the jungle—he stays in Lima, or in Quito, or in Bogotá, or in the cities up and down the western coast.  But the jungle is a terror to the Latin American.  And the only people who dare enter it are these Wycliffe missionaries.

Now Cameron Townsend had two places he wanted me to go: he wanted me especially in Ecuador out of Limoncocha to visit the Aucas.  And I did that, which is the message tonight, which to me is the most amazing of all of the miraculous things God has done in this world today.

I even have a record on tape of our church service with those savage natives who just a few years ago killed five missionaries and whose hands have been bathed in blood for their generations.  And you will hear the testimony of the very men who killed those five missionaries.

The man who presided over the church service at which I preached was one of those vicious killers: now a sweet, humble, disciple of our blessed Lord.  And Wednesday night we will hear that service, and hear them sing a Christian song; they only have two notes in their songs; very simple.  Some of you could really enjoy their music, and I brought back some of those poison darts that they use in their hunting.  Oh, so many things!

He wanted me to see the Aucas.  Then he had one other thing, he wanted me to visit Tariri.  Out of the jungle base in Peru at Yarinacocha, where dear Mrs. Townsend and Cameron Townsend, her husband, had their home for so long, out of the jungle base in Peru, he wanted me to visit Tariri, a chief of the Shapras, a head-hunting, head-shrinking tribe as vicious, as dangerous as the Aucas.  But Tariri had become a wonderful Christian leader.  And Cameron Townsend wanted me to go visit Tariri.  So to visit Tariri we prepared.  It’s a four hour journey by plane from Yarinacocha to the Shapras up in the northern part of Peru in the Huallaga River Basin.  Now Yarinacocha in Peru is on the Ucayali River; the Ucayali and the Maranon come together and thereafter make the Amazon.

And early in the morning the pilot, Floyd Lyon—in the February issue of National Geographic magazine of this year there is a National Geographic story about the jungles of the Amazon—and Floyd Lyon was the pilot mentioned in that National Geographic article who made possible that survey.  He was my pilot; he is a cousin of Glenn Shoop, who is a Braniff pilot and a deacon in our church.

Floyd Lyon was my pilot, a JAARS pilot.  So early in the morning, because we had a long way to go, we loaded the plane—a little one-engine Helio Courier, and had pontoons on its landing gear because they follow the rivers so that if anything happens, they can come down safely on the bosom of the river.

We loaded the plane and Floyd Lyon and I strapped ourselves inside and then we took off about 6:15 o’clock in the morning.  For about 150 miles we followed the course of the Ucayali River.  But in order to get to another river basin, they do what they call “a crossover.”  A crossover is over the jungle itself, there is no place to land and if you come down, that’s it.  That’s the end.

The crossover from the Ucayali River to the Watauga River is about 100 miles; so we left the Ucayali, after flying up about 150 miles, and turned for the 100 miles to the Watauga.  Right in the center of that crossover, Floyd Lyon began to kid me and to say, “Preacher, if we fall here you have to walk out of the jungle.”  And you don’t walk but maybe 100 feet a day.  He was just being facetious with me about all of that vast, impenetrable forest below.

And while he was talking to me, while he was talking to me that engine burst.  It sounded as though it exploded on the inside.  Later, when it came down and he removed the cowling—a Helio Courier is six [cylinders], three horizontal this way, three horizontal that way—and the engine block on this side and the engine block on that side, both of those engine blocks had burst open.  You could put your finger in the cracks in the engine blocks. Nobody knows what happened yet; they have no idea how to get the little plane out, but it was an awful sound to me.  We were about 6,550 feet up in the air.  Floyd Lyon, the pilot began frantically to work with the instruments on the panel.  Turned the ignition; there are three magneto switches, places; turned all three of them, nothing happened.

There is a plunger that sets the pitch of the propeller.  He pulled it back and forth.  Nothing happened.  There is a primer; there is the gas accelerator, everything—he was helpless. He picked up the radio, all of this in just split seconds, he picked up the radio and he called, “Yarinacocha, Yarinacocha!  We are coming down in the jungle!”  And Yarinacocha couldn’t get him, and a mission station picked it up and relayed it to Yarinacocha, the jungle base, and came back to us.  “We are coming down in the jungle.  We are coming down in the jungle!”  And then he tried to locate it and as we were coming down, the plane falling rapidly as we were coming down, the pilot said to me, “Look, there is a village.  There is a village.  Thank God there is a village!”

And then, as we continued to fall, he said, “Look, there is a creek, I had forgotten about the creek!  There is a creek.”  That’s the only village in all of that vast hundreds of miles.  That’s the only one, and by the side of it, that creek.

Now it frightened me for one reason; because we were so high.  But I later learned it was our height that saved us; it gave the pilot time to maneuver the plane down to the earth.  Now I thought he was coming down in the center of the little village.  I tightened my shoulder strap with difficulty.  The seat belt I tightened easily, I drew it just as tight as I could.  I tightened the shoulder strap.  In a little plane like that, you don’t plummet straight down, you come in at an angle.  I thought he was coming in to land on that dirt in that little village, and with a pontoon plane I knew it meant a crash turning over, and over, and over.  And I fastened my shoulder strap and my seat strap just as tight as I could to pull myself in the fuselage of the plane.

And then just humbly prayed, “Dear Lord, don’t let be me maimed, my back broken and be paralyzed the rest of my life, or to be blind.  Lord, preserve me from that.”  Then coming down, you think such things—you think about those you love, you think about the circle of the family, think about little Cris, think about you, think about the staff; and especially if God would be good and if I could live beyond it.

I thought he was going to land in the little village, and I had prepared myself for that awful crash.   In the last split second he veered that plane and landed in the little creek.  It’s a very rocky creek and full of logs and very shallow water.  There was a man pulling a canoe across the rocky ledge.  And when we came down he hit the canoe but thank God he missed the man.  The man escaped with his life.  And the two pontoons hit the water just at the little edge of where the water was falling over that rock ledge.  The plane hit the water and then skimmed over the rocks and the logs and the sand of the little stream, every one of which, of course, helped slow its momentum.

And then it ran into a sandbar just like you would run into a wall and stopped.  The pilot turned to me, and he said, “Thank God.  We are safe.  We are safe.”  I said, “Let’s thank Him.  Let’s tell Him so.”  And with many tears we thanked God for His deliverance.  He said there was just one chance out of a thousand that we could come down safely.

Immediately the creek was filled with people, the whole village poured into that creek and around that plane.  The pilot got out and waded to the shore.  I, being a little more effete—effeminate and delicate—why, one of the men came and, seeing my predicament, he said to the pilot, “Tell him to get on my shoulders.”  So I got on his shoulders, and he carried me out.

Seated on the bank and looking at the little plane way down there in the jungle in the creek, Floyd Lyon said to me, he said, “This is the first time one of our planes has ever come down and this is the only pilot that has ever gone down; Glenn Shoop is going to be ashamed of me, and he will never speak to me again.”  I said, “Floyd, don’t you think any such thing.”  I said, “Glenn Shoop will be proud of you beyond anybody in the world, and will love you doubly forever.”

And actually it is more like this: while Floyd Lyon, the pilot, was telling all of those villagers how to level out the center of their village so a little plane could come and pick us up, why, I sat down in the shade of the wall of a thatch mud hut and just watching them work.  And a big, heavy Indian sat on this side of me and an old scrawny woman—she must have been 180 years old, she looked that way to me—she sat on this side of me.  Well, the Indian just began to talk to me so excitedly and I couldn’t understand him, so he mimicked the whole thing.  He did that with his ears; he’d heard the plane and the explosion up there in the sky.  And then he followed it all the way down and went through the motion and then when he got to his most dramatic moments, the old woman started talking to me, just like a rat-a-tat-tat and I couldn’t understand her.  So she finally stood up and pointed to Lyon in the middle of that village square and said, “Bravo!  Bravo!”

I said, “That’s right.  Bravo!”  I understood that!  “Bravo, bravo!”

I owe my life to the skill of that wonderful, consecrated, Baptist pilot.  He grew up in Shallow Water, Texas which is near Lubbock.  I sat with him on the bank, and I said, “How are you supported?”

He said, “We live by faith.”

“By faith?”

“Yes, by faith.”

Well, I said, “Does God take care of you? Do the ravens feed you?”  He said, “Yes.”  He said, “Many months we have barely enough for life’s necessities, but we are trusting in the Lord.”  I said, “Do you have a home?”

“No,” he said, “We have a lot at Yarina, but we don’t have a house.  We’ve never been able to save enough to build a little house.”  Why, I said, “Fellow, I don’t know and I can’t tell, but when I go back home and on a Wednesday night not only are we going to do something gracious for Wycliffe, but please God we are going to remember you.”

And I pray that Wednesday night, next Wednesday night the offering, we bring will be enough to help that boy build a home.  You are not talking but about twenty-five hundred dollars—because it’s in the jungle and they build it out of the jungle.  I hope that boy has a home when Wednesday night is over.

The radio continued in the plane.  So Yarina immediately began preparation to send for us as Floyd Lyon prepared the center of the village for the little plane to land.  And Leo Lance, a JAARS pilot who grew up in the First Baptist Church of Frederick, Oklahoma, flew the little plane out of Yarina to rescue us.

And I was seated inside one of those little mud huts, and some of the children came in and so excitedly said to me, “The plane, plane, plane!” and pointed up the sky.  I went out and I couldn’t see a thing in the world.  I asked the pilot what was the matter.  And he said, “Remember their ears are far more sensitive than yours.”  And soon it came into our line of vision, and standing by Floyd Lyon, Floyd said to me, “Oh, they have found us!  They have found us.”

He circled, and circled, and circled the village.  I thought he would never come down.  He circled, and circled, and circled finding the best angle at which to come and then finally lowered the little plane.  I never saw such a marvelous landing in my life.

After many things were done, why, Floyd and I got in the plane with Leo Lance.  They pulled it back as far as they could to take advantage of every inch of ground, and then Leo Lance said, “Now let’s pray.”  So the three of us bowed our heads and Leo prayed.  This is what he said, “Dear Lord, give us a good take off and give me wisdom to know what to do.”  Then after his amen, he gunned the motor, and the plane, as it turned violently to the right—the soft dirt and the dampness of the soil made it slick, and the plane swerved violently to the right.

They straightened it, he pulled it back as far as he could and then the men in the village grabbed a hold of the tail and pulled the tail back into the jungle so that we could have every inch of ground.  And then he gunned that motor for all that it was worth, and it seemed to me that the hands of God reached down and lifted that plane up into the air.

And to my amazement—and I’ve taken a picture of it and you will see it—to my amazement there was a beautiful rainbow that followed us all the way to Yarinacocha.  And as I looked at that beautiful bow of God’s covenant promise [Genesis 9:13-16], I just cried, and cried, and cried; the merciful providences of our Lord.  When we returned to the little jungle landing strip at Yarina, all the missionaries were lined up to receive us and to welcome us.

Floyd got out on that side right by my window.  Millie, his wife, and the two little children and the third, a little baby in her arms—she came and put her arms and with many tears welcomes Floyd back home; I raised my camera.  They were just right there, I raised my camera to take a picture of it.  I stopped, I lowered it, I bowed my head.  There are just some things too sacred for the snapping of a picture.  They had a little service of thanksgiving and praise; the missionaries at Yarina, and said to me, “God must have some great purpose for your life.”

The children have asked, especially since I have returned home, “You say that God took care of you and that God’s covenant watched over you.  Well, if it was the Lord that took care of you, why did God let it happen in the first place?”

I have an answer from God Himself.  One of the missionaries at Yarina who was so kind to me and with whom I roomed, one of the missionaries, Cal Hibbard, in a devotion we had together, turned to this passage and read.  Being linguistic people they study all the different translations.  So he had in his hand that night, Phillips Translation of the New Testament letters to young churches.  And Cal Hibbard the missionary said to me, he said “Pastor, I want to read to you the Word of the Lord about you” and this is what he read:

In Phillips translation, the second letter to the church at Corinth, chapter 1, verses 8 through 11 [2 Corinthians 1:8-11], this is what he read:

We would like you our brothers to know something of what we went through in Asia.  At that time we were completely overwhelmed.  The burden was more than we could bear.  In fact we told ourselves that this was the end.

Yet we believe now that we had this experience of coming to the end of our tether that we might learn to trust, not in ourselves but in God who can raise the dead.

It was God who preserved us from imminent death, and it was He who still preserves us.

Further, we trust Him to keep us safe in the future, and here you can join in and help by praying for us so that the good that is done to us in answer to many prayers may mean eventually that many will thank God for your preservation.

[2 Corinthians 1:8-11]


These providences of life happen to us to teach us to lean upon God, to trust in the goodness of our Lord.  All of us sometime shall come to a deep trial.  There is no life that shall escape.

Some through the valley in the deepest of night

God leads His dear children along.

Sometimes on a mount when the sun shines so bright

God leads His dear children along.

Some through the fire some through the flood

Some through great waters but all through the blood

Sometimes through great sorrow but God gives a song

In the night season and even all the day long.

[“God Leads Us Along”; George A. Young]

That we might learn to trust in the Lord: when that trial comes for you, there is a disappointment that breaks your heart; there is an open grave; there is a sentence of death.  When that time comes, remember God in His grace is teaching His children that through tears and tribulation His people enter the kingdom of God.

So with prayer, and gratitude, and songs of praise—however our lives shall be cast and God’s elective purpose for us wrought out—may we face it with our hand in the hand of our Lord, and our hearts committed to the grace and the goodness of God.

And in keeping with that spirit of commitment that the Lord loves His own whether in joy or in sorrow, in youth or in age, in life or in death, in keeping with that commitment of trust, somebody you give his heart to the Lord today [Romans 10:8-13].  A family you, coming into the fellowship of the church today, “Pastor, we are all coming [Hebrews 10:24-25].  This is my wife and these are our children, all of us are coming today.”  Or one somebody you, as the Spirit of our Savior shall make appeal, as God shall press the invitation, as the Lord shall say the word, in the balcony round, there is a stairway at the front and the back, the throng in this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front, what a great hour to give your heart to God [Ephesians 2:8].  What a noble hour to identify yourself with this precious congregation [Hebrews 10:24-25].  You’ll never regret loving these dear people.  Come.  Come, while we stand and while we sing.