Cutting a Path to Follow

by Reidar Fostervold Lopez

Reidar (CMML) serves with the Aché people in Paraguay.

My dad was a teenager when he met the Aché. In the depths of the now-destroyed forests of eastern Paraguay, my grandfather, my father, a colleague and a former Aché slave, Krachogi, were trying to catch up with an elusive hunter-gatherer tribe. They had endeavoured to establish friendly contact for five years with only a handful of encounters. Now, for the first time, the Aché were waiting for them.

The Aché were a nomadic group who lived with little interaction with the outside world. For centuries they remained uncontacted, but this changed in the 1940s when the forest began disappearing at an alarming rate. Paraguayan nationals and Brazilian-German immigrants did not value the fruits, the trees or the animals as wealth like the Aché did. In 40 years, 90% of the forest was bulldozed in one of the fastest deforestations in South America’s history.

As the forest burned, the Aché became malnourished, terrified and abused. Diseases such as influenza and tuberculosis devastated the tribe as they survived on increasingly smaller fragments of forest. Moreover, they were terrified of the white man, who had hunted the Aché and sold their children on the black market for centuries. In 1968, the northern clans were forced onto a government reservation, where post-contact diseases, negligence and exploitation ravaged them. Later, this was acknowledged as genocide.

The Fostervold Family

In 1971, an American family moved into the jungle: my grandparents, Rolf and Irene Fostervold with their children, Lual and Bjarne, who is my dad. They had heard of the Aché’s plight and, feeling God’s call, after many years serving in Bolivia and Paraguay, they arrived in an abandoned logging port on the Yñaro and Ñacunday rivers called Puerto Barra.

The Fostervolds dreamed of reaching the southern Aché. Although everyone else thought the family were crazy, they were committed to gaining the Aché’s trust and inviting them to Puerto Barra, where they would be safe from abuse, exploitation and ethnocide. They asked settlers who passed through the area if they had seen any signs of the Aché. If so, Rolf, Bjarne and Krachogi would dive into the forest for weeks at a time, hoping to catch up with the Aché.

Reaching the Aché

For five years they searched, trudging through hundreds of kilometres of dense rainforest. During that time, they only had seven face-to-face encounters. In the first contact, the Aché men debated a whole night whether they would kill them in their sleep, but decided to let them live. Rolf always invited the Aché to Puerto Barra where he promised they would be safe. Eventually, they decided to take the risk to trust this berú (white man).

In October 1976, the Aché came out to Puerto Barra in two groups, totalling 29 people, the last of the southern Aché clans. Having worked with other tribes, Rolf and Irene had invaluable insight. Their ministry was holistic, addressing spiritual and physical needs. The work began with extensive medical attention, securing land titles and teaching skills in farming, reading and finances, while treasuring Aché values, culture and language. The Aché experienced the power of the gospel and believed.

Initially, Krachogi was the bridge between the Aché and the outside world until my dad learned the language. Krachogi married Wachupiarygi and began a family. He was able to reunite with his four brothers who had also been enslaved. When he died in January 2020, he was mourned by the whole tribe.

The Aché experienced the power of the gospel and believed.

The Aché Today

Since the Aché’s transition from the jungle 44 years ago, their lives are unrecognisable. Today, they drive motorcycles, watch satellite TV and the youth are just as addicted to their smartphones as young people anywhere else. There are six Aché communities in four different regions with close to 3,000 people. Puerto Barra itself has grown to more than 300 members. They have transitioned from hunting and gathering into this competitive, market-driven world. Their centuries-old skills are no longer considered relevant by the broader world. However, their core values of mutuality, generosity and their incredible sense of community are precisely what they need to survive today.

Puerto Barra is one of the smallest of the communities but it is the wealthiest. The land is held communally, giving them a larger pool of resources for their needs. The community practises mechanised agriculture, planting soybeans, corn, oats and more, while preserving more than half of their land in original forest. It is also the community that has preserved their language and culture the most.

Our Ministry & the Church

Since my dad, Bjarne, was 17, he has been helping the Aché to transition from the forest to farming by networking, teaching, and advocating for their rights. My mother, Rosalba, is a Paraguayan teacher who serves as the superintendent of all the Aché schools. I support them through writing, graphic design, working at the communal pig farm and in youth ministry.

The church in Puerto Barra was formed in 1979, when the community came to believe together. Since then, they have established their own leadership structure with elders and deacons. Our ministry is driven by a desire to see the Aché secure in their identity in Christ without having to sacrifice their cultural legacy. This need is ever more present as the new generations face greater pressures from this world. Our youth ministry is working to reach out to them in new ways and with an emphasis on discipleship. The elders are key figures in daily life, searching the Scriptures and applying them to their own situation.

Prayer Needs

Pray for the Aché leadership, who are forced to deal with the complexities of the globalised world that are not easily understood. Pray for qualified workers. We are open to any volunteer who is willing to work alongside the Aché. As the forest recedes, Puerto Barra has become dependent upon outside suppliers for basic resources. There is an overarching need to achieve self-sufficiency and generate income, but that requires increasing the level of education and investment. The community has the potential to provide for all their needs, and have more to share, but they lack the technical and logistical tools.

Pray for the Aché church, that it may continue to grow and reach the new generation for Christ. The youth are looking to the outside world and its temptations. Puerto Barra stands against the pressure for lucrative illicit activity instead of legal crops. As the educational, technical and financial gap widens, it becomes ever harder to resist. Pray for the Fostervold family. We are here only in the strength of God and there are many setbacks. But we live in the hope of God’s sovereign plan. He is the one who fights our battles, so we rest in His care.

That Others Might Follow

In one of the initial contacts with the Aché, only four sick grandmothers remained in their camp. The rest had fled in terror of my grandfather’s team, believing they meant to harm them. My grandfather gave the Aché women what food he had and the next morning asked if they wanted to come with him to Puerto Barra. They declined the offer, deciding to join their group when they had enough strength to walk. As my dad followed the team on the path back home, he heard the women call out, ‘Cut a broad path that we may follow you!’ Tragically, they never made it. My dad cannot forget them and what they said. Since that contact, he has spent his life cutting a path, as best he can, so that the new generations of the Aché people can follow.
Photos: © Bjane Fostervold

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