Local Christians serving Shuar Indians in jungles of Ecuador
by Jennifer Cohron
Jan 22, 2012 | 2161 views | 0 0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Joe Fowler, standing second from left, took his son, three local pastors and four other men to Ecuador in November to build a bridge for a village of Shuar Indians. Photo courtesy of Joe Fowler
Joe Fowler, standing second from left, took his son, three local pastors and four other men to Ecuador in November to build a bridge for a village of Shuar Indians. Photo courtesy of Joe Fowler
Several months ago, Scott Aaron stood with a young man on a riverbank in Ecuador.

Although the two spoke different languages, they communicated their shared faith to each other by drawing a fish in the sand — a sign used by early Christians during times of persecution.

“There was a connection outside of our skin color, our economic situations, our location. It was a connection beyond any other connection,” Aaron said.

Aaron spent nearly two weeks in November in Ecuador with a group of eight other men from Walker and Pickens counties.

Their mission was to build a bridge for a village of Shuar Indians, an indigenous tribe that were once famous for their practice of shrinking human heads.

The trip was organized by Joe Fowler, a local contractor who was also an Assembly of God pastor for three decades.

Fowler has been to Latin America nearly 30 times since founding the local faith-based charity Carpenters in Mission in 2003. He said he felt God calling him to use his knowledge of construction to help the poorest of the poor.

Fowler’s contacts in Ecuador are Joil and Leah Marbut, Assemblies of God missionaries from Alabama who have been ministering to the Shuar while living among them in the jungle for 12 years.

Fowler took eight people to Ecuador last February to put a roof on The Hope House, a haven for teenage girls.

Since there are no high schools in Shuar villages, girls begin to marry and work at age 11. They are also at-risk of being abducted and sold to brothel owners.

“One girl walked almost a week because she heard that there was a missionary in Sucua who would help her. She wound up on the Marbuts’ doorstep, and that’s how The Hope House got started,” Fowler said.

Fowler returned to Ecuador in November with a crew of pastors and skilled laborers to build a 6-by-60 foot prefabricated bridge over a ravine near a Shuar village.

The ravine floods during the summer rainy season, cutting off access for three months to the river that the people depend on for transportation and trade.

Scott Aaron’s brother, James, said he has never seen people so appreciative of a service project.

“You could look into their eyes and see how something so simple as a little footbridge was going to change their life so much,” James Aaron said.

In addition to being co-owner of A and A Machine and Welding in Jasper, Aaron is pastor of Abundant Life Fellowship.

He said his faith was strengthened by the natives’ hunger for the Gospel and the missionaries’ courage in sharing it.

When Aaron preached one night in Sucua, a gentleman who had walked three hours to the worship service stepped forward asking for prayer. He and his family were in jeopardy for establishing churches in some Shuar villages.

Aaron was also impressed by the inroads the Marbuts are making.

“He (Joil Marbut) has nothing to work with, but his faith keeps him going every day. It encouraged me just to see how the Lord moves in circumstances with nothing,” he said.

Fowler’s son, Joah, witnessed a one-room schoolhouse full of children chanting “Pastor!” as he and Marbut walked by after lunch one day.

Fowler said the missionary began to tear up as he recalled his first experience in the village 11 years ago.

“He and his wife were the first Christians and the first white people they had ever seen. Now all the kids have grown up with him and know him as ‘pastor,’” Fowler said.

Joe Fowler is currently planning another trip to Ecuador in May to drill wells in some Shuar villages. Approximately 85 percent of the villagers’ diseases are the result of unclean water, according to Fowler.

Scott Aaron and his 16-year-old son will be among those participating in that project.

Aaron said he is looking forward to going back to Ecuador because his first mission trip was such an unforgettable experience.

“I never really knew any of their names, but it was amazing to realize that with so many miles between us and so many differences in the way we live, God knows my name and theirs too,” he said.