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From Debutante balls to the Brazilian jungle

Brazilian Amazon Credit: Guto de Lima/Flickr/Creative Commons

Brazilian Amazon Credit: Guto de Lima/Flickr/Creative Commons

The National Post ran a fascinating article on Canadian Ruth Thomson who 50 years ago left her high-class life as a Toronto debutante to serve in the jungles of Brazil as a Wycliffe missionary.

Her father was a highly successful Toronto lawyer, and Ruth grew up in a mansion and attended private school. She became so proficient at horse riding that another wealthy family — Pittsburgh’s Mellon family — asked Ruth to ride their horses competitively.

As she came of age, her parents expected Ruth to attend Downton Abbey debutante balls where parents signaled to Toronto society their young daughters were ready for dating and marriage. It featured flowing gowns and elbow-length gloves.

She recalls having disagreements with her parents in 1959 who wanted her to attend a number of  balls held at private clubs and the major event on that year’s social calendar  — the Governor General’s Ball.

She said “I had no patience for any of it. It all seemed so artificial. It wasn’t the life for me.”

But despite their wealth, she came from a family of faith and Ruth eventually left her life of privilege, attended Bible school, and at age 25 became a missionary to the Kayapo tribe in the Brazilian jungles.

When she arrived in the early 60s the Kayapo were a warrior people, armed with guns and clubs. The tribe of 8,600 people routinely killed anyone who strayed into their territory. She recalled having to bury a man, who the tribe had just killed.

For the first few years, she spent time learning their language and would eventually develop an alphabet used in Kyapato schools today to teach children.

Then in a way very similar to Paul, Ruth recounted the things she suffered while ministering to these people.

Are they servants of Christ?—I speak as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. 24 Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. 26 I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; (1 Corinthians 11:23-26 NASV)

Now compare Paul’s list to Ruth’s:

She suffered several bouts of malaria and typhoid. She was almost killed by an anaconda. Then there were the bugs – intestinal worms, “flesh-eating maggots,” and fleas that actually buried themselves into your skin and flesh. She was bitten by a poisonous caterpillar that she described as “liquid fire.”

Then there were the electric eels and the venomous fish. But despite it all she ministered for 50 years to the Kayapo.

Ruth is now 76 years old and despite her age still spends half of each year ministering in the Brazilian jungle.

Again similar to the Apostle Paul, she has not allowed age to put limits on what she should do.

As the Apostle Paul wrote one of his last letters before his martyrdom at the hands of the Roman emperor Nero, notice how the apostle described himself as an ‘old man.’ Yet despite his age, he was still ministering and preaching the gospel in prison:

yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— (Philemon 9 NIV)

Like Paul, Ruth has not allowed age to define what she can do for God’s kingdom.


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