Author’s Note: Since this biography is more unknown than most others I will be sharing as a part of my series on Christians I want to hug in Heaven, I will give more detail than normal.
Elka was born around 1933, to the Wai Wai people. This tribe was located on the border of Brazil and Guyana in South America. His father died shortly after his birth, and he was sold to his uncle.
He was raised in the traditional way of the Wai Wai, including a test of courage where he had belts of stinging ants wrapped around his legs.
As a young man, Elka marveled at the power and authority of the local witch doctor, who could heal and curse. At 10 years old he watched the witch doctor, Mofilio, heal his stepfather by calling on the all-powerful spirit Kworokiam, whom the tribe considered mostly evil and capricious but could still be petitioned to heal. Elka was fascinated by this. He soon began to sing and hum the songs he had heard at Mafolio’s rituals. The spirit world drew him in. At the age of 20, he went to live with Mafolio in his big house along the river, to learn his ways.
After three years of growing and becoming stronger and learning the ways of the forest and his people, Elka became a full-fledged witch doctor. He could heal people and was revered for this. He was considered powerful in the spirit world. Yet he was also considered filled with wisdom and kindness and rose to be the chief of the Wai Wai and the most powerful man in the region. Still, Elka’s people lived in constant fear of everything around them— “Spirits” of the jungle, other tribes, and any outsiders. The Wai Wai greatly feared the unknown, especially regarding what happens after death.
The Legacy of Elka I: Missions Exists Because Worship Doesn’t
In the 1940s, “White men”—missionaries—tried to infiltrate the Wai Wai. Elka greeted them with smiles but then poisoned their drinks and clubbed them to death. For a long time after that, no missionaries tried to make contact. But then, two brothers from UFM (Unevangelized Field Missions, now called “Crossworld”) attempted to make contact. Their Names were Neil and Bob Hawkins.
The Wai Wai were scared and at first felt threatened as normal. But the men at first brought useful gifts—knives, metal axes, and fishhooks. This gave the people pause. Slowly and surely the men earned their confidence and began to learn their language. They explained God as Creator and that he has a son, Jesus, who died to take away their “badness”. Because he loves the whole world, including the Wai Wai. This kind of love was foreign to the Wai Wai, who loved only for what they would get in return.
Elka pondered the missionaries’ message. He knew he lived in the midst of badness: hate was covered with smiles, they killed others by deception, unwanted babies were murdered, and wives could be traded or stolen. He felt trapped but didn’t know how to escape.
Bob Hawkins settled down to live among the Wai Wai with his wife Florine. A nurse also joined them. Bob explained that he had “God’s Paper” (the Bible if not obvious) in which God revealed himself and told the people how they should live. Bob worked carefully translating the New Testament into Wai Wai, a project that would take him years. At first Elka and others laughed at his attempt to pronounce their words, but then became fascinated by the project and began to assist him and correct his efforts.
As Elka participated in the translation of God’s Paper, he came to understand what the Lord expected of him: to turn from his badness and “invite Jesus into the pit of his stomach.” He and others began to attend the weekly teaching meetings Bob held for them. They enjoyed the songs Bob taught and sang boisterously. They eagerly accepted the effective medical attention that the nurse gave them, with her pills and shiny needle. But little change was seen in their behavior.
The Legacy of Elka II: Flourishing Fruit Trees Begin with A Seed
While no one else responded to the missionaries’ message, something was stirring in Elka’s heart and mind. One day he helped to translate the following verse: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…We love him because he first loved us. (1 John 4:18)
This struck a chord within Elka. All of his life he had lived in fear of Kworokyam. But the love of Jesus offered freedom and life that Elka hadn’t known could exist. He was faced with a choice: live life according to Kworokyam and the rest of the mostly evil world of spirits, or live life according to Jesus. Either stay with the spiritual world he knew from his youth or surrender to the eternal God who reigned over the dark power of death.
At one point in his struggle, Elka had taken a wife, and she was about to give birth. He wanted a baby boy. In the Wai Wai, an unwanted child could be killed. What if his wife had a little girl? Would he kill her? He knew that Jesus wouldn’t want him to kill his daughter. When his wife delivered a daughter, Elka had a choice to make. He was going to kill this girl child, but an unseen voice told him it was wrong. Elka picked up the little girl, handed her to his wife, and said, “We will save the child.”
When Elka shared with his wife and close friends about his interest in responding to the gospel, they laughed at him. They warned him that Kworokyam would not like it. Elka struggled. He had a dream in which someone like Bob appeared before him and said: “Let go of your sins. Say to Jesus, ‘Come in.’ If you do, he will come in.”
Early that morning, Elka went to an abandoned field to pray. He looked up at the sky and said, “Father, I want to know you. So, make yourself known to me forever. What do you think about that? Old Elka wants you to come into the pit of his stomach, Father, and make his spirit strong.” He confessed his sins and asked God to take out his old self with all of the badness. “Fix me to be like Jesus.”
“Father, I want to know you. So make yourself known to me forever. What do you think about that? Old Elka wants you to come into the pit of his stomach, Father, and make his spirit strong. Fix me to be like Jesus.”Elka
God heard his simple prayer and entered his life. As Elka grew in his faith, he recognized that he had to take another step: to give up practicing witchcraft. The prospect was terrifying for his people, but Elka’s time had come. At a communal celebration, Elka handed his basket of charms to the missionary and told his people he had decided to trust in God instead. Everyone was convinced he would die immediately or within the week.
The people of the village noticed that he had changed. Elka no longer beat his wife or drank liquor. He was kind to children other than his own. And he started taking in orphan babies. His example was watched and then eventually followed by others in his tribe. Though the village disapproved that day, Elka’s total conversion proved to be the turning point in the life of the community. As time went by and he didn’t die, individuals began to take the same step he had. A church was born.
The Legacy of Elka III: Salvation Isn’t the End Goal–It’s Discipleship
As God began to transform their community, they had to learn what it meant to live for God. They had to learn forgiveness, forbearance, mercy, patience, honesty, purity, and many other things. They could no longer live for themselves. They stopped stealing wives and killing babies. They started to love their wives and help them with the hard chores. Their numbers began to grow. The Wai Wai learned about God’s laws for marriage, morality, and conduct.
The missionaries encouraged them to select their own elders and apply the principles they were learning from Scripture. So, they did—Men named Melsha, Kirifaka, Mawasha, Yakuta, and Elka himself.
The foreigners had not brought modern conveniences with them, to avoid creating material expectations. They laid down no rules about dress, polygamy, marriage ceremonies, or social organization. They were convinced that God would show the people how to live and make any needed changes in his own time.
The Wai Wai elders began to do the preaching. Sunday became the day of rest and worship, and Wednesday morning was the teaching time for the believers. From being a dying tribe, they began to grow in size.
Elka and the elders felt a great burden from the Lord to reach other tribes with the message they had found. In their sermons, they stressed how the other tribes lived as they used to—fearful of evil spirits, suspicious, killing by club or sorcery. Elka stressed how missionaries had come so far to reach them, and that Jesus himself had come from his home to save them. “Jesus came far. So let us go far, too. He died for us. We haven’t yet died for him. Let us die for Jesus.”
“Jesus came far. So let us go far, too. He died for us. We haven’t yet died for him. Let us die for Jesus.”Elka
At first, they visited only the tribes that were similar to theirs. The Wai Wai who lived on across the high mountains were the first to be preached to. But, in time, they began to travel to tribes that they feared and hated before. Elka, himself, traveled to some of these tribes. He would send back letters telling of his experiences and encouraging his people in the faith. When Elka returned home he was full of stories of strange tribes with customs so different from their own.
It is said that, “by 1962, the Wai Wai had gone on as many mission trips in as many different directions as a man had fingers and toes.”
The gospel of Christ turned a witch doctor into a missionary. It turned killing raids into prayer meetings. The love of Christ grew a once-dying tribe into a mission center. The Kaan Karitan, the Holy Scriptures in the Wai Wai language, is changing lives all across the remote jungles of Brazil. And Elka was at the heart of the genesis of it all.
And so, I can’t wait to hug him when I get to Heaven.
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