A few years ago, I had the incredible privilege of visiting Puerto Ayacucho in the Amazon jungle of Venezuela. Many of those living there were primitive tribespeople recently out of the jungle. I kept hearing stories about a lady missionary named Sophie Muller. A man named Ricardo knew her personally and one day, he told me some of her story.
Ricardo with veteran missionary to Venezuela, Buck Smith
Sophie Muller was a young woman in her early twenties when she came to the virgin jungle of Columbia in 1944. At that time, there were settlements of a few tribal houses scattered throughout the jungle often only reachable by a canoe journey of several days. The nearest town of any size (Puerto Ayacucho) was not built until 1947.
Sophie, originally a reporter for the New York Times, had become a Christian following an outreach in a New York street. She had seen a group of people singing and preaching on the sidewalk and, out of curiosity, had responded to their invitation to join a Bible study. Over time she opened her heart to Christ. She became interested in working with unreached peoples, longing to go somewhere no one had ever preached the gospel before. She eventually chose the Amazon jungle with the New Tribes Mission.
At that time, witches and sorcerers were in charge of the jungle. They had many strange rituals that included drinking and drugs and wild partying. But there was a legend that had been passed down through the years. Someone had dreamed that a strange-looking person would come with a power greater than that of the witch doctors.
With her white skin and blue eyes, Sophie certainly looked strange to the tribespeople. So the chief witch doctor prepared a spiritual test. He made a chicken stew and added to it Caribbean stick poison—the strongest poison known in the jungle. It normally kills a person within five minutes. As she ate the stew, everyone watched her intently, waiting for her to die. She did not die, but did throw up a little. Some of the village dogs lapped at her vomit and a chicken pecked at it. They fell over and died immediately, but Sophie herself was unharmed.
The witch doctor who had prepared the stew converted on the spot. Sophie became known as a daughter of God and was allowed to travel unharmed wherever she wanted in the jungle.
Ricardo’s grandfather was the head witchdoctor of the region. Around that time he saw in a vision that there was a more powerful spirit than the one over the jungle. The story of Sophie passing the poison test had spread far and wide, so Ricardo’s grandfather sent his son, Ricardo’s father, to find Sophie and investigate her. Ricardo’s father paddled his dugout canoe for one month to find her.
Ricardo’s father arrived and made friends with Sophie. He soon became a believer and they started working together. She came to live in the next door hut, sharing the same lifestyle as the villagers, and the family would often wake at 3am to hear her singing praise to God. She and Ricardo’s father would paddle for months at a time to different communities in the jungle to evangelize.
Here’s one story from her life: Incited by the Catholic Church, the Columbian army persecuted Sophie Muller. She was put in a jail with double doors and double locks. As she lay there, she could hear the soldiers fighting amongst themselves as to who would be the first to rape her. They decided to play a game, and the winner would be the one to go first. But while they were playing, Sophie fell into a very deep sleep. When she awoke, she was in the middle of the jungle.
In the meantime, a rescue party, armed with bows and arrows, was formed. As they were paddling upriver in their dugout canoes they saw a beach with a large turtle. Of course, their immediate thought was food—in fact, banquet! So they pulled up onto the beach to jump the turtle. As they did so they heard a whistle. Ricardo’s father recognized the whistle and went looking. It was Sophie, hiding behind a rock. She had had days of just eating roots and was too weak to even call out. They put her in the bottom of the boat wrapped in plastic and paddled up river past various army groups who were no doubt looking for her. When they came to Sophie’s house there was a team there from the mission. They came out to greet her.
“Don’t be sad or worried,” she told them. “Nothing happened. I’m going north for a few days to recover.” Fifteen days later she was back in the jungle.
Sophie and Ricardo’s father worked together for fifty years. When Sophie finally left the jungle, she was an old woman. She had started several hundred churches.