The Ayoré and Our Ministry

The Ayoré were originally a nomadic group roaming the bush in eastern Bolivia and northern Paraguay. They were notorious for their “kill or be killed” relationship with ranchers, settlers or anyone who dared invade their ancestral territory. In the words of Bill Pencille, one of SAM’s first missionaries to the Ayoré, “Like Ishmael in the Bible, ‘Their hand was against every man and every man’s hand was against them'”.

In the 18th century, Catholic missionaries attempted to establish a Jesuit mission among the Ayoré, but the Ayoré disappeared into the jungle after killing the priests. In the 1930’s, SAM missionary George Haight made a brief yet peaceful contact with the Ayoré, but was unable to establish any sort of enduring relationship. Then, in 1943, a group of Ayoré killed five New Tribes missionaries who were attempting to make contact.

Neither SAM nor New Tribes gave up. Aware of the inevitable encroachment of outsiders into Ayoré territory, those close to the outreach effort knew that it was only a matter of time before bullets, disease or slavery would wipe out the Ayoré. With this in mind, mission organizations developed mission-owned properties that in time became the Ayoré villages that we know today.

In the early 1950’s South America Mission established small, fledging churches in two villages. However, by the end of the 1970’s, SAM found itself lacking the missionary personnel to maintain a permanent presence among the Ayoré. Fifteen years later, in 1995, John Depue, a soon-to-retire SAM missionary, invited Drs. Placido and Toni Mercado to visit Poza Verde, one of the Ayoré communities. Placido, though a Bolivian himself, was shocked by the living conditions of the people. His feelings intensified after visiting Barrio Bolivar, an Ayoré camp on the outskirts of the city of Santa Cruz. The camp lacked decent housing, water and even basic sanitation. There he was greeted with the pungent smell of cocaine paste being smoked by young people lounging on the muddy ground of Barrio Bolivar. Young women with empty eyes stared at him, and then turned away to offer themselves to a passing trucker. The babies this lifestyle produced were left under the visibly inadequate care of grandmothers completely unprepared for rearing children under such conditions.

As a result of those first visits, Dr. Placido Mercado changed the focus of his life. He decided to dedicate his life to helping the Ayoré. Because they are doctors, the Mercados clearly saw the Ayorés’ need for physical help, but as Christians they also saw the great need for spiritual development. In 1995, even though they were both still in medical school, Placido and Toni began regular medical and evangelistic visits to Poza Verde and Barrio Bolivar. God placed an ongoing burden in their hearts. Later that same year, God brought a spiritual re-awakening in the Ayoré communities where they were working; the Ayoré began to come back to their own native church.

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