Centennial | December 29

The Hardest Place

Ingwavuma Children

You’re wasting your time,” the European told Ferdinand Stahl [stall]. “Those Indians are too stupid to learn. They’re drunk and worse than beasts.” Ferdinand fought the anger that welled up inside him. He had heard similar words ever since the Europeans learned that the Stahls had come to South America to work among the Indians.

“No!” Ferdinand said when he and his wife, Ana, were finally alone. “These people can learn if they’re given a chance!”

The Indians, once noble people, were mistreated by Europeans and beaten by police. They contracted disease while working in dangerous gold mines, but they had little access to medical care. God had called the Stahls to “the hardest place” to work for Him, and Ferdinand was determined to lift these people out of their filth and poverty and introduce them to Jesus.

The couple opened a medical clinic to treat the Indians and invited them to learn about God. Sometimes hundreds gathered on Sabbaths to hear Ferdinand explain God’s plan of salvation. The Indians rejoiced to hear the gospel presented in such a simple way.

Opposition

But some Europeans weren’t happy that the Indians were discovering freedom in Christ. One Sabbath a local priest arrived at the meeting. The day’s lesson was on the Sabbath, and Ferdinand prayed for guidance. Before long the priest’s face darkened with anger. He shouted, “It’s a lie! The Sabbath is old and doesn’t serve us any longer.”

An old Indian arose and said, “Mr. Priest, you tell us that the Sabbath is old, that it doesn’t serve us anymore. Well, God made the sun and moon, and they’re old and they still serve us. How is the Sabbath different?”

The priest, unable to answer, stalked away. Later as Ferdinand thought of what had happened, he said, “And the Europeans said these people can’t learn!”

Frogs and Typhoid

One morning the chief of a nearby village rode to the clinic and asked Stahl. “Please come and help my people. They are dying of a terrible disease.”

Fernando gathered as much medicine as he could carry and rode with the chief to his village. After treating dozens of people, Ferdinand asked the chief where the villagers got their drinking water. The chief took him to a murky, scum-covered stream.

“I need some men and shovels to dig out this spring,” Ferdinand said. The chief found some able-bodied men who removed the scum and dug out the muck. They removed hundreds of disease-carrying toads. Ferdinand built stone sides around the spring and installed pipes so the people had a safe source of water. Soon the typhoid epidemic ended.

The Saving Hand of God

When the Stahls began building a mission station, local religious leaders threatened them and sent a crowd of drunken Indians to harass the workers. Some of the workers wanted to fight the crowd, for although they were outnumbered, they were sober and could win. But Ferdinand recalled Jesus’ command to love your enemies and do good to those who hate you. He urged his workers to dodge the stones and ignore the crowd. Eventually the crowd broke up.

But when the Stahls returned to the mission after buying supplies the next day, they found the building site in shambles and their equipment gone. A mob had come and stolen everything of value. They tried to force the workers to kneel before a priest. Those who refused were bound and forced to walk 20 miles to the nearest city, where they were imprisoned.

Ferdinand appealed to the judge—and reminded the man that he too would one day be judged by God. Eventually the men were released. As a result of this incident, the Peruvian congress passed a bill granting religious liberty for all religious denominations.

A Fruitful Ministry

While ministering in one village, the Stahls saw masses of Indians led by local religious leaders converge on the town intent on killing the missionaries. The couple and their helpers took refuge in a meager hut. Outside the religious leaders incited the mob to set fire to the hut. Suddenly the missionaries heard shouts of fear and the sound of people running. When silence fell, Fernando peeked outside, unsure of what he would find. “What happened?” he asked a woman outside.
“Can’t you see the army of Indians coming to defend you?” the woman asked. Ferdinand and Ana could see no one, but they knew that an army of angels had rescued them from certain death.

The Stahls continued to minister to the people of the Peru 29 years. Their work led to the baptism of more than 2,000 Indians and the establishment of dozens of schools dedicated to teaching the people some had called “ignorant, lazy beasts.”

Adapted from Determined to Love, by Kay D. Rizzo (Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1988).

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