From The Continuing Story of Manuel, by Hugh Steven, 1987, Credo Publishing Corporation, (pages 40-44).
Manuel Arenas (1932-1992) was born into the Totonac tribe of Indians in eastern Mexico. He worked with Wycliffe Bible Translators translating the Bible into his language. He spent his life working to provide educational opportunities for the Totonacs and other tribal peoples in Mexico. He traveled throughout the world speaking in colleges, universities, Bible schools and churches about the work of Wycliffe. This story took place after a speech in Switzerland.
In attendance on the evening Manuel spoke to the youth club was a young man who had come to the rally at his fiancé’s invitation. When the meeting ended, he and his fiancé introduced themselves: The young woman expressed her happiness that the Totonacs had the New Testament in their own language. “How wonderful there are so many believers in Jesus Christ,” she said.
But when her fiancé spoke to Manuel, he expressed no such appreciation. Instead, he asked, “In your talk you said you were glad this Bible translator had come to your village, and that if he hadn’t come, you probably would never have heard about Jesus Christ.”
“Yes, that’s true,” said Manuel. “The man’s name is Mr. Aschmann and—”
“That’s very nice,” interrupted the young man, “but what I would like to know is why you gave up your religion in favor of this Western religion. Why is it so important for the Totonac people to know about Jesus Christ and Christianity? It’s my opinion that if Western man wants to believe this sort of thing, it’s okay. But the Totonac people have their own religion. It’s just as good as Christianity; maybe even better. Why do you want your Totonac friends to believe like you? I’m sorry, but I just can’t believe Christianity is better than your Totonac religion.”
“Tell me,” said Manuel, “do you know what Totonacs believe? Have you lived in a Totonac house to see how our household gods are worshiped?”
“Well, no, not exactly. But I have read some books—”
“And I have also read books,” said Manuel. “Books that describe what our people look like and what they wear, how we build our houses, and how weddings and funerals are conducted. These books also tell others what we believe. But what these books can never tell is how we feel down deep inside. We may look happy on the outside and we may laugh, but inside we are a people who have deep churnings, and nervousness, and mistrust of others. And we have a great fear of the gods and spirits that live in special trees and rocks and streams.”
“But that’s just harmless superstition,” said the young man.
“Let me give you an example of what it is like to live with what you call ‘harmless superstition,”‘ said Manuel. “When you are thirsty, you take a drink of water whenever you want. But in my village, if you are thirsty at high noon, you must wait. You must wait because the people believe the lords of the water and the nearby stream take away the spirit of the person who drinks water at high noon. If they do happen to take a drink of water at that time, the person becomes sick. The witch doctors are called, candles are lit, and special flowers and spices are spread around the sick person. A chicken is sacrificed and the blood poured out on the ground. Maybe the witch doctor will come four or five times, and after about a week, he will tell the sick person that his spirit has returned and he is better. All this is paid for by the sick person’s family.
“I grew up fearing the many evil spirits of the forest, the stream, the earth, and the trees. We believed evil spirits were everywhere. I saw how strong they were and how they bullied those who sacrificed to them. But when the New Testament Scriptures were translated into our language and Totonacs began to believe and accept Jesus Christ into their lives, I saw those fears gradually disappear. This is why I want all Totonacs and everyone to become true believers in Jesus Christ. Only He can take away fear and give hope and peace, for this life and for the true life to come.”
And so Manuel and the young man talked. Manuel carefully and enthusiastically explained the personal benefits he had received since accepting Jesus Christ into his life. Manuel emphasized that authentic Christianity had little to do with religion, traditions, or moralizing. Rather, he stressed that Christianity had to do with truth, compassion and love; the love of God and his Son, Jesus Christ; a love so strong and full of integrity that it allows the true Christian to treat his neighbor as he himself would like to be treated.
That very night, after several hours of hearing Manuel describe what it means to be a Christian, the young man came to faith in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.
Revelation 5:9 — They sang a new song, saying: “You (the Lamb of God, Jesus) are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
Psalm 34:4 — I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.
Luke 2:10 — And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”
Just as I am, though tossed about, with many a conflict, many a doubt,
fightings and fears within, without, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.