Shu Mani Tutanka

“Shu Mani Tutanka O Wachee” is “Dances with Wolves.”  (Proper spelling is “Sunkmanitu Tanka Owaci” in Lakota.) If you’ve seen this movie, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Over the last few days we have lived out a chapter of that story, with a Ngobe family.  We call this chapter, first contact.

A few days ago, in the evening, Falco and three of his kiddos stopped by for a visit, to play (Falco is the Ngobe man I met on my maiden cayuco voyage.)  On that voyage I told Falco, “mis hijos necesitan amigos”, my kiddos need friends.  Falco responded by saying he would provide my kiddos with friends.  Cool.  They played and played, running from place to place like a herd of wild chonchos (pigs).  Soon it was going to be dark, so Falco and his family left, off in their cayuco.

Then Saturday afternoon rolled around and Falco’s oldest daughter, Victoria, came with the same three kiddos again.  Shirlene offered something to drink to them, they said yes, they wanted some.  After that they proceeded to run in a herd again, like wild animals (my kids included). They picked fruit and ate it.  They eat much of our ripening fruit in the covered area.  They ate an entire container of crackers.  They ran and ran, kicking the soccer ball all over, hanging on delicate trees, throwing tons of sticks, wood, coconuts and all sorts of other good fruit into the pond to watch Bella (the dog), rescue it, they caught numerous crabs and threw them into the ocean to see if they would “nada”, swim – some made it, some didn’t.  They threw Ellie’s parrot up in the air to see if it would fly, it didn’t, no matter how many times they tried and Ellie yelled “no mas!”.  They went into the house like the door didn’t exist.  Here are some photos of our first contact:

Alberto – 7 years old (Falco’s grandson, he lives with Falco, his mom lives in Almirante and only sees him once a month)

I tried to get her name, but I just couldn’t understand, stay tuned… 7 years old (Falco’s daughter)

Lucindo – 9 years old (Falco’s son)  Lucindo is absolutely head over heals in love with Bella (not the dog, but our daughter).  He tries to hold her hand constantly, follows her everywhere she goes, calls her name over and over and watches her every move.  Hmmm, as Bella’s dad, I’m starting to learn certain Spanish phrases like, “no toques a Bella” (don’t touch Bella).  Part of this “touching” is for sure cultural, they are a very touchy culture.  The other part is the boy is totally in love.  I’m still going to learn other phrases like, “keep your hands off my daughter or I will remove them” and… ok, I’ll stop Shirlene.

Can you tell which one the funny one is?

Bella stepped into an ant nest and they were biting her, Veronica (age 13) immediately pulled Bella away and brushed the ants off of her and showed her what to watch out for, while her little sister stomped on the nest in retaliation for getting Bella.

After brushing the ants off, Veronica started to put flowers in Bella’s hair.  Very sweet.

Can you tell which one is the other funny one?

Check out the soccer ball, in mid-air over Bella’s head

At one point Veronica noticed something on Bella (the dog), she said we should pull it off.  I had seen what she was talking about, I thought it was a bot fly, or a flap of skin, or some worm living in her skin we heard about.  I asked Veronica to show me how, she asked for a rag, I found an old t-shirt in the bodega, I held Bella while Veronica pulled on this flap of skin, well, she pulled pretty hard and pop, she pulled out a giant tick.  Yes, a giant tick – gross.  But even grosser (if that’s a word) was when I smashed that tick and it spurted (also, another word I’m not sure is a word) all over my leg – great.

Veronica and Shirlene talked quite a bit.  Shirlene was telling her the story of when she tried out the cayuco, Veronica responded with, yes, we know, we saw you.  After a while Shirlene realized what everyone had said, was true, the Ngobe here know everything that goes on.  Oh boy, I should consider wearing more clothing, maybe.

After about five hours, all of a sudden they started walking to their cayuco, the girls started saying “adios”, and we got a quick wave goodbye back, and they were off.  It was a fun day, the kids loved it, it was good for them, and they are speaking Spanish like its their own language, getting callouses on their feet, learning what to eat and what not to eat, picking up all sorts of bugs and animals, and getting dirty.

We showered our kids (in the outdoor shower with cold water, which is no problem now – awesome), fed them, brushed teeth, went potty, and off to bed. I turned to Shirlene and said, what are we doing?

I’ve read books on poverty mentality, reaching cultures, taken classes, courses, listened to audio books, read articles, sought advice, etc. But now that we are here, the choices are much more difficult. Falco, would like a job working for us, he has been coming, almost daily to charge cell phones here, he told me his kids need money for books for school, he wants to buy a dog, needs this and needs that.  Ellie later asked me why I didn’t just give him the money for books. This was a good question, but difficult to answer. The more people we meet here, the more we hear about their needs, which in general, are monetary. What are we to do? Everything I have learned says, do not, under any circumstance, just give money. It creates dependency, low self-worth on their part, and makes us, the giver, the solution. I know all of these things, and I agree with them. But its much harder to live out when I see the faces of these people here, and $10 is a whole day’s wages.

On the other hand we have heard more stories than we can count about locals taking advantage of, well, anyone that they can.  Stealing, price gouging, finagling, etc.  There is a very deep culture of dishonesty here.  Most of the people groups who are not Ngobe speak very poorly about the Ngobe because of their dishonesty.  Although it is not limited to the Ngobe for sure.

People here have so much. They have time, time with friends, time with family, time to fish, time to bath in God’s creation. Family is very important, and their families are tight knit. They have food growing in every corner, naturally, without even planting or nurturing it. There is abundant fish. Their lives are not filled with distractions, material possessions, social networking, business and other self-enslavement. But they do not value the resources they have, they see the money they don’t have, and see money as the ultimate solution to their problems. I learned much of this in CHE (Community Health Evangelism), and I see all of it here, well, everywhere.  The grass is always greener on the other side.

But how are we to act when faced with the requests for money? Jesus says in Matthew 25, For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

Paul also spoke about the importance of being hospitable in 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:8. We want the local people here to see the Christ’s love reflected in us. We want them to know that we genuinely care about them. But when they ask for money and we do not give it, there is a disconnect, they don’t understand. Above all we want Jesus glorified, we want to help the people, not hurt them.  This is a tough line to walk, and we need great wisdom and discernment to know what God wants in each situation, its not easy to know.

We are on a perpetual journey of learning and being molded and refined by our Creator. We need wisdom, we need your prayers, and the people here need Jesus Christ.  Please pray for the local people here, pray for their hearts to be open to Christ alone, pray they are able to see all the God has given them, resources they already have, pray that we only do what we see the Father doing.  Thank you for your prayers.  What an awesome support network we have been blessed with and we are humbled by what and where God has called us.



  1. Verity Castleberry
    Apr 16, 2012

    One word, Woods family: AWESOME!
    First, I have to say; any boy not totally enamored with either Bella or Ellie is nuts- and they better start working on their game early, because both are amazing reflections of Gods goodness.

    Next: Bobby- hmmm… You are super good at telling stories. You are engaging, honest, and you have the gift of humor. You are genuine and authentic. All good ingredients….. I bet you know what I’m getting at, now, don’t you?

    Last: love love love you guys!

  2. cam
    Apr 16, 2012

    Hmm… I see how that would be hard.
    Lord we pray for your spirit of wisdom, revelation and discernment over Bobby and Shirlene that they will be able to clearly hear Your calling of when to freely give monetarily verses freely pouring out Your Spirit. Open their eyes to understanding in each situation to the hope of Your calling, that You will be glorified in each individual. Be their ears, lead their feet, that their steps and offerings in either case be lead by You. In Jesus name.

    • Jennifer
      Apr 16, 2012

      So be it!!
      Love you guys!

  3. Diane Hanson
    Apr 16, 2012

    Are you sure Veronica is only 13? Hmmmm. Will be praying for God’s wisdom in this situation. James 1 Take care.

  4. Paul
    Apr 16, 2012

    Bobby, you sound like the people live in a Garden of Eden, yet you & your family need to go to the store to buy food. If you give all your money away to the local people, then what? If giving away money would lead people to Christ, then why would we need missionaries?

  5. Mom - Nancy Wood
    Apr 16, 2012

    Such sweet photos and new friends =). I’m praying for you guys very often. It is difficult to know what God wants us to do in situations like this.. He will give you discernment, His wisdom and ideas on how to help in the best way.

    Love and miss you guys!

  6. Mama
    Apr 17, 2012

    Indeed that is a dilemma. Maybe it helps that Shirlene has faced something similar before…May the Holy Spirit give you His discernment and continue to guide you, as our Lord protects you. Protection is a prevalent prayer…Much caution is requiered
    Love you much! Muchos Besitos!

  7. Mom - Nancy Wood
    Apr 17, 2012

    So glad I can keep up on your life through your blogs. I really enjoy it!
    I was praying about how God might have you help those in need there and about the scriptures you mentioned. I’m sure you thought of all of this, but I’ll say the obvious just because I feel the need to.
    “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink…”
    Food & drink are very basic needs. We need those to live.
    “I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.”
    Naked…. no clothing at all… again a very basic need. Sick.. when someone can’t take care of themselves and need help. In prison… can’t go out and have companionship with others.

    It seems as though God mentions only very basic human needs. He never mentions money as meeting the need.

    Your education was good to warn against giving money. You might have lines at your door if that starts =}. And you might not be able to discern the honest authentic needs in those who ask.
    God will show you the best way to be His helping hands there.

    Just some thoughts of mine. I love you guys so much!

  8. Paula
    Apr 19, 2012

    We are praying for you all, and those that you meet. Our Father will give you the wisdom to know and discern exactly what you are to do. He led you to them and will show you how to reach them. Be open to what Father wants, who knows one day it may be money, and another day food or just a hug :) Father knows! Love you all. xoxox

  9. Brenda Pritchard
    May 1, 2012

    Lord, Along with these prayers would you please send signs of direction to Bobby and Shirlene. You can use anything to direct us (cloud formations!). Please continue to protect and guide this Dear family who has left everything for You. Help them know just how to speak to this culture. Whatever blocks may be in the way…may You provide the way through and bring understanding. In Jesus Precious Name Amen

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