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Angels on the Rooftop

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He was named one of the twentieth century’s 10 most powerful Protestants by United Press International. For three decades, Clyde W. Taylor, often called “Mr. Evangelical,” led the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), whose worldwide constituency numbered in the millions. Based in Washington, D.C., he effectively raised the evangelical banner and gave the movement legitimacy. His gift for management helped him to organize many of the twentieth century’s most effective evangelical groups.

Clyde W. TaylorWho was this man? At the ripe old age of 19, Clyde Taylor became the youngest person ever appointed as a missionary with The Christian and Missionary Alliance. Having completed the two-year training program at the Missionary Training Institute (now Nyack College, Nyack, N.Y.), he and three other men arrived in Lima, Peru, in 1925. Their assignment: evangelize the Campa Indians deep in the Amazon jungle, a dark world from which no white man had emerged alive.

One of the men died of tuberculosis before they even set out for the jungle. The other three headed inland on a nine-day journey by mule and canoe to the headwaters of the Amazon and began the strenuous work of carving out a bare existence in the hostile environment. They lived in a temporary hut while clearing out enough ground to plant vegetables. Their meat came from hunting and fishing. And all the while they knew that a visit from the Campas would be forthcoming. What might happen?

One night an eerie series of whistles pierced the silence. The men had been told that if the Campas attacked, it would be at night and during a full moon. They would shoot flaming arrows onto the thatched roof, and rob and kill by the light of the fire. The three men quickly headed into the jungle, huddling together just out of sight of their hut. They could see the warriors gathering around, and then, inexplicably, the Indians retreated to the water’s edge, boarded their huge canoes and paddled away.

It was years later that the men learned what had happened. The tribal chief had by then become one of their converts. When questioned about that moonlit night, he sheepishly admitted that yes, 30 to 40 Indians had come to attack the missionaries. “But there were too many of you!” he said. “Your roof was covered with people wearing white cushmas [traditional sack-like gowns]. We were afraid to go near because we knew we didn’t stand a chance against such an impressive army.”

Within the next couple of years the men baptized many new believers, organized a church and started a grammar school. Fifty years later, Taylor flew in on a Wycliffe airplane and was thrilled to see the church and school growing and thriving. It’s not surprising that, in speaking on behalf of the NAE around the world, Taylor frequently referred to his early missionary experiences and those formative days on the C&MA mission field.

—Compiled by Patty McGarvey, from A Man for All Nations by Carolyn Curtis (a Jaffray Series Book)

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