Jim and Dene Wood served the Lord on the banks of the Paraguay River with the Angaite people group in the Paraguayan Chaco for twenty-one years. Then, for five more years they worked at NTM Homes in Sanford, Florida, where Jim surveyed the streets and laid out the houses for the retirement community and Dene chauffeured retirees to doctors. In 1997, they retired at NTM Homes but continue to volunteer when needed.
Both were born in Pennsylvania, Jim in 1927 and Dene in 1929, and both, once married with a family, were saved in their late thirties. During a morning worship service, Jim took to heart a message from the pastor warning that the unsaved go to Hell. Not wanting that to happen, he made his decision for Christ sure right then. It was a bit later that Dene came to Christ. She recalls being thrilled to have the Lord to help her face the trials of life. They joined a church Bible study and began to grow in the Lord. Concern for the lost was serious for both Jim and Dene as they came from unsaved homes. Their hearts reached out regularly to those in need of Christ, especially their families. The Lord saw fit to have Jim present in the hospital when his ill father put his faith in Christ.
Jim and Dene were introduced to New Tribes Mission (NTM) when missionaries came to speak at their home church. Because one of the missionary training centers moved into their neighborhood, they began attending Tuesday night meetings. Jim asked many questions of Dick Sanford and Macon Hare about the mission and the practicality of going into missions at their age. Jim’s many doubts and questions were hindering his decision, but Dene was ready and just waiting for her husband.
Eventually though, Jim felt the Lord’s call on his life. Together he and Dene committed their lives to full time service. The assurance that they had made the right decision came during a mission conference. One day during the conference, while Jim was at work, Dene asked for prayer that God would make His will plain. That day turned out to be a really bad one on the job for Jim and God used it to clear Jim’s questions. Two years later, they entered New Tribes Mission, taking missions training at Durham, Ontario, Canada, followed by a year of language school in Camdenton, Missouri.
An NTM missionary returning from Paraguay spoke in their church. He told about the need to move the Angaite people, among whom NTM was working, from their present location to eight thousand acres offered in compensation by ranchers who wanted the Indians’ land. Surveyors and engineers were needed to plot out individual lots on the new land. Jim was qualified for this work, so they took this as God’s assignment for them.
Challenges in getting to the field came in many forms. Jim had found it questionable at first to give up his job and all the practical amenities it supplied. During training they experienced difficulties with language learning; survival training was equally hard. And, their extended families were reluctant to give their blessing.
Once on the field, challenges continued. One incident still fresh in their minds today was the time they were confronted with a life threatening injury sustained by one of the Angaite people. Doctor’s skills were urgently needed and the only way to a medical unit that night was to travel by river. It was an especially dark night. Jim had a decision to make. They would go. Several hours into the trip, Jim recalls, they realized they had somehow gotten turned around on the wide river and were heading in the wrong direction. Correction was made, and by God’s grace, medical attention helped saved the patient’s life.
Along with the ministries of surveying and teaching literacy, a majority of their work with the Angaite church planting team was in support ministries. Dene worked in the clinic learning to treat a variety of problems. Snake bites were very common. The treatment was a series of nasty shots until the introduction of a “stun gun” that shocks the venom and changes the molecular structure neutralizing the poison. She also saw leprosy, lockjaw, parasites, and TB. (Eighty percent of the people had TB, active and inactive.) American doctors came periodically to give immunizations. By God’s grace, neither Jim nor Dene became critically ill.
When Jim and Dene went to the field their financial support was minimal, but God was faithful to supply all their needs. Some of the churches that began supporting them later in their ministry still support them even in retirement.
Would they do it all over again? “Yes!” they both answered. “There is no greater privilege than to tell the Good News.”