By Mark Ellis –
Jennifer “Jungle Jen” Foster has become a prolific church planter among the Amazonian M* tribe in Brazil. From her earliest days, she knew she wanted to be a pioneering missionary.
“I was raised in a Christian home, which was such a blessing,” she says. “Mom and dad made sure we were in church every time the doors were open.”
She still remembers inviting Jesus into her heart at five-years-old over a chocolate milkshake at McDonalds with her Sunday school teacher.
Three years later, two missionaries shared at her Christian school about unreached people groups. “My heart was excited, but also so burdened,” she recalls. Living in Tennessee, she was aware there were many churches around her.
I can’t believe there are people who never got to hear about Jesus. That’s so sad, she thought.
Compelled by the Spirit, she raced to the front the front of the church and declared boldly: “I will go to Africa. I will tell these people who never heard about Jesus!
“I will tell them!” she exclaimed. “I know who Jesus is!”
That passion continued to burn within her, so that when it came time to go off to college, she enrolled at Gardner Webb University because they had a major in American Sign Language as a foreign language.
“I thought if I went to an unreached people group, they won’t be able to speak my language, and I won’t be able to speak theirs, but if we can come up with a formal gesturing system, I can learn their language faster.”
Little did she know that God had even bigger plans for her.
But when she applied with the International Mission Board (IMB) to become a missionary, she was denied. “The economy was bad at that time; it had crashed and they didn’t have enough money to send new missionaries.”
Disappointed by this setback, Jennifer began to pray about next steps.
Then she was surprised by a “random” email from Wingate University in North Carolina, which said they were looking for a sign language interpreter for a deaf football player, and were willing to offer free housing, a meal plan, a stipend, and free tuition toward a masters degree.
“The story gets crazier,” she recounts. It came down to two applicants, Jennifer and a man. She thought the football team would choose a man, but she got the job.
Then the unexpected happened. “On signing day the football player didn’t show!”
The head coach, to his credit, told her: “I don’t hire just to hire for position. I hire for character. If you want to stay I will find something for you to do.”
Jennifer ultimately became the director of football operations for the Wingate football team and completed her masters.
After graduating, she applied to the IMB and got turned down again, so she became a firefighter for two and a half years.
Answering the call
Finally, 20 years after her original call to unreached people, the IMB contacted her, asking if she was ready to realize her dream.
“They had no openings in Africa, but they had an unreached people group in the Amazon jungles of Brazil,” she recounts.
The IMB sent Jennifer to Brazil, where she studied the national language, Portuguese, for three months. Then she went through three months of jungle survival training camp, all in Portuguese.
After her preparation, she got on a boat for a three-day journey up the Amazon River, where she and a female ministry partner went to live with the “M” tribe.
“I remember the joy of thinking I’m finally fulfilling my calling, my destiny,” she recalls. “I wasn’t afraid at all.”
The people in the M tribe accepted her, but were also inquisitive. Why would you come here? they wondered.
They were also curious about her white teeth. “The kids were trying to rub the white paint off my teeth.”
After her introduction to the tribal group, she turned to God once again in prayer. “Dear Jesus, help me assimilate, I want to live like them as much as I can, so they can see what’s different in me.”
The first members of the tribe to receive Jesus were five young people aged 16 to 20. They peppered Jennifer with questions: “Do you know who made all of that out there?” they asked, pointing to the jungle.
“Has anybody ever taught you where we go when we die?
“How do you fall asleep so fast at night? It’s like you don’t you have fear.” Because the tribe slept communally in hammocks, some had noticed she fell asleep more quickly than anyone else.
“I realized they live in so much fear because they don’t know what else is out there. They knew something bigger than themselves was out there, they just didn’t know what it was.”
Jennifer began to answer their questions from Scripture, starting in Genesis. “I told them about the one true creator God. I told them about Jesus and taught them about the Holy Spirit, and the gifts and fruit of the Holy Spirit, one of which is peace.”
The power of the Word and the Spirit touched their hearts and they received Jesus with joy “It was so neat to watch those five people say yes to Jesus. I started a house church right then.”
Another woman from the tribe got every interested and asked Jennifer to come to her home and teach her. “We started another house church with her and her family. Then she and her family and neighbors came.”
Jungle Jen was off to a fast start, but there was pushback from the enemy. After her first three months with the tribe, disaster hit. She discovered her Brazilian ministry partner was having inappropriate relationships with men in the tribe.
After the woman left the IMB sent others to help, but it didn’t work out, so Jennifer did the majority of the mission by herself – an unusual situation.
“By that point I was raising up disciples and I was always with them and I was really training them to do life and missions with God.”
There was also spiritual warfare from a witch doctor and a sorcerer connected to the tribe. “The sorcerer really annoyed us. He would try to disrupt our meetings. He would scream and yell at people, manipulate people and create confusion.”
Jennifer prayed that God would put a bubble of spiritual protection around the tribe that Satan would not be able to penetrate. Amazingly, the witch doctor allowed her children to come to Jennifer’s Bible study and they converted!
Within the first six months, Jungle Jen planted six house churches. Then she brought all 60 people together to worship under a tree.
After two years in her village, Jennifer went home because her visa had expired. “I came home but still had a burning desire to go back and use people in the first church plants to go and start more churches,” she says.
After her return home, she launched Stand Out Ministries, which is devoted to prayerfully and biblically planting churches in the Amazon of Brazil. On her subsequent short-term trips to the Amazon, she began using people from her first church plants to multiply church plants in surrounding villages.
The discipleship training material she favors is the Bible. “The only thing we use Scripture. We didn’t want to bring in any denominationalism, so the only thing we use for training is the Word of God,” she is quick to note.
She also uses audio bibles and chronological Bible stories.
As they grew in their understanding of the Scripture, it challenged some of their tribal practices, like open marriages. “They would sleep with each other like we go out with our friends,” she observed. “There was no rape, but everyone was willing to sleep with everyone else.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t be sleeping around with everybody?” someone asked one day. “Should I only have one husband or one wife?” they asked.
As she got to know the women in the tribe, she discovered layers of hidden bitterness, grudges and resentments held between the women. “They knew these other women had been sleeping with their husbands.” As the women began to open up to Jennifer, she realized the extent of the hatred.
“We did a huge forgiveness session and God brought down that stronghold,” she says.
Interestingly, lying was embedded in their culture but stealing was not. “I lived with one tribe for 18 months and never had anything stolen. I didn’t have a lock on my door.”
Currently, Jungle Jen visits the Amazon every two to three months. She also does motivational speaking around the world. “I never once asked for money. I spoke 76 times and never asked for money,” she says.
Her ministry doesn’t have an annual budget. “Every year is different,” she says. “We grew 500% in the last two years.”
If you want to know more about Stand Out Ministries, go here