Moises’ Bertoni’s story is fascinating. Born in Switzerland in 1857, son of a renowned lawyer, Bertoni was an idealist and an adventurer whose scientific passions took him first to Brazil and ultimately to Paraguay, where he and his wife raised their thirteen sons! They suffered many hardships in the area known as Alto Parana, a department (like a region or state) featuring the Parana River. When still living on the Brazil side of the river, it overflowed its banks and deluged the Bertoni home, destroying ten years of research on two continents. Once in Paraguay, they faced pumas, jaguars, tapirs, monkeys, and anacondas. He wrote, in an 1885 personal letter, “We have passed through all the difficulties that human existence can offer…villainy, the most absolute misery, freaky weather, hunger! We have born up under all of it, amazed at ourselves. We are not willing to give in…We are on the field of battle, and the fight offers only two outcomes: victory or death!”
Not surprisingly, Bertoni became an eminent figure in Paraguayan history renowned for his scientific research, agricultural advancement, publishing, environmentalism, and his work as an expert student the Guarani race of people who were his neighbors. He suffered many disappointments and failures before succumbing to malaria in 1929, but his approach to the challenges of life proved him a fighter who persevered (some information via Mike Caesar, “Paraguay’s First Man Of Science,” 2002).
Though Bertoni was misguided in some of his pursuits, he exemplifies a principle we should all apply to our lives as Christians today. Whatever difficulties and challenges we face, we must remember that we, too, are on the field of battle. As he framed his work, how much more is ours a matter of “victory or death”? Repeatedly, New Testament writers cast Christianity as a battle fraught with adversity (Rom. 13:12; 2 Cor. 10:4; Eph. 6; 1 Tim. 1:18; 2 Tim. 4:7; etc.). Yet, this is the promised finale of the fight, that “you are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is he that is in you than he who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4). In the next chapter, John explains that we overcome by faith (1 Jn. 5:4). Some day, unless Christ’s coming precedes it, physical death will overtake us, but, if we are faithful in Christ, we will experience eternal victory!