Friday, July 31.
Today we have begun an adventure taking us to the Amazon Jungle. As I write we are somewhere in the air between Raleigh and Miami.
The adventure began for me during the Christmas holiday. My wife and I were talking about places we would like to go. The one place that popped in my head was the Amazon. I could hardly believe it the next day when I received an email inviting me to be a part of taking a team into the Amazon Jungle.
The invitation came from the Global Missions Group. GMG is a multi-denominational group that has come together with a vision to build churches and advance the kingdom in Brazil and beyond. Two members of this group, Steve Woods and Sherman Harris, had already been to Brazil and had made an exploratory trip to the village of Santa Isabel. Santa Isabel is a small village on the Rio Negro or Black River. They had been invited to partner with the Church of the Nazarene to build a church in this village.
Now the Black River is in the Amazon jungle, but it is not the Amazon River. It joins the Amazon River in Manaus. At this point it appears as large as the Amazon. I have been told that to get from one side of the river to the other at Santa Isabel takes an hour by speed boat.
GMG pledged to provide the money for the building if I would put together a team to actually do the building. At this point they have kept their part of the arrangement, having raised $10,000. Now I am doing my part as we head to Manaus where we will begin our journey.
With me is a team of 20 people. Eight members of our team are from GMG. Thirteen members of our team are from the Church of the Nazarene. If you are doing the math you might be saying that is one person to many. That is because one member of GMG is a Nazarene.
I am excited that the team includes my wife and son. My wife was not going to travel with us until she realized that we would be a minimum of 1 hour from any kind of medical care, that is if we have a speed boat available. We will not be able to call 911.
At this point 19 of us are on this flight. My son Drew has been in Miami since early this morning. He flew through the night from San Diego. This afternoon we will all meet up and fly to Manaus Brazil. After a few hours of sleep tonight, we will board a boat early Saturday for a 10 hour trip up the river.
Now we will not just be building a church. Among our activities will be showing the Jesus Film. We are bringing a new set of equipment for the district. We will also hold a VBS and we will also attempt to hold a medical clinic. I say attempt, for we need to get our supplies through customs but also buy more medicine after we arrive. This is part of our prayers even as we fly.
So far things have gone well. We did have one scare. One member of our team thought he left his passport at home. It turned out to only be in the car. Just a little scramble to get back and retrieve it, but he made it with plenty of time to spare.
We are not in Miami. We are getting ready to land in Palm Beach. A storm in Miami prevents us from landing there and we need gas. Our first attempt to land in Palm Beach though was called off due to a plane that had not cleared the runway. We are attempting again. If we land I will try and send this off. Who knows what will happen with Drew and our flight to Manaus. Stay tuned.
Who knows what else we will experience. This is God’s trip. He is putting things together as He sees fit. All I know is that God is going to do something great.
This journal will not appear daily as I sometimes am able to do. Believe it or not, there is no cell phone or Wi-Fi where we are going. Don’t worry though, I will post the rest as soon as I can.
Saturday, August 1
Well it has been an adventure. To bring you up to speed, yesterday we missed the flight to Manaus from Miami by about 10 minutes. Drew made the flight and actually arrived in Manaus last night. The rest of us began a search for an alternate flight. Tammy waited in the rebooking line while some of us tried a phone conversation with someone from American Airlines. After 3 hours, Tammy was not yet at the desk. She had another hour at least. After several different people on the phone from American Airlines, though, we had flights rebooked for 11:59 P.M. for Brasília, Brazil. We would arrive at 8:30 A.M. and catch a flight at 10:30 for a flight to Manaus on TAM airlines.
When they finally would speak with us at the gate desk at 11:00, however, they told us our reservations had been changed but not our tickets. At the last minute they got us re-ticketed and on the flight as the doors closed. On To Brazil.
This morning we landed in Brazil. Customs was a piece of cake. Of course that is because 24 of our bags did not make it with us. We hope they will arrive on the flight tonight from Miami to Manaus. They had told us in Miami that they could not put us on the flight from Miami to Manaus till Monday, but our luggage hopefully is making the flight.
As we were reporting our missing luggage, we discovered our next issue which was that only one of us had a seat on the 10:30 a.m. flight to Manaus. So instead of sending Kyle on by himself, we decided that we would all wait for the next flight which is at 9:18 P.M. Before you feel too sorry for us, they have put us up for the day at a very nice hotel to shower and rest. They also fed us a wonderful buffet lunch and will also be feeding us dinner shortly. Then we will be back to the airport for our late night flight to Manaus to collect our luggage and board the boat up the Black River tonight. We will be only a day behind schedule.
You may wonder why all of this is happening. I cannot tell you. I do know that as I prayed last night in Palm Beach that we would make our flight, I felt God was saying we would not but that it was ok. He has a plan. I am just trusting Him to work all things out for good.
This may be the last post for a while, at least that is the plan. Who knows what God’s plan is.
Sunday, August 2
This morning I woke up to the sun rising over the river. That’s is right, we finally made it and are headed up river to Novo Airão.
I would like to say everything went smoothly, but that is not the case. When we arrived in Manaus we discovered that our luggage had arrived from Miami, at least some of it. Apparently they did not have enough for room for all of it. Some of it arrives tomorrow night. We still have 14 bags missing.
One of the bags that did make it was one of Tammy’s with medicine in it. This was a problem. The one bag they checked in customs was hers. They discovered some of the medicine had just expired. They grilled us over it, then confiscated it. We are told he could have fined us, but decided not to. Of course we wonder what happens tonight if they discover more medicine in her other bag that had not yet arrived.
The boat is nice. It plods along at a pace that you would not even know we are on a boat. The only thing that gives it away is the constant sound of the engine as we make our way up river.
We did have one incident that was a little disconcerting. With the way things went on the journey, we may have been a little skittish. As we started up the river last night, suddenly a boat was seen coming toward use in the distance without any lights on. Then we noticed a smaller boat on the other side coming toward us with no lights on. They both quietly went past us just beyond easy viewing in the dark of night. Suddenly as they passed us they turned and headed toward us on each side. All we could imagine was modern day pirates were coming to board our boat. Suddenly one actually came alongside of us and tied off quickly and a man climbed aboard. I was looking for a cutlass or maybe a gun, but there was none. Turns out they were bringing us our boat that we would use to run into town. We ended up pulling it behind our boat. The pirate story sounded a lot more interesting though.
We finally all headed to bed around 3:00 A.M. in our hammocks. They hung from the ceiling on the top deck side by side. Most seemed to have slept well. All the traveling can do that to you.
Today we are headed to Novo Airão to pick up Pastor Josenil and then head over to Santa Isabel. Who knows what the day is going to hold. Wish I had my shorts, tennis shoes, and bathroom supplies as well as a few other items. A good shave sounds nice. Maybe tomorrow if American Airlines sees fit.
I have said it would be an adventure, and I sure did not lie. Can’t wait for the good part to start.
August 2, Sunday P.M.
Nothing has gone as anticipated it seems. This morning as we continued our trip up river we had worship together and I told everyone that we were headed to Novo Airão. A few minutes later we showed up at Santa Isabel. We obviously were not in on the plans.
We met the Mayor who is called Marcus Brazil. The village is 14 years old. A lady named Isabel helped them get started with a school and a generator that provides electricity when it is on. Right now they are able to run it part of the day each day. The village has grown to around 150 people now living here. It is quite interesting. I look forward to learning more about the people here.
We ended up going right to work hauling block up the hill from the river bank. This was quite a task. We made a line and passed the block to each other. I estimated 30 minutes, but well after the thirty minutes were up we still had 2/3 of the block to go. There is always tomorrow. After a break we began to lay block for the walls. The footers were already in place with some block laid and corner columns begun. In our enthusiasm, we had over done it in the heat by lunch time and were forced to have a break till 3:00.
The break provided us just enough time for some of us brave ones to swim. The water was so refreshing. Just a little later one of the workers actually caught a piranha right where we were swimming. This time he was supper and not us.
This afternoon we laid more block. The building is really coming along. The most exciting part was the downpour that happened about 4:00. It made a mess of our work site but it was a joy for the village. First the girls and later the guys played soccer in the mud. It looked like a lot of fun. Even the mayor was in the middle of it.
The most exciting thing today, however, took place just as we had hoped. We ended the day by showing the Jesus Film. As we began there were about 15 people. By the time we ended 1/3 of the village was there. When I gave the invitation, about 20 people, boys and girls, stood up to accept Christ. What a way to really begin our work here. As we met tonight to debrief, one of the guys said now all we went through to get here was worth it.
Tomorrow is a day of flexibility. We will find out if our lost luggage arrived tonight. We will also see if Tammy can get drugs from the pharmacy in Novo Airão. We will also attempt VBS in the afternoon if we can. Tomorrow is the first day back to school since winter break. We have not seen the teacher yet. She will arrive here in the morning. We will ask her permission when we can. We will also continue to lay block and get ready to pour the floor of the church. This time we will be starting early to beat the heat. We have now scheduled an afternoon rest time, or fish feeding adventure known by us as swimming.
Thanks for all your prayers. It has been worth it already.
August 3, Monday.
Today we pretty much stuck to our schedule. We woke at 6:00, ate breakfast, had devotions, and headed to work on the church building. We have made a lot of progress. If what we did today does not fall down, tomorrow we will bring the walls up to the top of the windows. That is really going to look amazing. I am not sure how we will do the windows, but we are going to see soon.
We also held VBS this afternoon and they had a great time with the kids. School did not start today. They say it will be tomorrow. I am not sure anyone knows. What we discovered is that many of the people are not here right now. Sunday is Father’s Day. In preparation, the villages are cleaning up. People go to different villages to help. Friday is the day for this village. We should see a lot more people then.
Tammy made the trip to Nova Airão today. The plan was for them to pick up our missing luggage. It still has not arrived. They say maybe tonight it will arrive. American Airlines still did not have room on the plane for it. Some people are still wearing the same cloths they left home in.
Tammy also had the task of buying medicine for the clinic. They met the minister of medicine in Nova Airão and he gave his blessing for the clinic. He only asked that she give him any leftover medicine. She toured the hospital and found out they often have a shortage of medicine. The pharmacy was willing to sale her what they said she would probably need, so we should be well stocked tomorrow even without the medicine in her missing bag. At least I pray we do not need some of what is still missing.
Tonight after taking a bath in the river, we went to a worship service we held for the village. It was a good service. Afterwards we heard something that reminded us how important what we are doing is. I met a gentleman who told me he was a Christian. Saturday as we dedicate the building we are working on, he is going to be baptized along with the lady who will soon be his wife. They will be married as soon as the church is finished. Unfortunately for the ladies on the trip, it will not happen this week. But already we see the impact on the community. He and his girlfriend already have 4 children, the oldest 7 years old and the youngest 2 months old. They have lived in sin, but now it is time to do things God’s way. How exciting this is.
Tomorrow we will add clinic to our schedule. We may not see very many people, but who knows. I am also going to travel up river to another village to see if some of us can show the Jesus Film tomorrow night. Who knows what God will work out.
Trusting God is just the way we have been operating on this trip. Our plans have not always worked, but we know God’s plans never fail.
Tuesday, August 4
Well today was another exciting day in Brazil. I woke up this morning though with a full blown cold, and news that our luggage had still not arrived in Manaus, maybe tonight. I spent the day feeling like an old man. With all the things that could be a problem, I have a cold.
This morning I went with Pastor Josenil, Our translator Eddie (not his real name), and Sherman Harris to another village. Its name means new hope but the village would be better described as no hope. It was built with all sorts of potential, but the people of the village rejected God and things have gone downhill. This was not our thoughts but was actually shared with us by a lady in the village who had turned away from God herself. At this time there are no evangelical Christians living in this village.
In some ways you could understand why they have rejected the message of the church. There was a Baptist mission in the village with a well-loved pastor. He died, however, and shortly after the church building collapsed. He was not replaced by the Baptist church. A few years later the Church of the Nazarene was given permission to reopen the mission. The new pastor began to clean up the lot. The Assemblies of God, however, heard about it and built a church building right next to the pastor’s house. By right next to, I mean only enough room to walk between. The Church of the Nazarene choose under these conditions not to compete with another church. Unfortunately, like the Assembly’s church building in Santa Isabel, the church today stands empty with no pastor. This was one of over 800 churches they had built in this state in Brazil at the time. Unfortunately they did not supply it with a pastor and so it just stands there empty. The people should be concerned when those who preach love compete against each other like that.
They have, however, given us permission to do VBS and show the Jesus Film tomorrow night. They actually seem quite excited we are coming. Not all of us will make the trip, though, for we will still do our nightly service in Santa Isabel. Tonight we had an excellent bilingual service where people really seemed to get involved.
Today was also our first day of clinic. Tammy had medicine for everyone except one person. She needs a surgery but must provide her own medicine. It so happens we had it, but it was confiscated at the airport. That will not stand in our way, however, for there is a chance to buy more for her so that she can have the surgery.
I am feeling a little better tonight. I believe tomorrow is going to be a wonderful day. I am trusting I will feel better, and our luggage will arrive.
Wednesday, August 5
Today was a day of hope. No our luggage has still not arrived, but I believe we made progress. We discovered the school has internet sometimes and eventually we were able to send an email to Benny, a former missionary to Brazil and member of GMG. He was going to contact American Airlines. I also found out Cristian had a few seconds conversation with his wife the night before by cell phone. There is a place by the church where if you stand on a fallen tree you can sometimes get a signal with his phone. He left several messages and then we contacted Pastor Tommy Thompson. He promised to work on our luggage problem as well. We have not been able to hear back from anyone, so we are going to bed hoping a little pressure made a difference. We will know in the morning. The boat has already left for Nova Airão and will be there in the morning if they arrived. By now most people have gotten used to how they smell and are taking it all in stride.
There was also hope with the building today. We really seemed to be making progress. It may not be completely done, on Saturday, but the walls should be up and the roof on. It is going to be a great celebration.
There is also hope for the church body. VBS has been going great, and our evening services are getting better each night. There should be a good group of people to worship in the church building when it is completed.
There is also hope tonight in the village of Novo Esperansa, or New Hope. As I said yesterday, we went there tonight to do VBS and show the Jesus Film. It is a village of about 50 people. Twenty four of those people came tonight. There were 17 children and seven adults. At the end of the movie as we gave the invitation, all 17 children came forward and one older man. As we started to pray a younger man joined him. They did not come forward because of peer pressure. It was all the call of God drawing them to Himself. Tonight this village truly has new hope.
For those who are interested in the wilder side of things, I must mention that it is really dark here. Without the city lights you can see many stars including the Milky Way. We have seen several shooting stars. Tonight on the way back in the dark we spotted the eyes of three crocodiles. We had also seen a dolphin on the way out. Of course these crocodiles are swimming in the same water we are taking a bath in, the shower is too hot and humid, and we have also been climbing trees and jumping into the water. Maybe the animals around here do not like white meat or maybe they like their meat a little leaner.
With that I must say goodnight. Who knows what God has in store for us tomorrow.
Thursday, August 6.
Well no luggage again today. That does not mean it has not arrived in Manaus, it only means we do not have it with us. Today we heard that cell reception was down in the whole area. Pastor Manuel could not call his wife and check to see if he needed to send a boat for it. By the time we heard that American Airlines claimed it was there, it was too late to do something today. So early tomorrow Pastor Manuel will head to Novo Airão to check on it.
That will not be the only issue in the morning. This evening Sherman fell while walking down the plank of the boat. That is how we get off and on the boat. It is imply a wooden plank with one end hanging on the side of the boat and the other end on the shore. There is the possibility he tore the muscle in his upper arm as he fell against the boat. We will determine around 5:00 in the morning if he needs to go to Manaus. We are praying for a recovery tonight. After all he has invested in making this church building a reality, we hate to see him miss the dedication.
Another issue in the morning is a need for more lumber. Some of the wood for the roof is 2 feet too short. They will cut down a tree in the morning and use their chainsaw to cut it into lumber. It actually is pretty good lumber.
We are nearing the completion of our part of the church building. Tomorrow we will build the roof. Hopefully on Saturday we will put in a temporary floor for the service. It is going to be amazing.
Friday, August 7
As I write this tonight I am sitting on the deck of the boat and my computer is the only light around. I am the bug magnet. One just smashed into my glasses like the windshield of a car flying down the road, only I have no wipers or windshield fluid to wipe them off. Luckily they are just harmless flying things. As a matter of fact bugs have not been much of a problem for us other than they are driving me crazy.
So I have now moved down stairs where the bugs have not found me yet, so I will try this again.
Today they finally arrived. Exactly a week after we checked our bags in, they arrived here in Santa Isabel. They must have had quite a ride. My lost bag ended up inside two plastic bags. Apparently the zipper on my bag decided to not make the flight for it was no where to be found, but all the stuff in the bag seemed to arrive safely. Last night the luggage actually had a hotel in Nova Airão. I have not heard what that cost yet, but hopefully the bags had a good night’s sleep.
The one thing I was glad to see was shorts to sleep in and my razer. American Airlines had given us convenient kits for bathing and there was a razor in it, but the one time I used it I think I wore it out on the second stroke. I looked like a teenager who had snuck his dad’s razor and tried to shave for the first time. Tonight, however, I am clean shaven and it feels so good.
Today was a little frustrating though. We had hoped to put the roof on the church, but it just did not go as planned. We managed to only get two of the four trusses in place. But we are ready, and with first light we will proceed. Tomorrow night we will have the first service in the new church building.
With everything going the way it did today, someone had suggested we should not have planned for a community service. I am glad we did not plan that way. Tonight, our service ended up being one of the best we had. Several people came to pray for a real or closer walk with God. God is really moving in the lives of the people here.
During the service I noticed some people on a nearby porch. You could not have gotten more people on the porch. I asked Pastor Manuel why they were there. He stated that they wanted to hear what we were saying without committing to actually be there with us. I believe God is also working in their lives.
Perhaps things have not all gone as we have planned, but God has His own plan. Once again I am believing that His plan is far better than mine.
Saturday, August 8
Tonight we are headed down river, back toward Manaus. We left tonight so that we could get back early tomorrow afternoon so that the boat crew could celebrate Father’s Day. It is hard to imagine our time in the village is over. Time seems to have flown by, but it has been an amazing time.
Tonight we held the first service in the new building. We almost got all of the roof on, but we ran out of roofing material. The platform was partially built, the window frames were in, and we had electricity. It was hard to imagine how great it looked, especially from how it looked on Sunday when we arrived. It was simply amazing.
They had anticipated 100 people for the service and the dinner after. There were 165 people. They had some of the team take the kids outside and play with them so that there was room for most of the adults. It was a great service as we worshipped together in English and in Portuguese. I had the privilege of being the speaker for the night. It was a joy to be a part of such a great service as we dedicated the church building in memory of Rev. Bill Sessoms.
Today we also had a baptism service. Five from Santa Isabel were baptized there in the river along with a member of our team who had never been baptized. One of the amazing things tonight was that the mayor, chief, president or whatever he is actually titled, announced in the service that he was thinking of being baptized next time. What a difference this week has made in his life. When we arrived religion was ok to help the village, but it was not really for him. Now he is thinking of becoming a Christian. Glory to God.
On the lighter side, today we moved our boat to a different place in the village and we were able to see pink dolphins playing in the water. I also climbed up a tree and dove into the river from a branch about 15 feet up. Of course the younger ones jumped in from about 25 to 30 feet up. Even Tammy got into the water tonight. I am really going to miss the river, but a nice hot shower will feel good.
It was sad to leave tonight. We have had a great time, and made some wonderful relationships. Who knows if we will ever see each other this side of Heaven, but Heaven will sure be a great place in which to meet again.
Monday, August 10.
Yesterday we made it back to Manaus. Sometime the night before we stopped along the river. In the morning we continued our way down the river to an Indian village. It was interesting to hear a little of their history as they endeavor to keep their traditions alive. They, of course, are a lot more modern than their ancestors and the Indians that are in the jungle. We did get a little feel for what life is like for those in the jungle.
In Manaus we spent the night at the Wesleyan College. The team expected air conditioned rooms and beds. We were 50% right. There were beds. I opted to sleep outside in a hammock again for it was much cooler out there.
Before we went to bed, though, we went to church at the Nazarene Church. It was a great service, we then went to the mall for supper. I could have had a burger, but Tammy and I opted for one last, or so we thought, Brazilian meal.
This morning we woke up ready for a day of sightseeing. This sightseeing would be mostly by boat. We had a chance to see the boat the district is building for future mission trips. It is going to be a nice boat. We then went down river to a market where we could by souvenirs to take home. We then went further down the river to where the Black River and Amazon meet. It was amazing to see what it looked like. The two rivers come together, but because of the temperature differences they do not mix. The Black River is clear but black in color. The Amazon is a muddy brown. Our boat floated between the two so that we could feel as well as see the difference.
The highlight of the day, though, was when we had the chance to hold a sloth, and a baby alligator. I also held a little girls pet dragon fly that she put on my finger then disappeared. I finally convinced someone else to hold it. Then came the biggest thrill. They brought out an anaconda to hold. Even Tammy let them put this snake around her as she held it right behind the head. I wonder how much of her it could have put in its mouth.
Now we are at the airport. Our 12:01 flight is now 1:20 A.M. This should not hurt our schedule in Miami. It is making it hard to stay awake. We did have three people without tickets, but that was quickly taken care of. Now the question, will our luggage arrive home? I will let you know in a few hours.
It is hard to imagine that after months of planning, it is over. On Tuesday we were able to fly back home without any real issues. The only one whose luggage did not arrive with them was Drew, but it arrived a little later.
As I look back on the time in Brazil, I could focus on all the things that did not go right. It seems that getting to Brazil turned out a whole lot harder than anticipated, but as much as we talk about missed flights and lost luggage, that is not really the highlight of the trip. The highlight of the trip was the way that God worked through it all.
It is amazing to go back and look through the pictures and to see how the building foundation looked when we arrived, and to see how it looked as everyone gathered for the dedication. That we were able to get so much done was truly an act of God.
I am also amazed at how well our outreach went in the village through VBS, the evening services, and the medical clinic. God placed some great people on our team who allowed Him to use them to really touch lives. What a joy to go from a handful of people on Sunday night as we showed the Jesus Film to such a large crowd on Saturday for the dedication. God was so faithful.
Did God change my life through this trip? Absolutely! To begin with I made some great friends both from North Carolina and from Brazil. I may never see many of them again this side of Heaven, but they have a special place in my heart.
My faith also grew during this trip as I watched God work. It might have been easy to give up in despair as things seemed to fall apart around us, but through it all, I never doubted that God was in control, and in the end He showed us just how faithful He is.
I am so grateful I had the opportunity to be a part of this trip. Thank you God, you are so awesome.
P.S. I do miss swimming in the river.