AMAZON BOAT TRIP – CHRIST´S CHURCH MANDARIN AND MAYO MEDICAL TEAM
BY AMY BARRETT - AUGUST 2 – 11, 2017
August 2nd/3rd 2017
After multiple delays we arrived in Manaus, Brazil shortly before 2 am. Apart from the delays out of Miami, it was a seemly smooth trip and we arrived at airport clearly the last of flight of the night. We came through customs easily, and while tired, were excited for the adventure that lay ahead of us. Earl and his team greeted us just outside the gate with welcome arms, and after a short bus ride, it was just a short walk to the boat and we were greeted with clean rooms and a warm meal.
Though exhausted, we could not resist heading to the top deck to catch a glimpse of Manaus and the river where we would be spending the next 10 days. I can only speak for myself when I say just how long I have been awaiting this journey, but the excitement is palpable, I cannot imagine I am the only one. We joined the surgical team from Mayo-already sound asleep-as previously scheduled surgeries had been cancelled. They will be with us until tomorrow when we will leave them at a hospital in a larger town to perform surgeries. Our amazing crew drove through the night to ensure we would reach our destination in time.
August 3rd (after sleep)
The sun is strong but not yet too hot. If it weren´t for the homes right along the water, the abundance of small fishing boats, and the lack of docks, you could almost imagine we were on the St Johns River. But we are all together in a different world-It is incredible-another part of Gods amazing masterpiece-at most untouched, and at the very least, undiluted by technology at mankind. While we are not yet too far into the forest, the dense foliage, the birds, the monkeys howling in the distance and the pink and gray dolphins are clear evidence we are in another world. We have dolphins back home but these are so different from the ones we meet in Florida. Both river and Atlantic dolphins back in Florida follow along the boats, traveling in large groups, and jump out of the water incessantly. The dolphins here are much like the jungle-mysterious, elusive, with an intentionally slower cadence-peeking out of the water once, maybe twice, then disappearing again.
It is amazing to be traveling this aquatic highway. With virtually no roads, and only one major bridge crossing the river-clear back in Manaus, the river is their highway. Speckled with barges carrying soy beans, to large river cruisers like ours, to tiny fishing boats where the sailor is bailing out water as he navigates, the river truly is the source of life for those who live along it.
Primarily a travel day, we have been able to enjoy the cool breeze and incredible scenery while most took advantage of a top deck nap either in a rocking chair or hammock that the locals refer to as redes.
We stopped briefly in São Sebastião to drop and pick up supplies, while also picking up Earl´s wife and son. We were entertained by some local children who were jumping off some steps into the river. They gradually dared each other to go higher and higher, laughing with glee each time they hurtled themselves off of the stairway. Woody, one of our lead doctors, explained to me the necessity of the stairwell along the river wall. The river here does not have high tide and low tide on a daily basis like we do further from the equator. It changes every six months and is drastic. High tide generally occurs during the summer (July) and low tide occurs in our winter months (November) and usually fluctuates 30-40 feet thus necessitating the stairwell.
I cannot wait to see what is in store for us.
Today´s devotion gave some incredible insight into the day. “Be prepared to be on the lookout for everything I have prepared for you; the stunning scenery…cozy nooks for resting…and much more,” and “don’t worry about what is around the next bend.” Every turn with the river seemingly holds the same scenery; however, once you look closely, you notice that in fact every snapshot is unique. Be it the foliage or the very villages themselves. Today we were able to visit three of those incredibly unique villages. A slow start according to Earl because there were not a huge amount of visitors and the second stop was seemingly empty. But a great opportunity for us to get our feet wet, some rhythm to what we doing, and plans in the mission field, at least in those that I have been on, are consistently in flux. “Flexibility “is a term in which you become well acquainted and adjusting your schedule is the only constant. With that I find that life here is far more relaxing-despite all of the ambiguity-the norm is to go with the flow and enjoy the ride. We were able to hear some of Earl´s heart and passion for the mission last night at dinner. There are true medical needs here, and Earl and Ruth Anne have worked extremely hard not to only establish a ministry here, but a consistent ministry that the villages (communities) have come to love and trust. It makes doing a good job for CBM even that much more important to me while we are here.
The access we have to abundant health care-calling in 2nd and 3rd opinions on a simple procedure while having abundant access to medication in contrast to the medical struggles that exist in the majority of the world would be defeating to most, but it seems to make Earl that much more determined. I love his heart in that he doesn’t just want to fix the problem with a Band-Aid and consider it done. Much like he indicated in regards to ones walk with Jesus-the step of accepting Christ and your Lord and Savior is not the end game-it is the first step in our walk. This ministry is about the lifelong walk and establishment of relationships with these people. Loving them, getting to know them, healing them, and training their pastors so they can be more equipped to each other. What an incredible team we have here. The “family” that serves as a part of Earl´s team has established an example and our team seems to have fallen into line-working together as one unit-enjoying each other’s company-and recognizing the gifts that each seem to possess. As the sun set on our second day, and our first day serving, we were able to enjoy the incredible moon and stars that were completely iridescent in the dark sky. The moon lit enough of the tree line that you could distinctly make out our path and shined so brightly on the deck flashlights were unnecessary. It was incredible to view the beauty of the night sky, unobstructed by city lights.
It is a bit cloudier this morning so I suspect it will be a bit cooler of a day. Today we leave four of our teammates in São Sebastião where they will be assisting in painting one of the CBM buildings as well as working in the greenhouse. We will pick them up again in a few days while the remainder of the team visits additional villages.
What incredible families we were able to meet and spend time with today. We went to just one village, but it was an incredible village. I should have suspected based on the welcoming sign that was in place where we pulled up. The families were so incredibly welcoming and sweet. One of my favorite families of the day was a multigenerational family that pulled up in a little fishing boat. The most obvious difference was their grandmother who was sitting in a chair with propped up by pillows. They pulled up to the dock and circled around her with the utmost care and love. The little ones worked together to bring the chair and the pillows up the muddy walkway and the father gingerly carried her out of the boat and up to our dock. Once they had her seated in our lobby she was smothered in kisses and hugs by all of the family, adjusting her hands and feet (with beautifully painted and decorated toenails) kissing her each time. She was clearly ill and worn out, but had the most incredible smile. It is amazing; the incredible and beautiful power love has on one’s spirit. After multiple medical and dental visits, not to mention haircuts, gymnastics lessons, and massages, part of our team and boat crew spent the early evening playing soccer with some of the local kids and teens. One of the boys, probably 7 or 8, was so entertaining to watch. He was smaller by half than most of those he played with, yet he had the fierce determination of someone twice that-he also had some incredible skills to go with it! The only time he missed a goal or a kick, was when he was watching to make sure we were watching him-making me homesick for my own kids, but also filling my heart with the universality of children.
To top it all off, the beautiful community invited us to a church service that evening. We sang, worshiped, and loved Jesus. While not understanding the words, the heart was undeniable and God spoke to us all that night. The evening was concluded when our wonderful hosts sang a song for us thanking us for being there and asking God´s blessings upon us. They sang so proudly and so heartily, it was like an audible hug from them to us.
We woke on Sunday parked in the incredible community we served the day before. I wanted to document this blog with a photo of the community’s sign that “welcome”ed us to their home, when Beth noticed the palm trees just above me were flooded with toucans-a treat for rising early as they were gone within the hour. After devotions, Woody, Lana, and Earl went for a house call up the river, and the rest of us prepared for the day. After a handful of additional patients, we moved up the river to another community. One of my favorite things in the past two communities has been the involvement of men/husbands/fathers. It definitely seems to make a difference in the health and wellbeing of the family units here. The families seem healthier, the children seem happier, and there seems to be a better sense of community.
We returned this afternoon to meet up with our medical team in Urucará and celebrate Michael, Ruth Anne and Earl´s son for his birthday. While they were completing their surgeries, the team was able to walk around the “town” for a bit taking in some sights. We knew we wanted to see the hospital and asked a few locals to point us in the direction. As we returned briefly to clean up for church that evening, we shared photos of our kids with some of the crew-universality in parents-the love and pride they have for their children.
Sunday night service was completely different in most ways than Saturday night’s church service-though the heart was entirely the same. We entered a beautiful sanctuary greeted with air conditioning and fans. The floors and chairs were beautifully white while the walls were decorated with flowers and greenery. Exactly like our other church the other night, you could tell the community was extremely proud of their church home. One of the highlights for me during the service was being able to have the service translated by Michael, Earl and Ruth Anne´s son. He took care to translate not just the words, but the meaning. While it was a late night, we were able to return to boat to enjoy a cool breeze and wonderful company and conversation.
Today marks the halfway point in our journey. On one hand it feels like we have been here for months, and another it is hard to believe we have already experienced half of our days on the river. What an incredible opportunity this has been. To get a glimpse into the lives of people who are not all that different from us, and yet live so incredibly different. The language barrier is obviously a factor, but one thing is certain, laughter, smiles, and the love of God transcends all barriers.
I have been asked to share a devotion this morning, so since I am also processing what I am going to say while I start my entry this morning, I have decided to put it here as well. I am not sure if it will make it on this entry, but as it is part of my journey this trip I have decided to include it.
If you have spent any time at all around me, you know that I love to laugh and love life. But this was not always the case. Some days it takes more effort that I would care to admit, but as a whole, it is my truth.
I am going to share a verse that has become one of my favorites over the past few years. It was shared with me during an incredibly dark time in my life, and while I initially rejected it, resented it even-it brought immense comfort to my heart when I needed it most. It is James 1:2
“Consider it a pure joy brothers and sisters, when you face trials of any kind.”
We are told throughout scripture that we live in a sin filled world. Sometimes our situations and trying times are a result of our decisions or sins, and sometimes those trying times are a result of other people´s decisions and sins. Since the latter is entirely outside of our control, often that is the most challenging thing to deal with because we can´t do anything to fix it. That was what I was facing at the time I received this scripture. I´m not going to lie, I was not thrilled. I was angry that this is how God wanted me to deal with the situation/my life at the time. I was hurt that all of my fasting and praying wasn´t changing the situation around me, and no matter what I said or did, it would not. But over time, God taught me that finding the joy was critical. Not every situation is good, but there IS good in every situation, and good CAN come from every situation. My daily devotion this morning reiterated this beautifully. “(God´s) peace is not an elusive goal, hidden at the center of some complicated maze. Actually, you are always enveloped in Peace which is inherent in (His) presence. As you look to (Him) you gain awareness of this precious Peace.”
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge HIM and He will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6
Trust in Him brings true peace, peace because of Him brings joy in ALL things.
One of the most incredible things about being out here, aside from the incredible people and the beautiful world we get to experience, is the opportunity to truly hear God. To see God. To feel God-entirely undiluted by technology and the chaotic pace of the rest of the world. I have had the incredible opportunity to wake with a view of this incredible river and her tributaries every morning. The simplicity of life on the river, though harsh in many ways-is refreshing. The peace and unhurried nature of the people of Amazon is refreshing-Mais ou Menos is one of the prevalent phrases of the river-it means more or less-and applies to nearly everything on the river. We will eat at 7-mais ou menos. We will have 10 people here-mais ou menos. We arrived late last night at a new community we will be serving today-it is seemingly larger than some of our other communities and I suspect we will be quite busy today. I cannot wait to surround myself with these incredible people again today. Brazil has certainly captured my heart.
(pm)- Today was definitely a day that reflected the dichotomy of life on the river. While we yes, got to experience the beauty, serenity, and joy that exist in the simplicity of this life, we also saw some of the harshness. The community in which we woke this morning was not unlike the others. The people were beautiful, joyful, and full of life. There is a genuine medical need here though. Simple things, such as access to routine dental care, are not so simple here along the Amazon. While most of them have these incredibly beautiful smiles, lack of simple dental care takes a toll on their teeth-just not only the ones you see. (Though I had to come back up to this entry as this morning-8/9-families are just waking and have come down to the river to brush their teeth and wash up for the day.) We have been joined on this trip by a wonderful young dentist named Michelle who has taken time to come and serve this trip as our dentist. She herself comes from a community such as those we are serving, but incredibly farther into the jungle than we will be traveling. In fact, it is a 15 day journey to reach her community when traveling from Manaus. It is difficult to comprehend this, but when considering travel to most of these communities is solely by boat, it makes sense why there are still communities that exist that have never seen the outside world-incredible.
I met the most incredible boy today. Perhaps it is because my own son is on the spectrum that I gravitate towards children with similar characteristics, but there was just something about this boy. He was so full of love and laughter you just couldn´t help but smile when you were near him. He joined us initially as we were playing jump rope with some of the other children. It was pretty clear right from the beginning that he was different. But what I love most about these communities is that those who are different, whether handicap or special needs, are not cast off-they are fully embraced and taken care of by everyone. Truly the love that people have for each other here is palpable. Yes, in some ways they have to join together because of the harsh living conditions, but it is so much more than that. The love of Jesus clearly exists in their lives. Earl brings teams to help take care of their medical and dental needs on a monthly or bi-monthly basis, but they take care of each other’s physical and spiritual needs on a daily basis. We could really stand to learn a lot.
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim the good news to the poor. HE has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives, and release from darkness for the prisoners,”
The more time I spend in the presence of those who are materialistically poor-I realize that in the states we are far more impoverished than we can possibly understand. I know I have brought up technology many times, but it is so wonderful to see families interact-to see people spend time in community without a cell phone between them continuously distracting their attention from this amazing world in which we have been blessed to live-or for some, simply exist. Sure, technology can be so amazing-it allows us to navigate the heavens, it has helped us, and continues to help us cure horrible diseases, and yes, updated technology might be able to help these doctors who are giving of their time proceed a little easier. But if we are not careful, technology interferes with the human experience. It is so amazing to watch this team this week. They don’t have the luxury of tests and exams to help them, so they spend time talking through a translator to determine what they need-medication, massage, dental help, or more extensive treatment in the bigger cities. I don’t know the count right now of the number of people who came through the boat yesterday, but it was extensive. It amazed me the number of scripts the team of 3 was able to process-it is wonderful what can be accomplished when working for the Kingdom. Remembering to work for the Kingdom everyday regardless of the task you are completing is the task.
I am going to have to ask Earl later because I am relatively sure I just saw a bald eagle.
(pm)- Today was a busy day. We saw two separate villages and got a little more perspective in the differences between communities. One of my teammates Niki (who both she and her husband speak Portuguese) was able to talk with our dentist about the conditions in these communities. It was curious because we all kind of felt like they were seemingly better than what we would have anticipated. This is where we received critical clarification. We happen to be here during one of their times of abundance. The river is at a perfect level, where the water is high enough to provide water for their crops and sustenance for their meals. This is not nearly always the case. A few months ago the waters were so high, the residents in the communities literally raise the floors of their homes to keep them above water-they obviously don´t raise the ceilings, so they hunch over to get through their homes during this time. A few months from now the river will be very low and fish will not be as plentiful-and the water will be too far to keep crops alive. These communities live in the most extreme of conditions and we were able to experience the “sweet spot” of their lives. Despite all of this, they are joy filled, love filled, family and community oriented people. They want what is best not only for their families but their communities as a whole. To say I have fallen in love is an understatement.
One of my roles on this trip, besides blogging and taking photos, has been to assist with massages. This has certainly put me outside of my comfort zone on many levels. I definitely like my personal space and so far really only those that receive a massage from me are my children. Now I have had extensive back issues so I have received many massages in my life-but never-ever did I think I would be the one providing them. The amazing thing for me was, it only took one and I really began enjoying it. Not that I would want to switch my career path, but I have strong hands and having had so many, I know what moves make what area of the back/neck feel better. I was able to serve God´s people by praying over them as I worked, and help them physically feel better-but the joy they have brought to me is something I can´t describe. It has been mentally, physically, and spiritually challenging, but the mission here is something in which I can´t help but see God´s hand. The team is reaching people and because the mission isn´t about Earl, or the teams, or anyone in particular-it is about building relationships and loving the people of these communities-God is blessing it abundantly. One of the most wonderful things we have been able to experience is Earl´s interaction with the people-he does not want a single person to ever doubt who they are or who´s they are. And that includes us. He shared he and Ruth Anne´s story today-one you will have to come on a trip to hear as it is not my tale to tell-but it further confirmed my utmost support of what God is doing with them here. I cannot wait to see how God continues to build this ministry.