Journal for greencastle christian church
After 8 hours in the air, the team arrived together, with all of our bags, to Manaus around 1am on 6-6. We were blessed in transit in such a sweet way. Vickie Rollin´s sister, Susan, was flying in to the Miami airport separately, with only an hour between her arrival and our connecting flight to Manaus. There was concern about what would happen if her flight was delayed, or if it arrived on the other side of Miami Int. But, our Father knows. (Matthew 10:29-31). His Favor was displayed as we realized that Susan`s flight was arriving on time, and just 4 gates down from our departure gate.
God is so good. Deus e tom bom.
We were greeted by Earl & 3 of the crew-men at baggage claim around 1:30 in the morning, the men gathered our bags & took us to a comfortable & air conditioned bus, and we drove through the dark & vacant streets of Manaus, just a short distance, to where the blue & white boat was docked. Earl gave us our room assignments, and upon arrival the men offered to take our bags to our rooms. Jeff and I had back-packs so we found our cabin - #5 – and opened the door to find a room about the size of our bed back home, with 2 bunks, a dresser with 5 drawers, an attached bathroom, and a magnificent little air conditioner. We smiled at one another, and our cozy little room, as we set our things down. We stayed just long enough to look around before we were invited to the kitchen where a tiny little Brazilian woman, whose name I cannot pronounce (yet) had prepared a delicious meal of rice, noodles, steak, peppers, and onions. She did this for us at 2am!!!! With full plates, we all climbed the stairs to the top deck & enjoyed our meal together, while the boat took to the River. We watched the lights of Manaus & it´s beautiful bridge fade in the distance, as our adventure began.
Our Team: Dr. Jim & Judy VanCuren (Brownsburg, IN). Judy Grant (from Ohio), and our GCC Group - Michelle Evans, Ken & Jackie Eitel, Vickie Rollins & her sister – Susan Farrell, Mike Smiley, Pat Ness, my husband, Jeff Lancaster, and the Journal keeper- Bobbie.
I awoke around 6:45, excited to see the River in the morning light. The Sun had already dawned, but the cool mist & cloudy skies would have hidden the sunrise, so I was saved the disappointment of sleeping through it. As I write, one beam of sunshine broke through dark clouds and blazed down on me – just long enough to hint at the sweltering days ahead. This is the expectation. Hot days in the rainforest. I pray that we face each day with the Joy of the Lord in our hearts & on our faces. The morning eventually turned to rain, and what a beautiful rain. The air was cool, and the sound of the raindrops on the River was a peaceful backdrop to a relaxing morning, as we all recovered from the long day of traveling, and the short night of sleep.
Today´s task was to unpack the large suitcases of medication that we brought with us from Greencastle. We were delighted to discover that even though our bags had been opened and inspected by the customs authorities in Manaus, every bit of medication & hygiene supplies appeared to be intact.
And unpacking was easy. Michelle, our group leader, has served with CBM multiple times, and her system of packing the supplies made for an easy morning for each of us. We had gathered at GCC the week before to take supplies out of their packaging, categorize and bag things together in large plastic ziplocks, and dispose of the extra packaging back in the states. That saved us a great deal of time, and reduced the trash that we would leave in this beautiful country. The meds were easily organized for Ruth-Anne´s pharmacy, and we made an assembly line to bag up hygiene times (soaps, toothpaste, toothbrushes, and wash cloths- which we were told the ladies used as pads….knowing that, I wish we had brought more.)
While we worked together to bag the hygiene items, Earl listed and assigned us our jobs for the clinics that we would begin tomorrow.
Susan Grant came with a special gift. She makes balloon animals to give to the village children, and to use during Bible stories when we have church services.
Vickie Rollins was paired with Michelle – the beautiful Brazilian Dentista – to do tooth restorations & extractions.
Mike Smiley was given the job of Masseuse! We all giggled a little at that, and everyone is looking forward to seeing how that goes!
Ken Eitel & Jeff were chosen to be out front. Jeff is to play soccer and interact with the little ones. Ken is going to call patients in for treatment. (Brassimo Mejico! – next for the DR. or Brassimo Dentista! – next for the dentist). Ken´s initials attempt speaking Portuguese was entertaining, to say the least.
Jackie Eitel is our head nurse, taking blood pressures, and helping the Dr assess patients.
Pat Ness & Susan Farrell are helping with intakes & directing traffic in the waiting area.
Dr. Jim is the man!
Judy VanCuren will be helping Ruth-Anne in the pharmacy.
Michelle Evans & I are the Worm Ladies, distributing wormer as directed, and giving hygiene bags to all, and sunglasses to the kids! Estia e mejiho para vermes! Maschika! (this is the medicine for the worms. Chew it up!). I´ll be practicing that phrase tonight.
After unpacking meds & receiving our job assignments, we headed to the kitchen to count out & bag up ibuprofen & vitamins for the villagers we were soon to meet.
Then we headed up to the top deck, which is open-air and partially covered, to sit with Earl for a history & geography lesson. We learned that we would be visiting villages in the county of San Sabastion, in the state of Amazonia. We also learned that the undeveloped Rain Forest of the Amazon region is roughly 1/3 the size of the continental U.S. No roads. Only accessible by boat, and still some areas are so remote that new people groups are still being discovered.
After our lesson, we were called to the kitchen where Edgielsa (you learn quickly the name of the woman who feeds you!) had made her famous cheese-bread for our afternoon snack. Good Night – that was so delicious. I didn´t expect to be fed so well – or so often!
The Sun rises & sets uniformly here. We´re only 1 degree south of the equator, so the sun rises around 6, and retires around 6. They have seasons, but it´s the water level that varies, not the temperature. The water is up now and still rising.
Anyway, the Sun…. by 6:30, it was completely dark outside, except for the stars, and I´ve never seen stars like this! So brilliantly bright & twinklie that they cast redish, blue-white, or yellow reflections on the black water – like tiny little moons. They don´t have the lights of a city to contend with. The banks of the River were just black jungle. No power lines. No electric lights at all. As I looked at the layers of stars upon stars I realized for the first time that our attached-to-the-grid lifestyle comes with many costs – and one of the things we´ve exchanged for convenience is one of God´s first creations – The magnificent beauty of the Stars themselves.
That thought was interrupted by Earl bellowing `SUP-PER`, and everyone filed downstairs for another delicious meal. With full stomachs, we realized our lack of sleep and everyone turned in early. We would have an early morning, and were ready to recharge and prepare our hearts to open the boat clinic tomorrow at our first stop.
Friday, 6-8 - Village #1. Livramento.
We docked at Livramento last night, and this morning I opened the door to our quarters with the smell of strong Brazilian coffee in the air, a rooster crowing from the shore, and a scattering of open-air 1 room wooden plank homes with thatched roofs & lines of drying clothes. The village was home to a small blue & white church and a rectangular tan building with a wide green & orange stripe, which we later found out was the school.
We were called to breakfast and then gathered to the top deck with the crew for a lesson in both Portuguese & English. We sang in both languages, and did a devotional lesson about the story of Eve. Singing together was absolutely moving, and as we sang `Because He Lives` in Portuguese, I was moved to tears, so blessed to be in this circle of believers, united in Jesus, doing our best to learn each others language. Everyone vulnerable. Everyone smiling and full of the Joy of the Lord.
After that precious time, we headed down to the bottom deck of the boat, the medical clinic. The Horn blew, and we opened the doors to the people of Livramento. Nearly everyone was given vitamins and wormer. Many were given other meds by order of Dr. Jim. Teeth were cleaned, repaired, and when necessary, extracted. Jeff ran around playing soccer with the village children while Susan distributed the most wonderful balloon animals, flowers, and hats to every child, with Ken in the background hollering `Brassimooo Medijoo`! We saw a steady stream of people, and about the time we were all ready for a break, the last patient left the boat. We were called to lunch with that wonderfully relieved feeling you get when you´ve made through something for the first time. Edgielsa is determined to send us all home a little pudgy, and I´m going to let that happen. We wolfed down lunch, and then rested. Some up top in Hedgies (hammocks), and others to their rooms, as the Captain took us on to another village. For the record, when we are traveling, the breeze on the top deck is so nice and the hedgies are heaven.
Village #2. Monte das Oliverias
After about an hours rest we arrived at Mt. Oliverias. At first glance, it appeared to be a nearly empty place. A few open-air structures and a handful of colorful one-roomed homes facing the shoreline. I wondered if we arrived ahead of schedule due to the quiet, but within 30 minutes the shoreline was full of people waiting to visit the Dr. & Dentista. So many children in this village! Many families with 4-6 kids. Tiny little mamas. Young mamas.
One couple had a 6 month old baby. The mother was 15. The Father, 14. There seemed to be a void of older people here. I wondered about the average life expectancy for the Amazonian people.
In this village was a little boy, age 5, I think. When Project Amazonia first arrived here, this boy was 6 months old & only 6lbs. Earl was just delighted to see the boy, and there is no doubt that he is alive now because of the consistent care that he has received through this ministry.
After the steady stream of people, we saw the last villager and went ashore to the one-roomed blue & white block church for service. One little girl sat on my lap, another right next to me, as we sang in Portuguese, led by Daniella & Diadra (las primas – the cousins), who sing & play beautifully. Judy, the balloon lady, used her gift to make a sword, a lion, a sheep, and a Giant Goliath mask, which she used to tell the story of David & Goliath. Jeff, my Jeff, was Goliath – and he rocked it! So animated & funny. A little boy & girl were chosen to be the lion and the sheep, and another boy, David. Judy read the story in English, while Earl translated into Portuguese & the others acted out their parts. Everyone had such a wonderful time & loved every second. As the service went on, and we began to sing again, rain began to fall. We walked back to the boat in the rain, smiling as we left.
For dinner, we were offered a lovely meal of rice, noodles, chicken & onions, and salad – but Paca was also on the menu. The crewmen had gone hunting the night before and returned with the Paca – a large rodent, roughly the size of a small dog – which is colored just like a fawn – light reddish brown with white spots. The thought of eating this critter was a stretch for many of us, but most of our team, myself included, had to satisfy our curiosity and give it a try. It wasn´t bad! It had the texture of a chewy flank steak, and after this I am firmly convinced that Edgeilsa can make anything taste wonderful.
After supper, we went on to bed, and the Captain took us on to Caribi.
Saturday 6-9 Village #3 – Caribi
We woke this morning to cloudy skies & pleasant temperatures in the village of Caribi. After getting my first cup of coffee, I climbed up to the top deck to the but wasn´t there long before I heard Michelle say, `Hey you guys, look what we found!`. After climbing back down, we saw a crowd gathered around Pat, who had on her hand a Huge cicada-like bug, bright green in color. Easily 4 inches long, and an inch wide. It was beautiful and we were all delighted by it.
Breakfast was called, so our friendly insect was set aside. Our devotion this morning was about Joseph, son of Jacob, and once again we sang all together in Portuguese & English.
Deus te (chay) abensçoe (ah-bin-soy) means God Bless You.
The Brazilians are growing in confidence with their English – which is significantly better than our Portuguese (with the exception of Michelle E, who has a gift for communicating). I´m enjoying the growing connection with the women on the boat.
Edgielsa, the cook is so loving in all she does. Allissi & Alize are helping in the kitchen, cleaning our rooms, and keeping up with the laundry for the whole boat. All three of them sing while they work. And they are always smiling.
Pastor Geraldo & his wife, Cida, who pastor a church in Manaus, are on the boat with us as well. Cida has a warmth about her, and her English is quite good. As is Michelle, our Brazilian Dentista, who is gentle and gorgeous.
Daniella & Diandra, the primas & our worship-leaders, are both lovely. When we do the clinics, Daniella heads ashore to meet the people & note on their cards (each person has a card that is kept on file) what their needs are & who they should see. Diandra is training under Michelle to become a Dentista, and she is cleaning teeth & doing the occasional filling. The time in clinics is the only time those two are separated. The rest of the time, they are together. Always smiling or singing.
The Horn blew this morning in Caribi and our work began. So many people, filing in and out of a hallway about 3 feet wide & 50-60 feet long, their last stop always for wormer and the pharmacy. It´s a wonderful system, honed over time, and our team is keeping up!
The lines filed in & out until lunch time, then after a nice rest we opened up and stayed busy until late afternoon. It was a hot day. Jeff & Ken took the brunt of the humidity and sun, but no one complained, especially after witnessing one devoted father who carried his son, who may have been 8-10 years old, in his arms. This sweet boy wasn´t able to walk or speak, and his father was drenched in sweat & exhausted by the time they arrived walked out of the jungle and onto the boat. They were seen by the Dr, and while waiting for their medicine from the pharmacy, the boy began to vomit. I grabbed a trash can & held it while the father held his son & the mother wiped his face clean between heaves. I thought, for a moment, about my own wellbeing, but only for a moment. The dedication of this couple for their son….i´ve tried to find the words to share what this experience felt like, but I have no words. As a mother, there is just a deep understanding of the love that comes with each child born, and an understanding that you just do what must be done. God bless this family. Sustain them in this life, Bring them to your heart and restore them in the next. Bless them for loving dedication to this sweet boy.
The last patients of the day were the local pastor, Pastor Gilberto & Sirene, his wife. They led us to the church after their visit, where we all sang again in Portuguese & then shared the story of Jonah. Susan amazed us this time with her whale, complete with a moving mouth, who swallowed Jonah whole. We all laughed hysterically, Americans and Amazonians alike, when after being swallowed by the magnificent balloon whale, Jonah´s balloon head fell off & shot out the whales back-side. I´m laughing just thinking about it!
After the story, Pastor Geraldo was invited up to deliver the message. He had been praying with the people who visited the clinic, and we had enjoyed his insight during our devotional time, which Earl translates for us – but during his message, the Spirit of God was moving so powerfully. I didn´t understand what he said tonight, but I didn´t need to. My heart just burned and I was moved to tears. Just like the Pentecost story in the book of Acts, God`s Word transcends language as He writes on our hearts.
Church ended, we walked back to the boat for another delicious meal, then claimed our hedgies while the stars danced on the Rio Negro.
It was a beautiful end to our time in Caribi.
Sunday - 6-10
The rhythm of life on the boat (barko) might be addictive. Anytime we ask a question about the daily schedule, Earl answers in one of two ways: `when we get there`, or `when the horn blows.` Sometimes he smiles and gives us an answer with details…sometimes he doesn’t.
I´m so thankful that Earl & Ruth-Anne are on this trip. Awhile back, they came to GCC and Earl spoke about discipleship in a way that has shaped my perspective in powerful ways. Ways I pray are of benefit to my team, my church, and the Kingdom for many years to come. He spoke about constantly looking for new people to disciple, train, and mentor. You can see that philosophy working in this ministry, as the pastors disciple other pastors, the crewmen cross train one another, in Michelle as she trains Diandra. And it´s evident as the church in Manaus continues to multiply churches & disciple Christians.
Today is Sunday, and this morning we don´t dress for church, or the clinic. We enjoy our breakfast, gather up top for devotions and worship, and then enjoy several hours of free time while the Captain sails from Caribi to our next village. Some went back to their air conditioned rooms, some claimed hedgies, others sat to read, and Pat grabbed her binoculars to bird-watch. I sat with my journal next to Pastor Geraldo, who was in deep study, and felt a song coming on. It´s been almost 2 years since I wrote, and I welcomed the words that were flowing onto my journal pages and that familiar feeling that comes when God blesses me with a new song. This will be a Sunday morning that I will hold dear.
We ate lunch while we sailed the Rio Negro, and soon after arrived at our next stop.
Village #4 – Abacate.
This village had a joy to it that opened my eyes to the void in the first two. Liiramento & Monte das. Oliverias had such a void of elderly people, so many young mamas. In contrast, there was a nurtured abundance of life, and evidence of stronger family groups in Abacate. Before we blew the Horn to open the clinic, we were invited off the boat to look around and meet the village Macaw. I´m pretty sure Pat went flying off that boat! We came to a little pink house with a Macaw on the porch, surrounded by a little garden, intentionally landscaped with potted & planted flowers & cacti. Everything was neat & tidy, and as we walked around, people greeted us with smiles & ôi´s & waves. There were hens being followed by little chicks, and on the shoreline a cow grazed in someone´s front yard.
Before long, we got started. The Horn blew, and the people came through.
Our first patient was a lady named Giana, who was a missionary to the village. Tonight was her wedding, and we were all invited! How exciting! Most patients were in good health & really just came for vitamins, wormer, and a dental cleaning (clensa). We were thankful for a short afternoon considering the heat. By 4:15, we had seen the last patient, and took the opportunity to rest & clean up before dinner, church, and the wedding. When Earl bellowed `SUP-PER`, I emerged from my room to see the sun going down, and a herd of boys chasing a herd of cows along the shoreline.
We asked at dinner if we could give the bride a gift, and Earl explained that the wedding wasn’t the big ceremony that we´ve come to expect in the States. Instead, the bride & groom were going to attend the church service, which would conclude with their wedding vows. We entered the little blue & white church and noticed that in addition to the balloon animals Judy created for our bible story, she had also created a little balloon bride & groom. We sang in Portuguese and then Earl asked me to speak to the people on behalf of our group of Americans. I spoke from my heart about the beauty of worshipping together, knowing that we would never again be together as a group in this life, but we would all gather around the throne of God, as His children, and praise Him together in the next. I sang Revelation Song, and Alize, las primas, and the Brazilians sang it in Portugese while I sang with the Americanos in English. It was beautiful. After singing, Pastor Geraldo came to deliver the message. All in all, the service lasted for 2 hours, all of us packed into the little church in the jungle heat – complete with 2 bats and a giant moth that nearly scared Judy VanCuren out of her seat! Not one, but two couples were married, and we left the church happy, exhausted, and drenched in sweat. Edgielsa & Allissi returned to the boat to prepare supper for the crew, and to clean up. Those ladies amaze me with the joy & diligence. They work hard, and with such great love.
All in all, this day was unforgettable.
If it weren´t for the dish schedule and this journal, I would have no idea what day it is.
I woke up around 6:30, a little later than what has become normal, and with a little less pep in my step! But the sky was a beautiful blue, the air was cool, and the coffee brought me back up to speed. I took my Bible and coffee up top and watched the village Macaw sail over Abacate.
After breakfast, we gathered to worship together in songs that are becoming comfortable. Earl asked me to sing, and I sang the new song from Sunday morning. Then he shared from his heart and we all experienced worship in Spirit and Truth together, leaving Abacate with peaceful hearts.
It was a short distance to Village #5: Santa Luzia.
One of the first families on board was a large group that included a 95 year old man. He walked in slowly but independently, with a wrinkled leathery face & toothless grin. There was laughter in his eyes. He saw the doctor, then was sent to me for wormer. I gave him the mejio para vermes, and told him `maschika` and he laughed and spoke back to me in Portuguese. I didn´t need an interpreter to know that he said Ì have no teeth!` we all laughed. `Gum it up `was not on my vocabulary sheet.
We had a steady flow of villagers coming in from the village, and from boats from homes near the village. All seemed relatively healthy. The mission has been a consistent presence in this region, and the churches are well established. Needs are being met physically, but also spiritually, and the difference is evident.
One mama brought her two daughters aboard. They went in to see the doctor together, but it wasn´t long before the little sister was brought out to Michelle & I with the order to keep her busy. The little sister´s body language indicated that something was amiss. Pastor Geraldo was asked to join Earl & the Doctor & I tried to tame all of the scenarios running wild through my mind. Michelle Evans was born for this moment, and watching her with little sister was a delight. She communicated so well with the Portuguese that she´s acquired through her many trips here, and used the dictionary she brought, as well as pictures of her pets and work at Connor Prairie to engage & communicate with Little Sister. The two of them sat together for what seemed like 30-40 minutes before the door opened and mama exited smiling, Older Sister exited with her eyes to the ground, and Pastor exited with tears in his eyes. We found out later that the Older Sister was just 12, sexually active, and just started her period. Mother was concerned that she would end up pregnant, like other girls in the village who had gotten involved with the boy in question. The Doctor and the Pastor were trying to help her understand both the physical, emotional, and Spiritual consequences of giving herself to someone else. I felt such empathy for Older Sister – being in that little room with her mother & 3 grown men. That must have been so embarrassing for her – but not easy for the men either. I was proud of them. How wonderful that they would unite and set aside their discomfort to speak words of Truth and Life over this young woman. Lord, please let the seeds that were planted grow. Let that moment become a game-changer. Let her embrace Your Way. Thank you for the willingness of Pastor, Earl, and Dr. Jim to speak Your Word and do Your Will today.
The day went on and eventually all that had come were seen. One of the last to be treated - was a man with a horribly infected toe – which Jackie got all jazzed up about cleaning (Lord,thank you for Jackie!). We discovered that he was injured during a local soccer game, and wouldn´t you know it….after the clinic closed, we were all invited to a friendly game of soccer before church. We walked together, just a little intimidated, toward the field & I was intercepted by none other than Little Sister. She grabbed my hand and started chattering in Portuguese & it saddened me to have to shake my head & say `no compriehendo.` But Little Sister was determined not to give up on me. She acknowledged my ignorance with a gentle smile, then proceeded to march me up to every plant, animal, and person in the village, speak it´s|his|her name in Portuguese and kept me in a call and response until I finally repeated it back to her correctly. When I did, I was rewarded with a smile and a new word to learn. As we got closer to the soccer field, Little Sister grabbed my hand and led me to my seat by her. I felt a flood at relief as my little friend gave me an out. I would happily leave the high impact sports to the others. Earl and Ken, both in their 70´s, march out onto the field, along with Jackie, Pat, Mike, Jeff, Pastor & thankfully, our amazing Brazilian Crewmen, and it was Game ON! These guys were for real, playing with no mercy that we could see. In between plays, Little Sister brought me babies to hold, chickens to cluck at, and the sweetness of friendship. She was trying to help me say Chicken in Portuguese when I heard Jackie gasp, and saw Ken hit the ground. He took a ball right to the face & I think we all stopped breathing for a second. Thankfully, Ken got up on his own & probably would have rejoined the game had Nurse Jackie not announced his immediate retirement and marched him off the field. Ken is a tough one, we all adore him. Every one of us was thankful to see that he wasn´t seriously hurt &we tried not to hurt his pride further by fussing over him. He made a point of holding his own, and even took his turn doing his scheduled dishes shift that evening.
I´m still not sure who won, but our team certainly held it´s own. We went from the soccer field to church & Pastor Gilberto asked me to sing the song I´d written, so I parted from Little Sister, Jeff and I went back to the boat for my mandola, then climbed the hill to the little blue & white church listening to Las Primas lead the people in Fico Feliz and Earl leading Cinco Letras.
I felt the Spirit moving in and around me while I sang the new song, thankful to know every word already and realizing, once again, that language isn´t a barrier for the Holy Spirit. Earl shared, then Pastor Geraldo. When church was over, it was time to board the boat and go….but there was Little Sister, her hand tugging on me, speaking urgently in Portuguese. Pastor Gilberto was nearby & his English is good. I asked him if he would help me understand her, and what he told me broke my heart. `When will you come back to see me?` she asked. I swallowed the lump in my throat and told her truthfully that I did not know. I told her that I do hope to come back, and that I do hope to see her again, but the only thing I could promise is that if she chooses to follow Jesus, I would definitely see her in heaven someday. I´m not sure that answer made her happy. But she took my hand again, and walked me to the boat. I hugged her, and kissed her sweet head, and let go of her hand. I waved and blew kisses as we sailed away….and then I turned away, and let myself cry for a while.
It´s funny how fast Love happens. And I love Little Sister. Her name is Agnanda.
I went to my room and prayed for her. Prayed that she would choose to follow Jesus, and not the example of Older Sister. Prayed that she would be discipled and that I would get a chance to see her working as a part of this ministry, leading her people to Our God and thriving in the Goodness of His Grace.
The medicine that is given to people is a true help, no doubt about it – but when they accept that they are created in God´s Image, and they begin to live their lives in discipling relationships with someone who can help them see that God has a purpose and a plan for them, that´s when lives really begin to get better. As Earl says, where Jesus goes, EVERYTHING gets better.
The Sun went down on the River, and the moonless sky filled with stars upon stars. We were all anticipating the now familiar bellow of `SUP-PER` when we noticed a bright light on the dark shoreline flashing in a pattern. The demeanor of the crew changed, their discussion in Portuguese took on a serious & hushed tone. Our boat slowed as two of the crewmen loaded into the john-boat and headed to shore to investigate. We all watched as they disappeared into the darkness, trying to replace worry with silent prayer. It felt like they were gone for a long time, but it was probably only minutes before we saw their little light leave the shore & head back in our direction. As they drew close, we saw that they had people with them. 9 people. A mama, a 8 small children. The medical crew & Earl met them down at the bottom deck while the rest of us tried to stay quiet and out of the way. All of our worst-case scenarios dissipated as they were loaded back onto the boat, a bag of wormer, vitamins, and simple otc meds in hand, and returned to shore. Earl came back up the stairs shaking his head. The Mama had heard that the boat was coming this way and took her opportunity to flag us down. It´s not the way they like to do it, but it happens, and they give them what they need. The johnboat secured, we were all happy to get on our way. Dinner was delicious, and looking around the table, evidence of our long & eventful day was evident on every face. I was exhausted emotionally & physically, and was almost asleep in my bunk when I felt the boat slow, and heard the men securing us to the shoreline of the village we would experience tomorrow. I realized then that I had been too tired to ask its name, but would sleep well knowing that tomorrow would come with the answer to that question – and a whole new day in Amazonia.
Tuesday 6-12 Village #6 – Jacarequara
We had our normal morning routine of breakfast & devotions, then opened for business with the sound of the Horn.
The Villagers here seem to be in good shape. Relatively healthy elders & babies alike. The village itself was lovely, with well kept houses - the little blue & white church being the first thing you see from the shore.
Unlike yesterday, this day was relatively uneventful. A steady stream of people coming to see both the Mejico & Dentista. As it turned out, it was a good day to have a relaxed pace. Ken was a little sore from his soccer injury, Pat – though not one to ever complain, had just gotten over a little intestinal bug, and now Dr. Jim´s stomach was giving him fits. Cida has been struggling with her blood sugar and feeling less-than-well. Ruth-Anne seems to be hurting too, but neither of these women are willing to complain. I think it´s safe to say that the heat & the bunk beds are becoming more of a challenge than an adventure to most of us, however, our team, though all slightly less peppy than when we began, is still going strong, enjoying our work, our time, and the Presence of the Lord with every new day. And even with the little health issues, no one has gotten sick-sick, and everyone has given everything they have to our work here. What a blessing, this group of people is. God certainly had a purpose for each of us here. His Joy sustains us all.
We saw patients until lunch, had a short rest, then more patients, and then were invited ashore for another game of soccer! Las Primas were put out, to say the least, when they were sent off the field. This game was to be men only. Ken & Earl, our senior players, wisely sat this one out. And Oh! What a game. We were caught up in the action, though I was distractedby a group of sweet girls who just seem to want to be on me, always. (I love it. Truly.) All of a sudden, the attention of every spectator was directed off the field by a piercing Screeeetch! Mike, sweet Mike, had accidentally stepped on an unsuspecting, and apparently very unaware, little green parrot, and the incident did not go unnoticed. I know Mike was just as surprised as the parrot, and Pat, our beloved bird-lady, who already had one green parrot on her arm, bent down to gather the poor, pitiful, screetcher. She had both of these birds perched on her hands, and spoke so sweetly to both of them, until the horrible stomping of Mike, the giant, was forgotten. The Parrots then moved on to the little girls, one of which brought one to me! That bird climbed up and down my arm, nibbled on my hand, my ring, and my water bottle before finally exchanging my arm for a stick offered by another of the village girls. Church was called, and the Parrot climbed back on my arm as we sang our now-familiar Portuguese songs of gathering and Praise right there on the sidelines of the village soccer field. Pastor Geraldo, still sweating and in his soccer cleats, directed a short message to the men as they sat in the grass, then he prayed over them. There were no tearful goodbyes at Jacarequara. The children ran along beside the boat, waving their goodbyes & yelling `Tchau` until they ran out of shoreline to run. We watched them swimming and playing as we sailed on & the sun set.
This break between sunset & dinner has been my favorite time to shower off. The water has warmed in the tank all day, and while not hot at all, it´s also not cold, and it feels great to wash off the heat of the day, put on a fresh set of clothes, and enjoy dinner before we all head to bed. That was the way the evening unfolded, as Captain navigated us safely on to Santa Maria.
Wednesday, 6-13 Village #7 – Santa Maria Madruba.
Instead of a little blue & white church at the heart of the village, Santa Maria has a bar and their equivalent to a party barn. We had our delicious breakfast, Portuguese\English lesson, and devotions, and then the Horn blew.
We saw only a handful of people here. A few older couples, a teenage mother of 2, a few families, and a cook from the local school to brought with her several sweet little ones in their school uniforms. The landscape has changed significantly and we´re now in an area that feels like marsh-land. With these still waters, it´s much easier to see wild-life and the birds are abundant. While in a lull between patients, I went out back and Jeff had me look along the shoreline at something large & grey that kept coming up for air, maybe 25 feet from the boat. I think it was a river dolphin. Jeff thinks it was a manatee. Greyish, with a (debatable) floppy dorsal fin.
We finished up seeing patients before lunch time, and headed to the next village while we rested and admired the landscape. The water is so still here, and dotted with floating islands of grass that congregate around partially submerged trees. The Captain had to take it slow to navigate successfully around these floating organic obstacles, and we all watched as we traveled, soaking it all in. I enjoyed the abundance of life here, but enjoyed watching Pat bird-watch even more. Her excitement is delightful, and she is so perfectly happy sitting alone with her binoculars & an animal encyclopedia, trying to identify each new creature. We only had about 30 minutes of traveling before arriving at our next – and final village.
Village #8 – Ilha do Mauruba.
We arrived so close to lunch time that it was decided we should eat, then get right to work….and so we did. Once the ramp was down and the Horn blew, we were in action for hours. Babies, Mamas, a water-taxi full of school children (0ne in her uniform with her newborn along), and several families that included both parents and grandparents.
At this point all confident in our positions and working efficiently. We were also more aware of what everyone else was doing, and the emotional toll that Vickie and Michelle have experienced was realized. They were so busy extracting rotten teeth, and not just from adults, but from the little ones as well. Dental care is so needed, as is education about good daily dental hygiene. When a 12 year old comes in with her first adult molar rotten & crumbling in her mouth, Michelle knows that the reality for her is most likely that she will eventually lose all of her teeth, experience failing health, and malnutrition. But Michelle also sees the progress that has come from continued & consistent visits to these villages. Many are coming to get cleanings and taking better care of their teeth due to the efforts of the Mission. With every moment of discouragement, God also brings Hope and the encouragement to keep on going.
Before we left Greencastle, we packed a huge rolling suitcase full of sunglasses, as well as hundreds of washcloths, soaps, toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste – and we were only 5 bags short. We ran out of sunglasses and clothing for the children as well, and some were disappointed, but my Jeff blew bubbles until the bubbles were gone - then made more from the kitchen soap. He dawned the Goliath Mask & went out to help bring the Bible story to life. He spent days and days in the full Amazonian Sun and heat, kicking soccer balls, and playing with kids & connecting with the men of each village. He blew me away, and I couldn’t be more proud of my husband.
And Susan Grant…..God used Susan again and again. Any disappointment that a child felt disappeared when Susan made a balloon flower for their wrist, an animal to play with, or a hat to wear. All we could do was smile watching the kids play on shore with these colorful creations. Her work helped to bring the Word of God to life in a way that was interactive, and funny, precious and memorable.
It was so apparent that God brought us all together for this trip, and each of our unique talents became beautiful tools along the way, in the hands of the Creator.
As we sailed away from our last village, I soaked in the love of two sisters, reunited. Susan & Vickie, much like Las Primas, were inseparable when we weren´t working in the clinic. They are sitting up front together now, as close as they can get to one another, laughing with that same laugh, smiling with that same smile, and both full of the same gentle & quiet love, complete with a soft Kentucky drawl. Vickie and her husband are our God-given family, and she and Susan are so much alike that I loved her at first sight. It´s been a great joy to witness their love for one another, and watch them share this precious time together.
Michelle Evans, our group leader, has impressed me at every turn. She exudes a quiet confidence. Her presence is reassuring, but she also has a teachers heart that affirms God´s plan for each of us along the way. She helped me with my Portuguese, and continually took a turn in the pharmacy so I could keep interacting with the people, and so Judy could come and interact with the people as well. Selfless and encouraging, always.. I´m so thankful for her.
Pat Ness is full of life and enthusiasm. Watching her soak in the landscape has made me smile every day, and her awe for the wildlife is contagious. As is her connections to the people we´ve encountered. She is strong and steady, enthusiastic and exciting. I didn´t know Pat, other than the passing hello on Sunday morning, before this trip, and it´s been really cool to see her beautiful spirit shine and to hear her stories, and to share her love for what is happening around us.
And Mike. Mike has been a joy & he just makes me smile. He is the gentlest Giant, and would have been the obvious choice for Goliath, but even trying to imagine Mike as a snarling, thundering Goliath makes me giggle. He kept the pace for us, gave a handful of massages, but found his real purpose as the clinic traffic cop, gently re-directing people to the Dr, Dentista, and even the exit when they slipped past me. When I lacked either the heart or the vocabulary to send them in the right direction, Mike could take a step, motion once with his hand, and set them straight. And when that failed, usually with the occasional rascally toddler, Mike just scooped them up, as sweetly as could be, and held them until their mamas could wrangle them again. Always smiling, always claiming a hedgie to rest, always passing on the salad greens – that´s our Mikey, and I think we´ll all miss not spending our days with him.
Jim and Judy VanCuren. There is much to say. Besides being our Doctor, and seeing hundreds of patients on this trip, Jim has also led our devotions, been the first to crack a joke, and has encouraged and entertained us all. I´ve had the joy of working alongside Judy all week, and hearing her stories of Africa, motherhood, God´s direction, and the challenges and victories that she´s experienced through the injury of their son. She is woman of great faith, and a relentless spirit. Jim & Judy are both in their mid 70´s, and I pray that I can be useful and willing when I journey into my 70´s. Both of them, together, are a beautiful testament to marriage and perserverence. They Celebrate 57 years this coming Sunday, and we´ll be traveling with them as they usher in this new year of life together.
Ken and Jackie…..those two….they´re real, they´re funny, they´re both up for anything. Even when singled out to sing a duet in Portuguese, they jump right in and give it their all. I loved watching Ken come by the front of the boat to watch Jackie snuggle every baby that came aboard, and she fretted and fussed when he went down during the soccer game. (seriously, Ken is 71 years old and went out there to play soccer with some hard core Amazonian´s….that´s some John Wayne stuff right there). They are both full of life, and seizing opportunites to be in the moment, and pour into each of us, as well as one another. They are both a blessing in my life, and I´m so thankful to have had this time with them.
Thursday, June 14.
We docked last night at San Sebastian, and after breakfast here this morning, we gathered for our group picture, and said goodbye to Las Primas. The Goodbyes are just beginning…..and I won´t even try to stop the mess I´m going to be by tomorrow.
Today, Earl shared with us a condensed version of his life and experience here in Brazil. Hearing just how powerfully God has moved & how faithfully He has provided moved everyone to tears. Deus e tom bom. After that blessing, we put on our sun-hats and took a walk through San Sebastain to see the greenhouses. What a treat. Jeff, in particular, was looking forward to seeing that operation, and it was really beautiful to see such life being nurtured there – building relationships with the local schools – furthering the reputation of the Ministry in the community – widening the doors and bringing more people in contact with the love and LIFE of Jesus Christ.
We walked back to the boat in the heat of the morning, thankful to stretch our legs, despite the stillness and humidity in the town. And once on board, it was time to start the journey back to Manaus. I can´t believe this time is nearly done. I´ve loved every moment, and every single person on our team.
Our Brazilian teammates have been a joy, a blessing, a strength, and an inspiration to each of us. Despite our challenges to communicate, we´ve been able to connect in times of worship, to communicate through charades, body language, touch, and just through the unifying love of Jesus. They are a family here on the boat, and they´ve welcomed us all into that family with such hospitality, and LOVE.
Cida has been so amazing. Her English has been really good, and she´s helped us communicate not only with one another, but also with the villagers that came to the clinic. She loves the Amazonian people with the heart of a mama, and I will never forget the sound of her praying during the worship services. I don´t know what she is saying exactly, but I know that she is praying for the hearts of the people to know Jesus, for His will to be done, and His Kingdom to come. Her heart is for the Lord, and I´ve been so blessed Cida – our sister in Christ.
Pastor Geraldo & I have had the language barrier, and I´ve not been able to share how his love for Jesus, his passion for the Word, and his heart for the people here have blessed me….but he gave me a hug this morning that told me that he has been blessed as well, and for that I am so thankful.
Daniella & Diandra – inseparable – are growing up together under God´s loving hand and favor. It´s so clear that they are dearly loved by the crew of this boat & the leaders of the ministry. I tried to tell them that I was excited to see what the Lord does in and through them as they continue to follow Him.
Alize – I love her. She sings with such joy & such strength. We often sat together to worship, and would help one another with our respective languages. I loved meeting her husband and her sweet boy. God, bless her.
Edgielsa – she is the Mama. I don´t know that she sleeps. 4 foot tall, cranking out two shifts of three meals a day, complete with dessert, and an afternoon snack. That tiny woman climbs up the stairs carrying everything from fish to Paca, and her calves are like rocks! She´ll walk by and sweetly say `Bom Gia` in a tone that feels like a lullabye, and she has the most gentle, loving touch.
Allissi – She is another that I´ve loved, and she´s loved me back. I know that she is headed to Manaus for medical testing, and I see some weariness on her now, but she is always smiling, and there is a deep kindness in everything she does for us.
Michelle – the beautiful Dentista. She is so smart, and kind. Teaching and discipling, while treating her patients. Michelle´s a peacemaker, and we could see that in her work. Even when needing to pull the tooth of a child, she has this special gift of bringing peace and establishing trust. She knows the Amazonian people, and has a heart to lead them to a better way. God is using her in very special ways here.
If I could go back in time and study up on my Portuguese, I certainly would, if for nothing more than to tell these women that they have touched my heart, and I love them.
The men of the crew, while I don´t know much about any of them, have a playful spirit. They work hard, and take pride in their work, and their boat. They love Earl & Ruth-Anne, and look up to them both.
Earl & Ruth-Anne…..someday, someone will write an entire book about what The Lord has done, in them, and through them. The book of Acts…chapters 150-300.
I would write about them, but I´m crying just thinking about it. Their obedience has planted churches, disciple Christians, grown leaders, inspired a People, and brought together a family – one that grows with the start of every new adventure.
Friday 6-15 Manaus
We traveled through the night, and the horn blew around 6:45 so we could all see the moment when the Rio Negro meets the Amazon. The Rio Negro is a light brown, the Amazon, a darker shade, and for many miles, you can see the two colors running side by side before the Amazon waters are unified. It was such an odd feeling, returning to Manaus, the boats & buildings, and the busyness. We docked, and went out on an adventure. Earl led us, single file, through the crowded streets through the fish market – a most memorable experience- and on to the city markets for some shopping. We all picked up gifts to take back to family & friends before coming back to the boat for lunch. We then left the port at Manaus and sailed a short distance to arrive from the place we started. The boat docked, and we´ve been resting & enjoying the beautiful area we are in now. I´m sure that each of us will be thinking of this trip fondly, and we´re all preparing our hearts for goodbyes, and the return trip home tomorrow evening. Tonight, we´ll enjoy a cook-out with the crew….and then we´ll all scatter, in whatever direction God has already planned for each of us.
This has been an amazing trip, and I hope to be back again someday – God willing.
Livramento: 38 medical visits, 14 dental visits. 25 procedures. 1 massage. 42 pairs of glasses Mt. Oliveiras: 40 MD visits, 12 dental visits, 20 procedures, 2 massages, 43 pairs of glasses Caribi: 112 MD visits, 39 dental visits, 59 procedures, 3 massages, 25 pairs of glasses Abacate: 23 MD visits, 12 dental visits, 16 procedures, 1 massages, 12 pairs of glasses Santa Luzia: 57 MD visits, 26 dental visits, 49 procedures, 1 massage, 27 pairs of glasses Jacarecuara: 105 MD visits, 35 dental visits, 52 procedures, 1 massage, 26 pairs of glasses St.Maria Madruba: 29 MD visits, 13 dental visits, 23 procedures, 2 massages, 15 pairs glasses Ilha do Madruba: 82 MD visits, 28 dental visits, 61 procedures, 2 massages, 29 glasses
Total: 486 MD, 179 Dental, 305 Procedures, 13 Massages, 219 pairs of glasses given.
Advice to other groups:
They take such good care of you. I wish I´d thought less about what to pack for me & packed more things for the people instead. They will do your laundry, so don´t pack much for yourself, and make sure that what you do bring is cotton, airy & lightweight & comfortable. Good shoes are a must. It is hot! And you will feel sticky. We brought a little package of baby wipes for a quick re-fresh. A cooling sports towel would have been great, especially for Jeff & Ken, who were in the sun so much of the time. A few grocery sacks are helpful if you want to change out your bathroom trash & to help manage dirty laundry.
Ladies, I had a really light weight reusable bag that I carried my stuff in & then reused when we shopped in Manaus. It was a lifesaver & kept my hands free while I navigated the stair ladders between decks.
Bring a good book, or better yet, download a few on your phone. If you want to save space, download the Word as well. Definitely bring a journal to record your thoughts. You have down time & your heart will be moved. Write about it! Capture it.
If you love bird-watching, snag a book about the Birds of the amazon and bring some binoculars! You´ll be glad you did.
And flavor water packets! (especially the kind that give you a boost)
But all in all, If I could go back in time and prepare differently, I would focus on learning more Portuguese & and use my luggage space to bring less for me & more for the people.
Our hygiene bags that we made to give out contained travel sized toothpaste & small bars of soap – but I would go big! Especially with the toothpaste considering the dental needs. We ran just short of our hygiene supplies, and we felt like we brought so much. Better to bring more than what we need.
We brought two rolling suitcases full of sunglasses and ran out. We ran out of everything for boys half-way through the trip. Every time I see a great deal on little kids sunglasses for the rest of my life, I´ll pick them up and stockpile them for our next trip here. The kids were delighted to receive them.
Our team leader has gained permission to ask her employer for the sunglasses left in Lost & Found & most of our sunglasses came from that. Ask!
Cida had brought clothes for little ones, and that was a big hit. We had much more for girls than boys & really nothing for babies. I´ll probably be watching clearance racks this fall to snag all the stuff I can for the children here.
Deflated soccer balls & a bicycle pumps would be awesome. Leave a ball or two at every village, or leave them for the Ministry to distribute.
The people wait out in the heat all day to see the Doctor. Bring things to entertain the kids! Bubbles are a hit! Bring a TON of them. Maybe hacky-sak´s. little kites would be fantastic too! While in the waiting room, I wish I had had a picture book of animals so the kids could teach me the name for the animals & that would have been a great ice-breaker and fun thing to connect over. Also, a Portuguese pocket dictionary came in handy.
We loved bringing gifts for the crew. They like M&M´s & Pringles. My husband picked out man stuff for the guys (x6) and I made up lady stuff for the ladies (x6), and we added treats & sweet things from the rest of our team & gave each crew member one gift from ALL of us. We wished we took them all t-shirts from our church to give as well.
Don´t worry about your safety or the food or anything at all.
Be ready to be hot, and to experience a different way of life with open arms.
Don´t prioritize your appearance & worry about make-up or hair driers.
This experience will be different in ways that will make you appreciate your every day convienences, and in ways that will make you long for something simpler and sweeter.
It´s been incredible.
Signing off for the GCC group,