This is the daily journal of our Brazil Mission Trip 2017. We are Jacki, Darrell, Sherry, Zach, Louann, Kyle, Malinda, Leroy, and Linda, a team of 9 people from Memphis Christian Church. We met at the airport at 5 am this morning. This allowed us time to get 18 pieces of luggage processed that contain medical supplies and items needed for the mission. Our pastor came to pray over us for safe travels and a productive and blessed journey. Our flight departed at 7am and we arrived in Miami at 9:30. Our connecting flight to Manaus, Brazil was not until 5:30 pm so we took a bus ride over to Miami Beach to dip our toes in the sand. We ate at a cute pizza bar where the pizza slices were the size of half a pizza. Surprisingly, there was not as much damage in Miami as I imagined there would be considering it has just been a week that hurricane Irma hit Florida. The flight to Brazil took a little over 5 hours and was smooth and uneventful. We arrived at 10:40 pm and everyone made it through customs with no issues. All 18 bags made it with only a few broken nail polish bottles as casualties. Earl greeted us and we loaded onto a bus for a short trip to the boat. According to Earl, the Rio Negro has dropped significantly in the last 3 weeks. So boarding the boat was a long walk down some steep stairs that are normally completely covered with water. We were assigned cabins and dinner was ready to eat. We unpacked and then went up to the top deck to watch as we left Manaus to start our journey on to the Amazon River. The top of the boat is breezy and is open so that we could see the stars and watch the lights of the city fade away as we passed under the big bridge. Around 2am we decided to go up and sleep in the redes that were on the top deck of the boat. What an amazing experience to be floating down the Amazon River, swaying in the wind, and looking out at the night sky. Darrell and I stayed until around 4am when the temperature dropped and it became very chilly. We headed to the cabin to finish out the rest of night.
Thurs. Sept. 21, Day 2
This morning we were able to sleep in because we were up late the night before travelling from the states. We have been moving along on the river all night and will continue to travel all day, with the exception of a couple of quick stops to pick up food and boat staff. We have met our boat staff and they are San-Captain, Cesar, Judson, and Junior-boat crew, Claudia-housekeeper\cook, Nete and Edilsa-cooks, Diandra and Daniela- (primas) assistants\musicians. We are going to our farthest destination and then we will begin stopping at villages as we make our way back to Manaus. The day started with breakfast followed by Earl teaching us about Brazil, where we would be going on the rivers, and the state of Amazonas. Today we have been sorting medicines and supplies based on what they are, and when they expire. We also placed labels on the medicines that would tell what it was and how to take the medicine in Portuguese. We are stocking the pharmacy and getting everything ready to accept patients, since we will make it to our first stop tomorrow. The afternoon meal is the largest meal of the day and today we had a huge fish that was a favorite of the Brazilians. Everyone is helping where they can and taking turns for dish washing duty. Once we get the supplies separated and the examination rooms and pharmacy ready for tomorrow, we will have the rest of the evening to grow closer as a group. We connect with one another through games, conversations, and just spending time together. During the evening we will be relaxing, showering, playing cards, and taking time to process what we have been doing today and what is to come tomorrow when we start seeing patients. Tonight, we will dock on the banks of the Rio Capu. We all pray that God fills us with his spirit and uses us to serve others as he sees fit.
Fri. Sept. 22, Day 3
Earl called us to breakfast promptly at 7am. After breakfast we met for devotions, learning basic Portuguese phrases, and some singing in Portuguese. We traveled about 1 hour to our first village, Araras. Earl has told us that the boat usually stops at each village 2 times each year. He explained that the villagers do not know the exact day the boat will come, but they know approximately when to expect it. Once we arrived at the first village, the people quickly started to gather excitedly and watched as the boat docked on the shore. We were invited to disembark and to walk into the village to look around. We were alerted that a young female from the forest about 30 minutes from here had come by boat to deliver her baby. She had given birth yesterday to a baby girl named Victoria. The villagers wanted us to check in on the baby and mother. They were both in excellent health and the mother was going to return home today. I gave the baby her first dose of vitamins and then gave the mother prenatal vitamins and a bag of supplies to care for the baby. Next we made our way to the boat to begin seeing patients. Darrell and Leroy call patients on to the boat. They greet them and play games with the children as they are waiting to be seen by the doctor or dentist. Malinda, Louann, and Linda are weighing patients and taking vital signs. They also entertain the children by having them color pictures while waiting to be seen by the doctor. Malinda is also giving massages for back pain. I (Jacki) am the mission doctor and I work with Earl, who translates to see what complaints or ailments the villagers have. All the patients will receive vitamins and worm medicine. In addition, we write on a card what prescriptions they need based on what they tell us. Next, they go to see Kyle to take the worm medicine, and then on to the pharmacy where Zach and Ruth Anne get them the medicines and supplies they need. Lastly, before exiting the boat they see Sherry, who gives them a bag of basic supplies and toiletries and each child receives a small gift to take with them. All of the people we met today seemed happy and truly thankful that we were helping them. There were lots of hugs, handshakes, and even some happy tears shed. One older man gave us 3 Peacock bass he had caught today. We worked until 5pm and then left for safety reasons, as this is the time that the mosquitos are most active. We all sat on the top deck and reflected on the day and talked about the wonderful and interesting moments that each of us had experienced with the patients. Some highlights for the day include drinking avocado milk shakes, seeing some monkeys and alligators and finally, beating Earl in a game of Euchre.
Sat. Sept. 23, Day 4
The morning started with an older man bringing several Peacock bass to barter for some gas for his boat. This happened even before we were called to breakfast by Earl at 7am. After breakfast we headed to the top deck for our morning language lesson and morning devotion. We also got to sing several songs in Portuguese and the boat crew got to sing some songs in English. Once we finished our time together on the top of the boat, we untied from the shore and headed back to the same village we were treating the yesterday and finished with all the patients we were unable to help the day before. We were greeted by several of the village children we had already met as we pulled in to dock the boat. After we finished treating the rest of the patients there, around 11am, we left that village and headed to our next destination. We arrived at the next village and began treating patients there around 2pm. Many of the patients we are seeing today have had Malaria in the last year. Since it is Saturday, there were not as many people at the village to be treated. Ruth Anne explained that this was because on Saturdays many of the families go to the nearest town for supplies. Since there were fewer people at the village (Leandro Grande), we were able to have them all taken care of by around 4pm. With our last hour before we were to leave the village, we decided to play with the children. Our team was able to bring jump ropes, made by braiding old t-shirts together, that the children from our church and community had made during vacation bible school. We had a couple of hours before dinner, so we sat in the dining room with Earl and decided that a group from Memphis Christian Church would come back and for another mission trip in March 2020. After deciding to commit to another mission trip, our entire team sat on the top deck of the boat and started making plans for the next trip. Once the sun went down and the bugs came out, most of the team went to the dining room to play “Catch Phrase” for the first time on the trip. We got so loud and rowdy that the cooking staff were standing around and laughing at us. After the game, we had a delicious dinner and decided to relax the rest of the night.
Sun. Sept 24, Day 5
Today began the same as the other days with wake up at 7am followed by devotions, Portuguese lesson, and singing on the top deck. A new food we had was boiled bananas which was a first for many of us. The first village we went to was called Bom Jesus. We were invited to go and walk around the village and were able to see their school house. Then we saw all the patients and went to lunch. One interesting thing we learned to day was when a boy told us that he knew he had worms because he grinds his teeth. This is evidently a very common known occurrence here. After lunch we traveled to another village. On the way there we saw black and pink river dolphins. The channel to the village is not accessible due to the river being down so we had to dock a bit farther away. Here we met Alessandra and her daughters Carla and Eunice. Alessandra is one of the missionaries for CBM. They were a great family and many of us had a wonderful time playing with and interacting with the two girls. It was heartwarming to see them get off the boat to go sit on the banks and go through their bags smiling at what they had received from us. After we left the second village we had about a 2 hour trip to arrive in Sao Sebastiao. Most of us took the time to have a nice nap in a redge on the way there. At 7pm we went in to town from the boat by a motorcycle that had a cart on the back. They use these like taxis. There are very few cars, but lots of motorcycles and bicycles. San Sebastiao is a much bigger town than the other villages we have been to. They have electricity, a greenhouse, hospital, mission house, multiple churches and schools, and even a police station. They also have cellular service so we were able to make calls home to our families. We have come here tonight to specifically attend a church service at one of the churches CBM started. They are having a special celebration because it is the churches 16th anniversary. There was a choreographed dance performed by the young girls and a large cake to help celebrate. The church was full of people and they were very welcoming and lively. We were privileged to get to see a family, who had just been baptized earlier in the day, get to take their first communion. We also got to meet the families of Diandra and Daniela, whose fathers are both pastors for CBM. Many of the children were fascinated by us and continually kept looking and smiling at us. The service was about 3 hours long so when it was over we headed back to the boat for a late dinner and then straight to bed.
Mon. Sept. 25, Day 6
This morning we were able to sleep in since we were out late last night. We heard the lively people of Sao Sebastiao playing loud music and setting of fireworks all through the night. For breakfast we had chocolate cake, fried bananas and our usual assortment of fruit. We are leaving town to go a couple hours back on the Jatapu River to fish for a couple days. Our entire trip to our fishing spot we had a great time laughing and singing with Diandra and Daniela, the primas (cousins). They brought their guitars up to the top deck and we sang songs in Portuguese and in English. Music really is the universal way to communicate. This is definitely a prime spot for fishing, as there is multiple tourist fishing boats parked in this area. The boat crew went out ahead of us in the smaller skiff boats to catch bait fish. We headed out at 3pm to fish on Lago G. About half way to our fishing spot we were hit with a tropical downpour of rain. We all got drenched, but it was actually quite refreshing. When we got to the bank and it stopped raining the fish really started biting. We heard Howler monkeys calling in the jungle across from where we were fishing. Linda and Leroy were on fire, but everyone caught at least 1 Peacock bass. It was a once in a lifetime experience that we will all remember. The absolute best part was getting to see Leroy, who is 79 years old, do what he loves right here in Brazil. We came back to the CBM Amazonia for dinner and then singing and devotions after. Earl let us watch the new promotional video he has made for 2017 about the boat ministry. We turned in early so that we could get up at the crack of dawn to head out for early morning fishing. Darrell and I fell asleep up top under the stars in the redes with Zach and Malinda.
Tues. Sept. 26, Day 7
Today we got out of bed early and had breakfast at 6:30, so we could leave to go fishing at 7:00. Breakfast was the usual ham and cheese on rolls, fresh fruit, and fried bananas. It took about 45 minutes to get to the fishing spot that Earl and the crew had picked out for us. On the way we saw numerous water fowl, such as loons, herons and egrets. The most exciting part of the morning was watching Leroy fight a 13 pound Peacock bass, which he brought in successfully. It not only took Leroy but also a couple of the boat crew to land it since the line got wrapped up around the reel. We caught a huge amount of fish but only brought 12 back to the CBM Amazonia, since we were only keeping fish that weighed 5 pounds or more. We came back and ate lunch and rested for a couple of hours before heading back out to fish at a different spot for the afternoon. We hadn´t been fishing for more than 5 minutes when Earl hooked a 16 pound Peacock bass. He says this is the biggest one he has ever caught. He got it in and we continued fishing, with everyone having the high hopes of landing a monster. Although we went on to catch several other fish, none was as large as the one Earl got. Once the piranha started eating our bait we chose to call it a day and head back in. The cooks were already preparing a fantastic dinner for the evening as we all got cleaned up from a day of fishing. I am sun burned!!! A day out in the Brazilian sun is no joke when you are fair skinned. Luckily Ruth Ann had some burn gel in the pharmacy to fix me right up. We played “Catch Phrase” until dinner was ready. After dinner we had evening devotions and songs and then most everyone turned in for the night except for Zach, Sherry, Darrell and I. We were lucky and brave enough to go looking for alligators with Cesar. Where we are here in Brazil is about 100 miles south of the equator so the sun always rises at 5:30am and the sun always sets at 6:30pm. The sun sets in about 10 minutes and then gets dark…. REALLY dark! It was really spooky riding down the river when it´s pitch black out, shining a light toward the bank looking for the alligators reflective eyes. We ended up staying out about an hour and saw around 25-30 alligators in various sizes from tiny babies up to about 6-7 foot long. Talk about a rush, it was an AMAZING way to end our night.
Wed. Sept. 27 Day 8
Most of the team has gotten up early to go fishing again. Darrell and I have decided to forego fishing and sleep in since I really need to stay out of the sun today. While eating breakfast this morning I am reflecting on all my favorite things that Edilsa, Nete, and Claudia have prepared for us. Among my favorites are, fried bananas, avocado smoothies, a breaded steak casserole, flan, and of course the Brazilian coffee. Darrell and I got in a couple of card games while we watched the cooks busy in the kitchen. They are amazing and literally spend the entire day in the kitchen cooking from sun up till sun down. Afterward, we decided to make a video of the boat so we could show our friends and family exactly where we spent our 10 days. We went upstairs to swing in the breeze in a rede and get in a little nap before the rest of the team came back from fishing for lunch. After lunch, we went to the top deck to play Catch Phrase and our team won 4 games in a row! We also played Uno and Rummy with Diandra and Daniela and did our best to communicate with them using hand signals and the little bit of Portuguese we have learned. They are fun to be around, as they are young, full of life, and always smiling and giggly. A few of us headed back out to fish again at 3pm. I went this time because it has just rained and is now overcast and much cooler. I think Earl is a fish whisperer. Every time we have fished, he not only gets a fish within 5 minutes of his line hitting the water, he also always catches the most fish. As we walked around our shoes got caked with clay so we washed them off in the warm lake water. We were only able to fish a short while before the piranha moved in. Once they start hitting, we pretty much had to be done because they bite right through the line and take the bait and hook entirely. I was able to catch a catfish called a pirieba. It was very ugly and had multiple whiskers and really sharp fins. As we were on our way back to the big boat I was looking at the endless shoreline and all the trees. It is so dense and full of cover that even only a little ways in it is extremely dark. It is still daylight and I am thinking to myself that I wouldn’t want to try and navigate through the jungle during the day, and most certainly not at night. The cooks had prepared us a snack of smoothies and pastellas with various fillings. Tonight we are returning to Sao Sebastio where we will dock for the night and go in to town tomorrow. We will have cell phone service again so I´m excited to call home and talk to my kids.
Thurs. Sept. 28 Day 9
We spent the night in the redes with the lights of Sao Sebastio lighting the night sky. The sun rose at its usual 5:30 am and the boats were already busy coming and going from the dock. For breakfast we were treated with the best banana bread I have ever eaten. After breakfast we met on the top deck of the boat to have our team picture made. The sun was already shining so brightly that we all (including the Brazilians) had a hard time keeping our eyes open to take the picture. We then sat with Earl and Ruth Ann while Earl told us the story of how they came to Brazil and all of the miracles that God made happen along the way to make CBM and Project Amazonas what it is today. I was moved to tears while listening about how God can use each one of us in his own way to share love and to grow disciples. After we dismissed, we met at the front of the boat to walk in to town and go to the CBM mission house and greenhouse. We had to say our goodbyes to The Primas as they were leaving to go home. I was thrilled to get to go for a walk since I´m quite sure I´ve gained a few pounds eating all the gourmet food on this trip. This also gave us a chance to see all the buildings and surroundings up close and personal. At the mission house we met Santana, who oversees the mission property. Santana treated us to some tasty sweet rolls and we purchased some of her hand crafted jewelry made from dried acai berries. We were able to tour the greenhouse and learned that it provides 3 different vegetables to 3 of the local schools for their lunches. The mission house is used to hold training sessions for the missionaries that go out into the smaller villages. After returning to the boat, we had lunch and then Earl opened up his Brazilian bank so that we could exchange our American dollars for Brazilian reais. We will be using this to go souvenir shopping in Manaus tomorrow. We are going to be traveling the rest of today and all night to get back there. On the way we will pass by Itacuatiara , which is the second largest city in the state of Amazonas. Darrell and I got in some rummy with Zach and then we got a head start on packing up. We plan on relaxing, taking in the sights along the river, and reflecting in a rede the rest of the day as we make our way back to Manaus. We are starting to become melancholy thinking about how we prepared, planned, and prayed nearly 2 years for this trip, and now it is almost over.
Fri. Sept 29, Last Day
Last night we weathered the storm …….literally! About 2am were asleep on the top deck in the redes when it started thundering and lightening. The next thing we knew a wicked storm blew in with sideways rain. The boat was rocking, the redes were swaying, the clothes on the line were whipping in the wind, and we were getting drenched. We could not go down to the room because we were barefoot on a big metal boat that was soaking wet, and it was lightening every couple of seconds. I think this was God´s way of telling us that we will certainly NEVER forget this trip. When it finally let up, we made it to our cabin until we heard the horn on the boat sound about 6:15 am. This alerted us to come out and see the encounter of the waters where the different colored waters of the Rio Negro and the Amazon River meet. We had our last breakfast and then Darrell and I had dish duty. Today will be a busy day of shopping. We plan to go to several stores around Manaus, go swimming, and to the zoo at the hotel. This evening the crew is doing a farewell barbecue for us. We will load up and leave out about 8:30pm. Our flight leaves Manaus at midnight and will fly through the night back to Miami. This has been a fantastic trip full of eye opening and humbling experiences. We are so overwhelmed and grateful to God for this opportunity. We praise him for keeping us safe and for our time together with our Brazilian brothers and sisters in Christ. We pray that if it is his will, we will be back again with our kids in March 2020.