The team met at the Indianapolis airport at 8 am on August 8th. Ten people. Fourteen checked bags. Ten carry-on bags along with backpacks. Four flights. Customs. Immigration. Claiming and rechecking bags. And, twenty-five hours later…. everyone and everything arrived in Manaus, Brazil healthy, safely, and intact on August 9th as scheduled! As we all know, so many things can go wrong with the best and well thought out plans. People can get sick. Flights can be missed or canceled. Luggage can be lost. But God! That, my friends, is the power of prayer and the favorable and merciful answer from God! Thank you to all of you who faithfully prayed for this trip and team!
After our four flights and arriving at the airport in Brazil, it would be an understatement to say that we were all a bit sleep deprived and hungry after all of the traveling; however, once we collected our 14 checked bags in Manaus for the second time since beginning travel, we had to load everything up yet again and take about a 30 minute drive to the docking area where the CBM boat was waiting to take us on our journey down the Amazon River. Once on the boat, we got settled in our rooms, unpacked, and had lunch while we waited for the Brazilian dentist to arrive. Most of us also took that time to shower in the river-powered showers and rest on the bunk beds in our air-conditioned rooms.
Speaking of our living quarters…Living on a boat for two weeks is a very unique experience! The boat quickly becomes home. The lower level is the loud basement and contains all of the sorted supplies brought by those who come on the trips. The next level houses the pharmacy, medical rooms, and dental rooms as well as some of the living quarters for staff. It also contains the laundry facility. The main level is home to the captain’s driving area, bedrooms for volunteers, and the kitchen/dining area. The top level is reserved for resting and relaxing and enjoying the scenery …. whether that be from the hammocks/redes or chairs.
I have been on this trip twice now, and I am still impressed by the hard work of the Brazilian staff who so willingly and meticulously care for the boat and the volunteers. They exemplify what it means to be the hands and feet of Jesus from cooking amazing and nutritious meals to doing our laundry to driving all night to protecting the boat to cleaning the rooms and boat flawlessly every single day. They remind me of what it means to be a good steward of what God has entrusted and what it means to serve in the roles to which God has called each of us. As one of the ladies who cooked for us said…. she wishes she could go out and speak to the villagers about Jesus, but she knows that her role is to cook for those who come to serve her people so that they can be nourished to care for her people. Captain San also said that his wife and family understand his passion to drive the boat for those who come to serve his people. He and his family believe in the mission so much that he is willing to sacrifice weeks at a time with his own family to drive the boat to remote villages. What self-sacrifice and what an example of how Jesus came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.
Speaking of San’s driving of the boat, traveling down the Amazon to the first village from Manaus took about 16 hours. So, as you can imagine, we had a lot of time! During part of that time, we began sorting all the supplies that were brought in the 14 checked bags! Once the sorting was done, we moved those supplies to the basement of the boat where everything is very well organized in crates so that it is easy for people to find items when needed. Along with organizing clothes and supplies comes counting all the pills and vitamins we brought so that they can be distributed to individuals easier. There was a lot of prep work to do before our first day, however, we did get to enjoy some time just watching the scenery as we traveled.
On the first night in the boat, we were able to see “The Meeting of the Waters” during the daylight hours. What an amazing site and a pleasant surprise to see it so clearly during the daytime. The Meeting of the Waters is quite a spectacle to behold and it happens in Manaus, an Amazon city in Brazil. This is where the waters of the Rio
Negro and the Amazon River, also known as Rio Solimoes, meet. Here, the sandy-colored water of the Amazon River and the black water of the Rio Negro (literally translating as black river in English) collide. You would expect two rivers that meet to blend in to one another but that is not the case here. At the meeting of the rivers, there is a clear line that forms between the two waters and it is utterly mesmerizing as well as fascinating.
After day and night travel, we arrived at the first village after 16 hours; we did not waste any time that day nor did we waste time any other day! Everyone was assigned to a role each day, and we got busy! We began seeing patients at 10 am on August 10th and continued through August 15th seeing 5 villages in total. A typical day was to eat breakfast at 7 am, meet on top of the boat for singing and devotions at 8 am, begin seeing patients shortly after we were done. Break for lunch at noon, and take a break until 2 pm and then begin in again and go until everyone was seen who wanted to be seen. Usually, the end time would be 5-6 pm.
An amazing thing I noticed is that one day the people were waiting in line to see the doctor or dentist at 6:45 am. They would sit and wait out in the heat until they were called in to the boat. Sometimes families would sit and wait though our lunch and break time. Still others would wait until it was almost dark to be seen. They are such a grateful people and are willing to be patient to receive help. I am reminded to be thankful and to squelch those thoughts of complaining when things do not go as quickly as I would like them to go.
This team was made up of mostly medical volunteers with 1 doctor (Neil), 1 nurse practitioner (Lori), 4 nurses (Shelby, Meah, Natalie, and Fred), and 1 nursing student (Mariah) which meant that all the medical volunteer staff were able to perform various medical roles throughout the two-week trip: doctor, dental assistant, pharmacist, eye doctor, nursing, minor surgery, taking vitals, and handing out hygiene kits and deworming medicine. Lisa and I even got to dapple in the medical world a bit by taking blood pressures, weights, heights, helping with reading glasses, and handing out medications! So, if you are considering this trip and even if you aren’t a medical professional in the USA, you can still do the work and be a part of something spectacular in changing the trajectory of people’s lives. Plus, you get to meet a lot of friendly people with super cute kiddos! One of the greatest things to see for me as a non- medical person was watching the medical staff work together to provide the best care possible with the resources, they had available. I think all of us realized how blessed we are in America to have readily available access to such simple items as vitamins, cold and allergy medicines, Tylenol, muscle rub, and ibuprofen.
Some of the medical highlights were removing a 13 year old cyst from an older woman’s foot….she was as tough as they come and didn’t flinch a bit during the two-hour procedure; using a Doppler to let a pregnant mom hear the heartbeat of her unborn child; seeing the eyes of an older man light up with excitement when he was given a pair of reading glasses and could see and read the words on the page; making two house calls in a village to a man who was 99 years old and a woman who was 84 years old. I believe all of us realized that medical care is a way to touch the hearts of the people because they know that we care about their physical lives and health but that we also care about their spiritual health. Hopefully the medical care given is a way to break through and reach their spiritual hearts for Christ.
Teddy was our translator for the two weeks not only in the clinic settings but also in interactions with the boat staff and community. As you can imagine, his role is non-stop and a constant switching of mental gears between English and Portuguese. If it were not for him, we would not have been able to perform the tasks of meeting the physical and medical and spiritual needs of the people. And, we would not have survived in the Brazilian airports and shops!!
We had two cultural outings that were great experiences. We were able to stop and eat at an authentic Brazilian restaurant that was on a floating dock on the Amazon and take our smaller boat to a village of native Brazilian Indians. We participated in hearing about their music and dance and got to dance with them! The other outing was shopping in Manaus. This was led by one of our cooks…she had a whistle to keep us together so that we would not get separated and to keep us following her! We went throughout the city taking in all the sites, and we were able to purchase some souvenirs to remind us of our time.
The most significant and life changing thing we were able to experience happened at our second village! All of us, including the boat staff, were able to be a part of what is described by Neil so well in the following summary:
Thoughts on August 12, the day the village made breakfast for us. We trudged up a hill in the morning heat, and we were met by delicious foods the village prepared for us. Cashew fruit which sucks the moisture from your mouth, graviola, watermelon, oranges, mango, guava (I think) …all sorts of things. What was so humbling was the excess they gave us. The houses are shacks really, all open air, minimal electricity, and it was HOT! Yet they gave us excess. There was prayer, smiles, laughter, a banquet was prepared for us by those who had been waiting for us and were full of joy to see us. It was, a taste of heaven. Walking back to the boat there were tears in my eyes because I realized I just got a foretaste of heaven. A banquet prepared in celebration out of love for the service given. What language we spoke did not matter. I learned on that day that love, joy, gratitude, and thanksgiving are easily translated in any language. It is the smiles, the laughter, the light that shines in other believers’ eyes because you are a part of their banquet.
Our banquet ended that day; yet it began to stir in me a longing for that day when at our Great Banquet where the Lamb of God prepared the table for us, the smiles, the laughter, the joy will never end. I do not know what language will be spoken in heaven. I do know that it will not matter. That day will indeed be a Glorious Day!
On a trip that was meant to bless and help others who have little to no medical care and little material wealth, I believe the ten of us are the ones who received the blessings. We learned that there can be joy in the simplicity of life, that we have so much excess when most of the world lives without, and that one day (because of the work of Christ) hopefully all of us will reunite together in heaven. None of the earthly treasures or problems will matter. We will gather around that table and feast and laugh and sing and praise the One who came to give us life.