Amazon Boat Trip
, February 12-22, 2020
Wednesday, February 12th
Oi! Meu nome e Jenna! I am the designated writer for this trip journal. We arrived safely to the boat in Manaus late last night after a smooth plane ride and a slow, but successful admittance through customs. We all awoke at our own pace this morning and had a delicious breakfast and a slightly rainy morning ride. We sorted through the bags of medicine and had, and prepared, an enormous amount of “gift bags.” outside of Wal-Mart, I’m not sure I have ever seen quite so many toothbrushes in one location! Anyway, many helping hands made short work of sorting through the bags and by about noon we had finished with our first mission of the day.
Quick side note; I must apologize in advance that I have no idea how to add the appropriate accents over the various letters for the Portuguese words/names (and neither do I have internet to check) so you will have to imagine they are there.
The boat, and I’m told it is the “new” boat, is a delight with many modern conveniences and always a stone’s throw from a good, healthful breeze. I was surprised that the boat sat as low as it does in the water, but this seems to be for the best and my concerns have been assuaged by my mother. The “hedgies-redes” are a particularly enjoyable feature on the top deck, of which we will most certainly utilize frequently.
We have a wonderful crew aboard who have made the operations of this mission look relatively easy, which I’m sure it is not! I am both surprised and excited to discover that we all share a passion for the card game “Uno” and look forward to many a lively game in the coming evenings!
Our group consists of Inez (Florida), Michelle (??), Debbie Vest (??), Deborah (??), Marge (??), Linda (Ohio), Kathy (Ohio), Mike (Ohio), Marc (Ohio), Judy (Ohio), Laurie (Indiana), and myself (Ohio). We are all still learning about one another, but I believe that this is a pretty wonderful bunch!
After lunch many of us rested in the swinging embrace of the “’hedgies-redes” and enjoyed the comforting sound of our new friends’ laughter and melodic conversation. After a couple hours, we set to the task of sorting the bulk containers of vitamins into smaller batches. Focused and silent counting filled the dining room as we were all hesitant to speak in fear of forgetting which number we were on! Soon many little bags were filled and labeled; our second mission of the day complete.
The captain drove us expertly through a passage only accessible during the months when the river swells. We saw GIANT lily-pads that looked like oversized dinner plates fit for Goliath himself. They were beautiful and graced with the occasional pink flower. Sounds of all kinds of birds chirped cheerfully around us, even if our eyes weren’t quite keen enough to spot them. We did, however, meet a disgruntled egret whose peaceful fishing we had profoundly disturbed. Inez spotted the first dolphin once we exited the narrow shortcut and entered into a larger portion of the river. (Side note- how does the captain know which way to turn!? There aren’t exactly signs specifying “this” river bend or “that” flooded shortcut. Our captain is awesome!)
Shortly after this we had an educational meeting with Earl who explained the geography of Brazil and the Amazonas. It was quite interesting! He explained that Brazil itself is as big as (perhaps bigger?) than the United States! And the Amazonas is 1/6 of its entirety! (For perspective, Amazonas is the same size as everything west of the Mississippi River. WOW!) And travelling from place to place is incredibly challenging, often taking days (sometimes weeks!) to travel to Manaus for simple shopping. He explained more of their mission. His (and Ruth Ann’s) passion and commitment to serve these villages/communities is evident in every decision they have made. He encouraged us to “dream big” and to cast a vision for our future. God isn’t afraid of big dreams and, perhaps, even whispers to us to, “’dream bigger little one.” Earl left us with a sense of wonder at the magnitude of God’s beautiful creation and pondering God’s loving desire for us to dare to dream bigger WITH Him; partnering with Him in bringing Heaven to Earth. So we will dream tonight and fill our minds with the Lord’s Prayer wondering what it would look like to truly be, “…On Earth as it is in Heaven,..”
Thursday, February 13th
Bom dia! We are all practicing our Portuguese and using whatever methods necessary to try to communicate with one another. It’s like a confusing game of “telephone,” only this time half the words are in a language the other person(s) doesn’t understand. This is a recipe for hearty laughter and disjointed Portu-Span-glish conversations.
We Americanos are also getting to know one another and I must rectify my previous journal entry with new data about my amigos; Debbie Vest is from Virginia and Marj, Deborah, and Michelle are all from Indiana. Still need to find out if Marj prefers her name spelled “Marge” or “Marj.” Will update tomorrow with the verdict.
Also learned today that Mike grew up in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, which is a place I also lived with my husband while we were pregnant with our second son. He (and Marc) are quite accomplished musicians and have interesting stories to share from their lives and experiences. This is not their first mission trip and they have been many places before. One of the places that stood out to me quite vividly is his retelling of the starkly primitive experience on the mission field in Nicaragua. It seems to me that both Mike and Marc (pronounced MAR-S) have a heart for loving and serving people across the globe. They willingly share of themselves and have open hearts to new and old friendships alike.
Today began cool and rainy, but by late afternoon it transformed into a wonderful heat. After a relatively short barco ride, we arrived at Saint Helena for our first medical clinic and saw 68 patients. The crew once again demonstrated their expertise and safely (and swiftly) docked. Shortly thereafter we ate another fantastic lunch and then opened the clinic with a loud bellow from the boat (and I’m not just talking about Earl’s impressive shout; the horn was pretty loud, too! 😉 ). The patients came steadily, albeit a little slower than I expected, but perhaps that is God’s mercy for us newbies to understand and figure out the process before it gets busy. I enjoyed seeing the beautiful people and marveled at the endlessness of God’s adoring creativity displayed in the faces of each unique person. It was particularly special for me to help my mom (Judy), who is a self-taught balloon twister, blow up the balloons for this mission. Earl, Ruth Ann, and this entire mission are so dear to my mom’s heart that it was an absolute joy for me to take a glimpse into something she has loved and to share it with her. These moments are the treasures of life, I think, and they become lasting gems that glimmer throughout time and sparkle differently in the light of our memories.
Once the clinic was “closed,” we walked up a steep hill and Earl took pictures of the locals and us. He also gave the kids a bola, which was, to them, perhaps the most delightful part of the event. But for me, I wondered at the natural world around us; it is SPECTACULAR! I was amazed at the feel of the grass, which may be an odd thing to say. But please understand that coming from Ohio, where we have truly the best feeling grass, it amuses me to experience other grasses from around the world. Here it is springy and incredibly dense, but the roots don’t seem to be deep (even though it appears that they are tightly entwined). It appears as if some giant laid a thick blanket over the earth that at any moment it could be removed all in one piece. Very interesting (well, ok, maybe it’s just interesting to me. 😉)
Dinner (delicious, as per usual) was followed by relaxed conversation and many games of Uno. I won quatro games and am currently the reigning champion. I presume I will need to defend my title tomorrow, but for now this champ needs sleep. 😊 Boa noite!
Friday, February 14th
Today is Valentine’s Day and we celebrated by sharing love and friendship with one another and the village that we served. When I think about love, I often think of the “pretty” side of love; holding hands, walking together, friendship, communication, etc. But real love it’s most visible when it shines through the hard (sometimes downright ugly) side of love; painful vulnerability, family struggle, loss, setting aside our instinct for “self” in favor of someone else’s needs, etc. Perhaps love is both beauty and sacrifice so that even in the midst of life’s gauntlets, there is a gift. I think of Jesus and his gift of life. It’s impossibly kind in every fiber of the word and indescribably holy. It’s difficult to imagine a better way to appreciate this gift than use it, value it, and share it. I see this in so many people and in so many ways here (big and small); the thoughtful and beautiful presentation of the cooks’ salads, the crew’s commitment to keeping the decks clean, the way Geser and Ermitas look at one another, the gift of time and energy from the volunteers, the focus and strength of Earl and Ruth Ann, and, and, and…. It’s endless!
We rode the boat in the morning for a couple hours and ate lunch at our next location, Cubuacá. We saw 63 patients. After lunch we all swiftly got ready and saw many people. We are getting a little faster and little better at each stop. We did not do a balloon-church service (I’m not sure what else to call it presently) in the village tonight, but will tomorrow in the morning at the next town.
At dinner I learned that Marge prefers her name spelled with a “-ge” at the end and that she is a semi-retired domestic arts teacher (she called it something else, but the exact title escapes me). It appears to me that she approaches each task head-on and with a good attitude. She has cheerfully helped patients pick out reading glasses and has given them massages. I think many people, especially Americans, would be nervous or uncomfortable with giving massages but she has done so kindly and has had a wonderful attitude about it. I admire that spunk!
After dinner we all enjoyed each other’s company and laughter. We ended the day “rich again” feeling full of love, joy, and community.
Saturday, February 15th
Another wonderful day completed! We arose for breakfast with our usual bellow and afterwards had devotion prepared by Mike and Marc. Daniel taught me a song in Portuguese and I played it this morning, which was really fun! Shortly thereafter we all left the boat, hands laden with balloon creations, and climbed upwards to the next village. The balloon service was all about how God made each of us special. The presentation was absolutely wonderful and everyone -not just the kids- enjoyed it. Most of the team had a balloon and a role to play in the service, but the heart and hands behind this was my mom, Judy. I am so proud of her and how she continues to use her many different gifts and talents to share goodness and Godliness with those around her. Watching her “take the stage” and lead the service (which is something that she does not like to do, but did so gracefully) was another moment I will treasure.
Immediately following the service we opened the clinic for patients. We saw 68 patients this morning. Rose manages collecting information for the medical cards and she is the first interaction that people have with the clinic. She has a calm, sweet spirit and a welcoming smile so that you instantly feel like you are in her circle of friends. Her kindness (mixed with a healthy hint of mischievousness 😊) is the perfect introduction to the clinic.
We were only at Caranauaca for the morning and when we saw the last dentist patients we packed up and began the relatively short trek to Reserva. After lunch many of us fell asleep in the “redes” or took naps in our bunks. It was incredibly peaceful to nap in the rede on the top deck. Definitely a must-do for newbies and veterans alike.
After we landed at Reserva, we saw 50 patients. I enjoyed playing with the kids again, mostly throwing a frisbee this time and a tag-like game the kids made up to play with me. After seeing the patients we walked briskly over to the main building of the village. There they had set up a shop with local creations/wares for purchase. The “Bank of Earl” was open for approximately 15 minutes and closed right on time so our purchases were made decisively. The main building was beautiful. I imagine all the wood used to construct it was local Brazilian woods, which was lovely.
On the boat ride to our next location we sat on the top deck and searched for various animals. I was stunned by the vegetation. The trees were COVERED in ivy, vines, crawling-type plants and it grew down from the branches creating a very large cylindrical appearance for the trees. The trees were connected to each other with these vines, which gave clumps of trees the appearance of being under a large, green, undulating wave. We saw a sloth, parrots, pink dolphins, and a egret/pheasant looking thing.
I spent a little more time getting to know Laurie today and learned that she is a trip veteran. She enjoys different types of dancing including line-dancing and polka. She plays lots of different card games throughout the week in the wintertime. She adds a wonderful voice of wisdom, experience, and practicality to the trip (plus a little sass and good-hearted fun 😉).
I am falling asleep sitting up while I’m writing this so I believe it is my cue to call it a night. Boa noite!
Oh, and P.S. I must correct my first entry with my discovery today that Laurie lives in both Indiana AND Florida!
Sunday, February 16th
Today we woke up at Araras and began seeing patients after devotions. We saw 55 patients. My job this week is to play with the kids outside the boat (what a great job, right!?) so I don’t see much of the inner workings of the clinic, but from the outside it seemed like patients were being seen at a good rate and that everyone has settled into their roles nicely.
It was too steep at both locations today to use the soccer ball so I played frisbee with the kids primarily. One of the girls made up a game that whenever one of us didn’t catch the frisbee, everyone else chased them and tickled them. So naturally all the kids threw to me, to their great delight. Eventually they began throwing to one another. One little girl, who looked to be about the same age as my sons, would run over to me and jump into my arms. I would carry her around and pretend to be a urso (bear). It was very sweet and warmed my heart.
At Leandro Grande we saw 51 patients. The routine was much the same as it has been; shouts of “Medico! Dentista!” rang through the air, Rose piled high the clipboards with medical cards, Deborah and Kathy weighed and measured (and took their blood pressures), Dr. Debbie thoughtfully considered the patients’ remarks and gave expert advice, Marge helped patients see better with reading glasses and give some of them a massage, Dr. Antonio made every child feel at ease, Dr. Geser provided excellent dental care, Michelle and Marc filled gift bags and asked politely “mais chica” for the de-wormer medicine, and Ruth Ann and Linda worked in the pharmacy to ensure every person left with what they needed. Daniel would move about and help facilitate conversation and go into the villages telling them that the medical clinic had arrived. Pastor Agostinho and Maura made connections with the community and provided another deeper layer of outreach. It was lovely to behold.
After we saw the last patient, we cleaned up and began our Sunday service in the village. We sang songs, listened to (and participated in) a balloon story and a devotion, and enjoyed the fellowship with our family in Christ. It was very special. Shortly thereafter we moved to the top deck of the boat to partake in communion. More music, more love, and more connectedness. This too was a treasure.
Michelle is a veteran of these trips and is very knowledgeable about all sorts of things. She has a calm demeanor and while clearly thoughtful and intelligent, is quick to listen first before she speaks. She has a heart for helping others understand and sharing her knowledge with them and even though she was never a school teacher, she has a teacher’s heart. She works as a director/manager at an interesting sounding museum in Indiana. It sounds like a place I’d love to take my family so hopefully sometime we will all be able to connect in her stomping grounds.
Soon Earl called for dinner and we ate, played lots of Uno, laughed, and shared life together. Inez and I had dish duty together tonight and I learned that she went to school for fashion merchandizing and spent several years working in retail. She now works a few different part-time jobs including selling antiques in local markets, helping a friend make purchases at estate sales, and working as a caregiver for infants at her church’s mom group. Inez is an absolute delight and is quite to laugh, eager to help, and has a beautiful heart.
I decided to sleep in one of the redes tonight and am very excited to try it. Will update tomorrow if I liked it or not. Until then, boa noite!
Monday, February 17
The redes are fantastic. I plan to sleep in them for the remaining nights. But really what struck me was the incredible beauty and vastness of the stars. Truly, the southern stars in the remote villages with no electricity are a stunning sight to behold. Galaxies, planets, and shooting stars mixed into a glorious symphony. It was like looking up at millions of voices singing praise to God. I’m not sure if much can compare to God’s creation and the majesty of the night sky in it’s splendor. It reminds me of a song, “…If 100 billion stars declare Your Greatness, so will I.”
In the morning we found out that the crew had gone out at night and caught a huge fish! It was around 12lbs. and had a large, gaping mouth. We all took turns posing with the fish in photos and then the cooks prepared it for lunch and dinner. It was honestly one of the tastiest fish I have ever eaten.
Linda led the devotions today and shared a moving testimony of God’s handiwork in her and her family’s life. I think I can speak for the team when I saw it was very moving and we were blessed by her vulnerability and experiences. She is a retired teacher, and judging from the way she speaks of it, I think she was likely a fantastic one.
We opened the clinic after devotions and saw 15 patients in Bom Jesus. We were here for only a short time as there were only a few people there to see the doctors. Earl warned us not to go off the boat because the bugs were absolutely terrible, so today I stayed on the boat and got to watch the action of the clinic. The happy hum of a contented team working together for a common goal is lovely to watch!
Lunch and a short boat ride later and we arrived at Jacareaquara. It was very hot today for most of the day and so after our tummies were filled, most everyone took a nap. We woke up to the boat horn as our alarm, which was quite startling! I’m not sure how many patients we saw today, but I think it was substantial. The town was bigger than I expected, perhaps the biggest village yet. They even had a sidewalk, which was surprising. Earl let us get off the boat to walk the sidewalk around the town, but it started pouring rain soon after we began so most of us trotted back to the boat soggy, but refreshed. The rain didn’t last long so once the sun was out it was hot once again, but that certainly beats the snow in Ohio right now!!
Showers, a quick dinner, and we were off with a hundred or so glow sticks and dozens of balloons to have a church service with the village. They have a generator not far from the church that runs on diesel fuel and powers the town. It wasn’t on initially, but apparently someone had spoken with Earl and they got fuel (from where, I don’t know. There aren’t exactly gas stations littered around town) and powered the town.
Slowly but surely people came to the church in their best clothes and filled the benches. After a little while, Earl and I led the singing. We did all sorts of fun songs and Earl did a magnificent job helping everyone laugh, enjoy singing together, and give God praise. Linda welcomed us in her most perfect teacher voice and the balloon story commenced. The story was on Jonah and the Whale. My mom had made 20 or so fish for the kids to hold to “be the sea” and us Americanos helped to act out the story with the balloons. At the time when the whale spit out Jonah, Laurie sprayed the crowd of children with silly string. It was hilarious and the church erupted in laughter. After a short sermon from Pastor Agostinho we gave the kids glow-stick bracelets. The whole experience was deeply gratifying.
Uno, che, and another night sky filled with awestruck wonder ended my day. Gloria senhor, aleluia.
Tuesday, February 18th
We woke up to clear skies this morning in Jacarequara. Kathy lost her voice sometime in the night and is unfortunately hoarse today. But it hasn’t dampened her spirit! Kathy currently works part-time watching her cousin’s daughter several times per week. She has a bright attitude and is eager to learn new things. She has been learning how to make a balloon flower from my mom and has practiced daily.
Rose shared her testimony with us during devotions, which was deeply moving. She has a tender, sweet spirit and truly understands the beauty of God’s design and protection. Her adoration of God and His plan for her life shone brilliantly. I think I can safely say that we are all sincerely grateful for who she is, her friendship, and her presence here on the trip. She is much loved by her family in Christ.
We stayed in Jacarequara this morning and saw a few more patients, totaling 86. I had the opportunity to stay inside the church with the people waiting to be called and I enjoyed learning different origami creations from the kids. For the first time, I had a complete conversation with one of the teenagers in only Portuguese and understand around 80% of what was spoken. (And I was understood as well! Which is a miracle. 😉) It was really encouraging and satisfying to be able to make a connection with someone in their language in a different country than my own.
Afterwards we left and had a relatively short ride to another village called Caiaua. Within a few minutes of docking and blowing the horn, the boat pulled out and began moving away from the village. I found out a little later that there was no one in the village except one man. Apparently it is during the kids’ school vacation so many people travel to other towns to visit and shop.
We rode to Inajaiatuba and saw 51 patients. Initially there were only two families that came into the boat, but after about 30 minutes several boats arrived from nearby villages with many people. Once we were finished, we cleaned up everything and packed it away. Hard to believe that we visited our last village for this trip. As my papa used to say, “the days are long, but the weeks are short.”
Debbie has been helping me by figuring out how to ease my nausea and loss of appetite. She is a semi-retired physician and she is introspective and offers insightful observations and advice. She has a calm, steady manner. I appreciate her thoughtfulness and kind heart. She is a wonderful doctor and a beautiful person.
We rode to San Sabastian where we will spend the night and the morning. A local missionary (Santana) joined us tonight after dinner and we celebrated her birthday. The cooks even made her a cake. 😊 We all ambled around with one another on the boat conversing and sharing contact information (I will include this in the final entry of the journal).
Bittersweet to begin saying goodbye to this beautiful place and these incredible people. I have soaked up every minute of this experience. I’m sure I will feel the ripple effect of all the many blessings long after I have set my feet to American soil.
I’m excited to walk tomorrow and see the greenhouse! But first; sleep! Boa noite.
Wednesday, February 19th
Today after breakfast we had our group picture and then Earl pulled us together to share the story of how the medical mission began here in Brazil. It is a beautiful story of faith, discipleship, and facilitating community growth and outreach in Christ. I suggest coming on a trip to hear the story from Earl himself; trust me, it’s worth it.
At breakfast I learned that Deborah worked as a labor and delivery nurse for several years, but now works as a nurse manager and surgical nurse for the hospital. She has two grown children and young grandchildren, all of whom live close enough that she gets to see them multiple times a week. During our trip she took blood pressures, weights, and measurements for the patients. I’m sure she was overqualified for this work, but she certainly did an excellent job! 😉
We walked to the Greenhouse shortly thereafter and while overcast, the rain held off. We got to see a little of San Sabastian and Earl explained different parts of its history as we walked. The greenhouse was great and filled with all sorts of plants and fruits such as cilantro, lettuce, kale, bananas, mangoes, sugar cane, a tart cherry-like fruit, hot peppers, and more. Santana used old plastic soda bottles filled with water, sealed, and turned upside to create an irrigation fence of sorts. It looked quite effective. They also used the leftover plastic cups from the boat for her new seedlings. It was fun to see the ways the greenhouse has already grown and is producing, but I could also visualize the different additions that Earl explained they would like to build.
The missionary home is beautifully built with the Brazilian woods and high ceilings. The training center and Santana’s new home are both very nice as well. At our, and Earl’s, prompting Santana kindly displayed her handmade jewelry for us and we happily purchased all of it.
On the way back to the boat we stopped at a local school because the teachers wanted the students to hear some English. The students were a bit nervous so not much conversing actually happened, but it was nice to see a glimpse into the education world in this area. It seemed to be a thriving, healthy school and they are growing.
We will be riding in the boat for the next dozen hours or so until we arrive in Manaus. This is my final journal entry for this trip. Tomorrow at this time I will be preparing to fly home and by this time on Friday I will be snuggled in my own home in Ohio. I am eager to get home to my family, but I feel as though part of my heart will stay here in Brazil and a part of Brazil will go with me. They have a word here, “Saudade” which essentially means that you feel homesick for a place you haven’t left yet. I think I feel that way tonight.
God bless you and Boa noite!