Central Christian Church, Mt. Vernon, IL.
Grace Community Church, Mt. Vernon, IL.
``I´m going to the Amazon! On a boat! On a mission! ´´
These are the words I shared with my friends and church family back in January. I had known since September I wanted to go on this trip…but had a few questions since I´ve never travelled to this part of the world. Friend and fellow mission enthusiast, Jimmy Bass graciously took the time to answer all my questions and told me a bit about CBM (Central Brazil Mission). I knew at that moment, I would be making this trip.
Like many people, all I knew about the Amazon River came from National Geographic and ``River Monsters´´, (a television show about terrifying water creatures that live in rivers…Piranha and Anaconda and…) not to mention the animals that live in the rain forest. Nevertheless, I would not be deterred. I was GOING. To the Amazon. On a boat. On a mission. (Did I mention I can´t swim)?
Tuesday, March 19, 2019: Our intrepid group of 10 travelers flew out of Miami to Manaus, Brazil. Many of us were strangers to several and only acquaintances with others. The group was a mix of veteran CBM goers and newbies. (As mentioned previously, this journal is being written by a newbie…not only to the mission but to the group). The flight was uneventful…except for a bit of turbulence mid-flight. The 5.5 hour flight was pleasant enough, as I had an aisle seat and didn´t have to bother anyone if I wanted to get up. (The only downside to an aisle seat is the beverage cart that repeatedly slams into your elbows as it makes its way up and down the aisle. Yeow!)
We arrived in Manaus at 10 pm at night…the Brazil airport was running with only a skeleton crew. We were relieved to see that our bags were awaiting us at the baggage carousel. Apparently no one had bothered going through them, although we each had at least one large suitcase full of medicines and salves of all sorts. Everything was labeled and easily identifiable, so we were grateful to be able to help supply the CBM Pharmacy with much needed children´s vitamins, pre-natal vitamins, antibiotics and even parasite medication (more on that later).
An air conditioned charter bus was awaiting us at the airport, and we were only minutes away from our accommodations on the boat. The boat (although we boarded at night) was so much more than I expected. Our `state room´ is small but has 2 sets of bunk beds and a wet bath with plenty of space to shower. Water is from the river so there is no worry about running out. No military showers! (Although there is no water heater, after a day´s work in the heat and humidity, warm water was not necessary!)
The top deck of the boat is breezy and the best place for views of the river and for cooling off under the partially shaded deck. Redes (pronounced ´hedgies´) or hammocks are hanging for siestas during the day and sleeping under the stars at night. It is my goal to sleep ´´up top´´ one night before we arrive back to Manaus. Bucket List item number 332: Sleep in a hammock on a boat on the Amazon River. CHECK!
From Manaus we immediately began our voyage to the first village. Day 1 began with Earl (Pastor Francisco) showing us the route we would be taking…and a bit of a geography and language lesson about the country of Brazil and the Amazon River.
Our mission group medical staff includes an OB GYN Doctor, David Asbery, a surgical nurse and Nursing Student, Annie Lowery, who is a hopeful soon-to-be Nurse Practitioner, Cathy Lynch an RN, a pharmacist, Jim Lynch, and an optometrist (Jennifer Bass). Non-medical personnel include Kyle Minor, Cheryl Tisdale, Jimmy Bass, James McKenzie, and your journalist, Paula Clouse. The staff medical crew includes Ruth Anne, who works in the pharmacy (she and Earl are both obviously very fluent in Portuguese. After all, they have been in Brazil for 50 years!) Also a dentist and a dental hygienist are part of the medical team. I was amazed with the layout of the boat. It was built with the idea of it being a medical boat, and so includes two doctor´s offices, and two dental offices, a pharmacy, and a waiting area. Other than the medications and pharmacy items, the boat is equipped with necessary equipment to do the work.
The system, which has been in place for several years now, works like a well-oiled machine. Each staff member knows what his\her job will be, and begins right away setting up and preparing for patients. Rose was the `receptionist`. She would take a table and chair, along with medical cards attached to a clipboard and set up somewhere in the village…usually a shady or covered area. While waiting to be called to the boat, another staff member, Santana, a missionary who joined the crew in 2005, would sing and tell the children Bible stories. She always had candy or small toys to give them, ensuring the kids will always be glad to hear\see the big CBM boat dock at their village.
Kyle Minor and Jimmy Bass functioned as our ´town criers´ and escorts. Whenever a family was called to the boat, they would escort the person or family and help them navigate the ramp to the waiting room. As each family entered the boat, we would obtain their weight, height and vital signs. They then waited patiently in the small, congested waiting area, generally without complaint, until they were called to see the doctor or dentist. Once with the doctor, he\she would examine the person (sometimes as many as 8 family members were in the tiny doctor´s office at once!) Earl was present to translate, and then, if needed some of the patients would be sent to the eye doctor down the hall. Children and adults alike were given reading glasses and always sunglasses. Then, Earl would bring the family out to the hallway, hand the clipboard with the diagnoses and prescriptions written on it. This person would take the clipboard to the pharmacist, they would fill the prescriptions, and then call the family to the window, give them instructions regarding the medications. Each family member would be given any necessary vitamins or medications before they left the boat.
Earl would instruct the person in charge of the ``wormer`` to give a dose to each person in the family able to take the pill. (He had told the children they were getting a ``bon bon`(candy) This miserable pill was HARDLY candy. However, to reward them for their bravery in chewing up the medicine, I would hand them a pair of very cool sunglasses, and give the parent a `gift bag´ which consisted of soap, lotion, toothbrushes, and toothpaste. This job may not seem important, and I´m sure the medical staff was grateful Earl put me in charge of giving out the glasses and gift bags. What they may not have known, is that Earl´s discernment was spot on in this instance. Giving and receiving gifts is my love language, and it made me deliriously happy to give the kids their ´bravery reward´ and the parents this little token of health and friendship. It also afforded me brief contact with each family, and a reason to smile and share the generosity of this amazing ministry. I assisted the dental hygienist for 1\2 a day, but went back to the gift bags after lunch…solidly deciding dental hygiene was NOT my calling.
We would daily repeat this process, family after family, village after village as we worked our way down the Amazon tributaries. I was amazed at the amount of work and love that goes out from this boat. We saw an average of 75 to 80 people (families) daily, only breaking for lunch and then getting right back to work for 4 or so more hours. Many families were living in villages yet unreached by the CBM ministry, and had little or no possibility of access to medical care. We provided them with medical, dental, and eye care, as well as medications to begin a healthier way of life. Because CBM thinks long-term care (this boat not only promises to come back…it DOES!) many diseases, worms, infections, and others have been eradicated where they have been working in the villages. Diseases…done away with because this ministry has goals that believe in long term outcomes not just immediate fixes.
These are the villages we visited, and the numbers related to each visit:
20:3:19 – Logo Preto 72
21:3:19 – Paurá 70
22:3:19 – Maranhão 83
23:3:19 – Sororoca 86
24:3:19 – Betel 84
25:3:19 – Batista 51
26:3:19 – Adventista 56
And not just their physical bodies are ministered to, also their souls. There are missionaries who have been discipled by Earl and by area Christian Church ministers who take the message of Jesus Christ to the villages and establish churches. The area where we have been working (down river from Manaus) do not yet have established churches present…however, many villages, over 60 of them near Manaus, have churches, pastors and missionaries caring for and ministering to the people. All pastors have been trained in basic medical care and can attend to and have access to medical assistance\supplies from CBM. Again, long term solutions, not short term fixes. Incredible.
Kyle Minor, our town crier, has a grasp on some of the language basics and does amazingly well interacting with the children and adults alike. Kyle has opted to sleep in the rede every night on the top deck…and has been an encourager and friendly face to everyone he meets both on the boat and off. He has played soccer with the kids, and has (somehow) held conversations with Portuguese speakers without offending anyone or getting himself or the group into trouble.
Jimmy Bass, radio celebrity back at home, is the first smiling face and point of entry on the boat. He gets the medical cards from those seeking\wanting help. He is also entertainment for the waiting room. He doesn´t care what type of baboonery he must engage in, as long as it makes people smile and feel comfortable. In one day´s time I have seen him play hide and seek, peek a-boo, act and make noises like a monkey, declare himself ``loco`` gesturing the universal sign for crazy, and sing as part of his entertainment package. Also, as he escorts patients to the dentist, he never passes up the opportunity to speak into the large fan next to my station saying, ``Luke, I am your father…`` in his very best Darth Vader voice and cracks himself up every time.
Dr. David Asbery is our doctor and is being assisted by Annie Lowery, a nursing student aspiring to be a Nurse PR actioner. They are doing third world medicine like it’s the most natural thing in the world. They are an amazing, compassionate, medically excellent team.
Cathy Lynch an RN, worked intake recording vitals for incoming families, as well as took her turn at giving out the wormer medicine. She said she passes pills all the time, but was thrilled to have nearly 100% compliance rate with the kids to whom she gave the pill. She was great about getting down on their level and watching to see if they chewed it up or slipped it to the inside of their jaw. Clearly, the woman has earned this keen ability by watching residents fake swallowing a pill, only to produce it again later.
James McKenzie, the Discipleship Pastor at Central was a team player all week long. He took his turn as a dental hygiene assistant, also as the town crier and the wormer giver. His heart is definitely people and asking questions that dig a little deeper than surface conversations. I have been impressed how missions have become a part of his role and, although obviously a bit out of his comfort zone (true for most of us) he remains upbeat and kind, always encouraging.
Cheryl Tisdale has served in various places with the medical staff, as well as getting to play ``grandma`` for many of the families we served in the villages. There were handmade clothes sent to CBM, little dresses and shorts outfits, and Cheryl was given the task of sizing the families with children and delivering a gift bag of clothes to the parent. The little ones eyes lit up as they held up and admired the brightly colored clothes. By the end of the week, you would never know this was Cheryl`s first mission trip. She has been a delight to get to know.
Our optometrist extraordinaire, Jennifer Bass, is an always calming presence, no matter where she goes. She is bright, funny and one of the kindest, most compassionate people I know. She and Jimmy have been very intentional to make me feel included and part of the group. Jennifer´s approach with patients is one of caring concern and quiet strength. I overheard her and Dr. Asbery discussing their approach to private practice. How refreshing to hear business owners treat their businesses as ministries, and their vocations as calling.
Jim Lynch, the pharmacist, is one of those guys who is quiet and unassuming, but can blow you away with tales of his well-traveled life and deeply theological ponderings. He is a whiz in the pharmacy, of course, but is also a very gentle and interesting guy. He interacted with patients with compassion and care.
I cannot tell you how many times I cried and felt like I was in a boat with Jesus ministering to the masses on a hillside. Scenes from our everyday interactions reminded me of the parables of Jesus…and of His compassion and care for everyone He encountered.
We each were asked to do a devotion one day while we were on the boat. My devotional was about the parable of the Master of the House who had prepared a great banquet and invited all the most important people…sent them literal engraved invitations. And they each made excuses why they couldn´t come. So he told his servant to go out and find others, the crippled, the poor, the blind, and the lame, and anyone who could join him in his home for the banquet. The servant did so, and reported to his master there was still room. The master said, go out and compel them to come in…so the servant went out and invited those rarely invited anywhere. The women. The children. The tax collectors. The drunkards. (Luke 14: 16-24)
I can just imagine the master of the house standing on his roof (a common practice in Biblical days) watching as this rag tag group of people hobbled up the dirt road. Some may have ridden donkeys. Some may have been in oxcarts, unable to walk. The elderly being led by the youngsters.
I was reminded of this scene as I watched Kyle carry a little girl down the steep hill to the boat ramp. Her family had another baby and several little ones in tow already, and so Kyle, in typical Kyle fashion, carried the little girl (with Cerebral Palsy) down the hill and onto the boat. My eyes filled with tears as I was thinking of this scene in the Bible…and how it was playing out here, now, in Brazil, on the Amazon, right before my eyes.
Jesus` invitation is to ALL…whosoever will, may come. This boat, this Central Brazil Ministry, issues the same call to these villages. The boat makes a loud blast on the air horn as it arrives in the village. And then they come. The old. The young. The sick. The needy. They come. And they are met with excellent medical care, genuine compassion and the love of Christ. I am grateful. So very, very grateful, for having been a small part of the life changing works happening here, on the Amazon River.