AMAZON BOAT TRIP – MAY 18-27, 2022 - By Cynthia Tung
Day 1, Wednesday, May 18, 2022 – Preparing for the mission ahead
The 13-person team, a blend of Belmont Christian Church and Cornerstone, arrived in Manaus, Brazil at 3 a.m. We were tired from the long day of travel but looking forward to starting. In the baggage area there was cheering, singing, and celebrating. The excitement reverberated throughout the claim area. This was a glimpse of the passion the Brazilians have for their soccer teams, arriving, even before a game was played. We were shortly on our way to the boat to begin an adventure that was new to some, while others were well acquainted with the Amazon, having served with CBM previously.
Once on board, a meal awaited before sleeping and resting. The day was designed to allow us to reset our internal clocks after a long day of travel, receive assignments and prepare for the visits to the villages. By mid-afternoon, we set to work, unpacking the twenty plus suitcases, organizing and sorting the medications, preparing gift bags, restocking the on-board pharmacy and tidying up to welcome the people. In the afternoon, after another delicious meal and rest time, vitamins and ibuprofen were counted and bagged for maximum distribution, Vicks Vapor-Rub was also repackaged to allow maximum benefit to the communities. What I had not understood before was how precious the Vicks was and how costly it is in Brazil and the impact that multi-vitamins could have on the population.
It is encouraging to note that the twenty or more years CBM has been distributing vitamins and serving the people is evident in the children, who received vitamins and are now adults having families of their own. They are stronger and the benefits of health are passed on to new generations. The strength of the relationships formed is also evident by the response to the boat arriving.
As we travelled toward São Sebastião, roughly 12 hours of sailing, one cannot help but be awestruck by the vastness of the Amazon River, it is wide and deep, higher than in most years. Tree tops visible above the water, trunks enveloped by the water. Travelling deeper into Brazil, we look forward to our first village tomorrow morning, to serve, strengthen and share the love of Christ as medical and wellness needs are met.
Day 2, Thursday, May 19, 2002 – The Blow of the Horn
We started early to arrive to the first village by nine. Navigating down side channels and out of the wide waters, the ship’s horn began to sound. It struck me that people have been waiting for the horn, not knowing which day it would sound, but having a sense of the impending arrival. When the horn sounded, their day suddenly changed, new plans were made, all because they were coming to the clinic, they needed vitamins, medicines, to see a doctor or a dentist. They were determined to gather their loved ones and come, on foot, on boat, nothing was going to stand in their way. There were some that came to the clinic, then went out to gather family members by boat that were further off. The horn was not ignored. It made me wonder, if, in the busy-ness we will drop all in our daily grind, and respond when that final trumpet sounds, not ignoring the urgency of the call.
Bob Paddock led the morning devotional time by encouraging us to walk beside people as we walk with Jesus, certain that they will meet Him. We are working with God, but it is His mission to bring the world to know Him. Praise was lifted in both Portuguese and English, finishing our morning time with helpful Portuguese lessons.
As we sailed, the pink dolphins swam not far off. These are not the sweet gentle dolphins; these are aggressive (so I was told). Living in harsh conditions with predators has taught them how to survive.
Nearing the village, Sao Pedro, it seemed that the ship was heading directly into the jungle, the path to the village narrowed and recognized only by our experienced captain and crew. Once landed, duties were assigned and people came. There was an orderly system in place. Each family and individual had their card, their medical record, from previous visits. The ongoing relationship each person has with CBM is evident. Each card tracks the growth of the children, symptoms and treatments, but is also records a trust that is built by experience, commitment and presence. Approximately 90 (the final stats will be listed in the end) individuals came through the clinic, with one home visit made. Most came in the morning, but after a break for lunch and hedgie – rede (hammock) time, the final appointments were completed, with all coming who desired to be seen.
I was surprised to see power lines and a few homes that had power as night fell. The modern world is approaching and influencing the remote villages, but so is the love of Christ, as basic needs are met and relationships are built over time.
Day 3, May 20, 2022, Friday, Daily Rhythms
The mornings have a rhythm. We rise with daylight, have time for private devotion, breakfast, corporate worship and devotion then the patients. It is an orderly process, the patients wait on the hillside, listening to the Americans attempt Portuguese worship songs.
Bob Paddock led the devotion time with thoughts on happiness and what truly makes a person happy. Using Psalm 1: 1-3, our attention was drawn to the importance of thinking, walking and living that rightly leads to happiness. God designed our brains to perform best when we are obedient to Him, serving others and doing His will. Happy people are stable, well-nourished and produce good fruit with no greater joy than serving Christ.
In Santo Antonio, just a short distance from São Pedro, the boat docked and the clinic opened. In total over 120 people were served. One observation was the BIG babies; they are healthy and larger than expected. The babies are well nourished. It was a morning of firsts, as Heath Wood tried his hand at taking blood pressure.
Some patients were adamant about being seen, even going so far as to pull their boat alongside and climb on board, skipping the registration process. Another family arriving, father rowing, mother bailing water from the boat, they were going to see the doctor and get their medicines.
The last thought of the day is the future hope that in the New Earth, there will be one language, no barriers to understanding, all able to worship and praise in full unity. We sailed to Igreja de Cristo for the night, in preparation of tomorrow’s work. A brief hop on Wi-Fi allowed us all to contact our loved ones. Then came the game of UNO, the Brazilian crew members delighting in trouncing the Americans. It was a constant joy to see the banter and laughter among the crew and hear it throughout the day and evening.
Day 4, May 21, Saturday
The morning’s devotion centered on worry, directing our attention to Philippian 4:6. Look at God’s past provision. Next, listen to God’s Word and finally, capture thoughts of worry by prayer. Practical tips were shared by all. A few suggestions are establishing a routine, listen to worship music clearly identify problems and bear each other’s burdens. Worry is universal and not limited by culture. However, the solution that God provides also is not limited by culture.
In Igreja de Cristo, CBM was specifically called to serve the members of Igreja de Cristo. The church membership exploding as they let others know the boat was coming and first seen, were from Igreja de Cristo. We spent multiple nights here, enjoying the warm fellowship and calm water.
In the Amazon, there are many risks due to the wildlife. Unique here are the “pee-bugs”, I am certain that there is a more scientific name. However, if one of these lands on you, it is best to brush it off, rather than smacking it to its death. The reason is that the body fluid is an irritant and can begin a rash that is not easily healed. I was thankful for the warning and was intentional in applying bug repellent if outdoors in the evening.
The patient interactions are a joy to watch and be a part of. One boy was so eager to get on the boat, he attempted to blend in with multiple families. Once detected, his reasoned that his mother sent him to be weighed, for glasses, any reason. The last patient of the day cornered a team member to learn English. A pair of twins came on board – 63 years old and both named Maria. Their smiles are a delight to see.
Day 5 – May 22, 2022, Sunday – Celebrations!
The days begin with a devotion time after breakfast. Bob spoke of Heaven and the many joys we have to look forward to when Christ returns bringing with Him Heaven. There will be no separations or limitations due to aging; we will be in the constant presence of God and no more suffering. There were hard questions discussed and we all left encouraged.
As devotion time closed, the boat was on its way to São Tomé for the morning. As we arrived, people were waiting by eight thirty in the morning. It was a full day, a quick lunch, no nap time and back to see as many patients as possible before returning to Igreja de Cristo for the evening service and celebration. The initial plan was to spend only half a day and return on May 23, 2022, but here on the Amazon, plans change as needed. We spent the entire day in São Tomé, seeing approximately 160 patients then left to attend a special celebration.
Across the river, Pastor Beaver (Belmont Christian Church) was invited to baptize new Christ followers from Igreja de Cristo, nine committed to follow Christ by public confession of faith and immersion. It is an amazing blessing to see how vast and without limits the body of Christ is. Miguel translated the service.
After dinner, we walked up the hill to join Igreja de Christo for their Sunday evening service and building dedication. Belmont Christian Church had provided the support to build the church. Not simply financial resources but prayer and spiritual support. Some joys are consistent, such as an enthusiastic skit performed by the teens and children, sharing the Lord’s supper. The church was filled, people were watching from the windows, peering in the open door. The worship included songs in Portuguese and English, How great Thou Art and Because He Lives. It is precious to worship and praise, lifting our voices to God, who hears us all.
The love poured out was humbling. After the service, the team was recognized and thanked by a local author and the mayor. The author had written a history of Igreja de Christo which is taught to the school children. In the book, she also included the involvement of CBM in building the community and the growing church as critical in establishing the village. Next was the mayor, who also expressed his gratitude to CBM and the church, their presence allowed the community to receive an “ambu-boat” to quickly transport critical patients to hospitals. A professor and his wife were also there, hearing God’s Word and expressing gratitude. Toys were distributed to the children. By the time we boarded the boat, we were all ready for sleep.
Day 6, May 23, 2022 – Gratitude in abundance
The day started uniquely with an invitation to a breakfast in São Tomé. This is the first time that a village has offered such a gesture. A simple feast of fruit, baked goods and coffee with an opportunity to spend more time with the Christians there, disciples made by Igreja de Christo’ s outreach. After breakfast, the clinic opened. Fewer people were waiting, as so many were seen the day before.
Bob was learning to pray In Portuguese with people. And some of the individuals were bringing medical reports and prescriptions which seemed unusual. It was told that the government medical boat had been in the village, bringing doctors from Peru to see patients. Unfortunately, the government boat only saw the patients, diagnosed them and left without helping them to get the prescribed treatments.
We finished and headed to the last village, Remanso, arriving a day ahead.
Among the day’s highlights was the absolute delight over flip flops given to an elderly gentleman and a mother of 14 coming in for more pre-natal vitamins. She looked happy and joyous. It is impossible for me to fully imagine life in a village, daily rhythms set by needs and seasons, just as it is impossible for them to fully imagine life in Virginia. The point of intersection that CBM provides offers an opportunity to minister and meet a practical need. As patients continued to come, a young man was not pleased with the flip-flops (he thought them too girly), until Don mentioned he could give them to his girlfriend. A big smile broke out on his face, as he gladly put the flip flops in the bag.
Day 7, May 24, 2022, Final day in the village
We woke to the final day of caring for patients. Before daybreak, the clear night sky is with no light pollution makes one remember how vast God’s creation is and how small we are. The morning’s devotion was a perfect conclusion to the work that was accomplished. Bob used Romans 16:3-5, 22. Paul acknowledged the many individuals involved in his ministry, naming individuals, whose only qualification was that they made themselves available to serve. In the same way, CBM could not operate to the extent that it does without the individuals who set aside time and make themselves available to serve.
Before the first patient stepped on board, the man, whose house we parked next to was tidying and preparing his porch, ready for the onslaught of others. The boats arrived and many were waiting to be seen. As the last patient left, the attention turned homeward. It was time to begin a four day journey out of the jungle, back to Virginia.
In total, 591 medical patients were seen, 51 dental patients, 77 procedures completed and 66 people fitted for glasses. Five villages were visited: São Predro, S. Antonio, Igreja De Cristo, São Tomé and Remanso.