Monday, July 16, 2012

Amazon Mission Trip 2012

A year ago I took my first journey south into the country of Brazil.  It's one of those places I never considered visiting, and that's usually where God starts most stories....taking you the last place you would have 'wanted' to go, through a trip of a lifetime to the place,the exact place, you most need to be.  It was hot, there were lots of bugs, but it changed my life and I built relationships that will last a lifetime, and impact me into eternity.  I still wasn't planning on going back.  I, clearly, need to spend more time in the word.  Jeremiah 29:11 states, "For I know the plans I have for you...".....notice how 'my plans' aren't mentioned even one time?  God constantly reminds me He has a much better path than the one I plot out daily and if I'd just let go, I'd be on the adventure of a lifetime.  And so....again, I found myself heading south to Brazil for 10 days at the end of June.  Though it wasn't my idea, it became increasingly clear this is where I needed to head, again.  With something that clear.... it was exciting  because I know that where ever I'm going, and whatever I'm doing if it's not 'me' driving the boat (literally, figuratively and everything in between) I get to sit back and enjoy, and my life will never be the same. 

Last year was incredible, I made some great friends, friends I went back with, or met up with once I hit Brazil, but this year not only did I get to spend the week with 'those guys and gals'....the entire boat was full of a family I wanted to be a part of....I know the rare treasure it is to work beside people like the Acts church did.  There wasn't drama, except to be dramatically how cool God is in Brazil and beyond.  There was a lot of laughter, and a boat filled with people ready to work hard.  Nobody wanted to 'get out' of doing things that are difficult....the heat, stepping out of comfort zones, and fitting more into a day than I usually do in a week....we were all eager to be a part of the story, and I loved that most. 
We went under the umbrella of a larger organization called Amazon Outreach.  They run three boats up and down the river just about as frequently as people are willing to go.  They have staff in America and in Brazil, and missionaries they help plant along the rivers.  Though we go for 10 days, we are visiting villages that have folks that have been planted there to continue any work we begin.  Churches are being built, and in many cases wells are being dug to bring the villages fresh waters for the very first time.  We are just one small piece in a really big story with some amazing outcomes.  27 Americans headed south, but we got to join a boat full of Brazilians.  On Brazil's end they hire interpreters, many of which are Christians living in Brazil with the same vision.  This is my Brazilian sister, Camilla.  Trust me, to know her is to love her.  She's so young, and much wiser than just about anyone I know.  I'm trying to adopt her, but her family won't let me keep her, so I have to settle for a yearly family reunion. 
We flew into Manuas, and then boarded the boat and headed 28 hours (or so...more 'or so'-Brazilian time is always about twice as long as they tell you it will be) up the Amazon River to the first of seven villages we visited.  We spent the first day just finding out 'river legs.'  We sleep on open decks in hammocks.  The first year I way.  I don't even like to sleep in my squishy bed under my pottery barn comforters.....sleep just isn't my thing, the open, in a hammock?  It's an incredible sleep, especially with a little wind and are 8 months old again without a care in the world...I've never heard anyone complain about the sleeping arrangements.
The first day we headed down the river in the last few weeks of the rainy season we got to sail into a double rainbow spanning the river.  God underlining that promise that He is with us....twice.
Some of the best conversations I have had in years are along this bow, just sitting, and sailing.  I usually snag a book, take a seat, and let it sit there while someone joins me who is walking by and we end up delving into our lives and sharing our stories as the Amazon rivers pass us by on our way to our destinations. 
We take very little with us, just a few outfits, and there is a lady who washes our (very sweaty) clothes daily.  Officially, airline rules, we are allowed to take 2 suitcases filled with 70 pounds worth of 'stuff', so we bring things to pass out in the villages (donated by friends and family).  Clothes, flipflops, toys, hats, sun glasses, toiletries-little love offerings.  It's humbling to walk through the village and think about my own home.  There aren't little decorations or wall hangings, and there certainly isn't a craft room, cable package, or spoiled puppies waiting at home on their dog pillows.  We sort the items into bags and pass them out to the families in each village knowing these really do go a long way.  We were able to pass out 480 bags filled with little blessings for each family.
There aren't roads connecting these villages in the Amazon.  People travel by boats, some are motorized, but the majority of what you see are these hand carved canoes, it usually involves a balance of paddling and bailing all in a days travel. 
We visited 7 villages of all shapes and sizes, but many of the homes are built with palm branches woven together to try to keep out the weather.  There views are usually 4 Star, but life is just so difficult, it's hard to stop and appreciate the tropical view. 

Each member that goes south spends the year raising funds, the funds go towards the travel up and down the river, we were able to provide family bags of food as well, but our greatest hope is to make permanent  changes that last beyond these temporary bags of aids.  We were able to witness several water wells being dug.  So many people die young because they drink, bath, and do laundry in the Amazon river.  Beneath their feet are sources of fresh water, they just lack the means to get to it.  Part of the funds donated are used for projects like that.  We were in two villages that received fresh water for the first time in their life (thanks to generous donors from back home), and it's hard to wrap my mind around how precious this gift is, and how easily we access it back home.
Each day we are broken up into teams.  Some are assigned to Vacation Bible School which includes a story, crafts, snacks, games, and face painting.
There is also a faith team that visits the village.  My friend pointed out last year how very much 'alike' we are despite our different styles of living.....we hear the same problems-troubled teens, difficult marriages, alcoholism, health scares.  So many are warm and welcoming.  A lot of the villagers live in large family groups.  The picture below was taken at a house and, among other things, they were bee keepers.  The boxes hanging from the ceilings are actually filled with hives.  There were seven large boxes with bees coming and going the entire time we visited with them. 

There is a women's ministry where we sit and chat, make necklaces, cut hair, and paint nails.  A men's ministry that includes passing out some fishing gear, and telling some fishing tales. 
A unique experience this year was a recreation center that was opened using some of the funds that were provided.  This was located in the same city we visited last year and helped open a church.  The kids do not have a lot of places to enjoy sports, and the idea is to bring in a team of athletes that are going to run sports programs and hopefully give some of these kiddos new interest.  A lot of the people along the river in Brazil being having families very young.  There are 11 year old Mom's attending the crafts at VBS while holding a baby on their hip. The hope is to draw those teens in, and provide additional paths for their life, given them an escape from too many harsh realities.
One thing that absolutely breaks my heart every year are the animals.  This year I fell in love with this puppy.  The animals (and the people) suffer from worms, and their little ribs stick out, and there are a lot of skin diseases.   I know it's temporary, but being a dog lover...I still hurt for these little guys.  There is a lot we can do for the people, but I understand caring for pets the way we pamper them in the US is a long way off.  I have to avert my eyes at most points and just concentrate on what I can do in this moment, and hope someday we will be at a point that this could be a priority.
One really neat idea my friend Phyllis had this year was family photos.  She bought a Polaroid camera that printed instant stickers.  Most of these families do not have photos of their family.  We were able to print them instantly and frame them with these little photo frames for the ladies to take home with them.  It was a big hit. 
My cousin and I have traveled together on this journey both years, such a special time together, and really fun because we get to share experiences the rest of the year.  This year we were joined by Jenny (on the right) from church....another one of those new friendships that will last a lifetime.
Honestly, I couldn't sum up this trip in a plan this time is to plan to go next time.  There is a verse in Isaiah (6:8) that says, "Here I am, send me."  Instead of waiting for God to call him, Isaiah offers to go.  No doubt, if God doesn't want me there, I won't be there....Paul was denied the chance to go to Asia because God needed him where he was at, and look at the impact he had?  So this year, I won't wait for miracles and God's booming voice, I plan to be blogging about  my trip next summer unless He tells me differently.  This summer was an incredible journey.  Over 280 people made professions of faith, we were able to pass out 480 bags to families, along with more than 200 bags of food.  We got to witness two water wells being dug, and 4 churches being built.  We were able to revisit a community we visited last year and find the same families that were just discovering the new church leading the church and being a light in really dark city.  We stepped into 7 different villages and got to walk around love from Christ into the lives of the villagers.  Regardless of where they were at in life, or what they believed, we loved on them and tried to make their day better.
This year we visited a city where one of the missionary families will soon be living next to the new church.  I looked down on their door step and found this stick in the shape of an Ichthys. I love the Ichtys, and if God can paint pictures in the clouds, I'm pretty sure he can drop a twig or two in just the right location as a reminder of what He is doing, and who He is doing it with!


Erin said...

Wow! How cool is this? I'm envious. It sounds like you had quite an adventure and life changing trip. I have been to Brasil and LOVED it more than I can even begin to say. Have fun going back and continue to do amazing things!