\”Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us…\” Ephesians 3:20
If you had asked me just a month ago if I thought I would be writing a blog entry about our trip to Brazil and all of the amazing things God did during that time, I would have laughed. Looking back it\’s amazing to see God\’s faithfulness and provision despite my unbelief and doubt. Many of you followed our progress and joined us as we prayed for God to provide the funds and the necessities for the trip to become a reality. Many of you gave sacrificially trusting God would do great things. Well, your prayers and giving were not in vain!
Unfortunately we didn\’t have regular access to the internet on our trip so we weren\’t able to update as we went along so I\’ll do so in this loooong entry. I hope you find it encouraging as your read of God\’s goodness and direction in our lives and the lives of the Brazilian missionaries and nationals. If you can\’t finish it in one sitting as it is quite lengthy, I hope you\’ll take time to read it all at some point… there\’s a great ending!
Day 1: April 9, 2009
One of the main requests that we passed on to you all was that God would \”reserve\” two seats on the flight for us. Since we had \”stand-by\” tickets, our seats were dependent on the availability on the flight. When we got to the Atlanta airport that evening, we checked in and waited to find out if we would indeed make it on. When they called us for check-in and gave us our seat assignments, I had to stop and apologize to God for my disbelief. Not only had He reserved seats for us, He had given us first class. For me this was like God saying, \”Now will you just trust me, Ashley? I\’ve got plans for you and I want you to rest in me.\” It was very humbling… and exciting! We had never travelled first class and it was definitely nice to have on a 6 1/2 hour flight. We enjoyed every bit of it and thanked God for the slice of luxury before we lived out of our backpacks for two weeks.
Day 2: April 10, 2009
Our flight arrived without delay about 12:30 AM in Manaus. Michael Geurink (the ABWE missionary who had so kindly invited us and set up the trip for us) met us at the airport and took us to a nearby apartment to get some shut-eye before we left out later that day.
After about a 4 hour \”nap\” we were up and on our way to our next flight to Tabatinga, Brazil. We were able to grab a bite to eat with Michael and discuss a little of our vision to reach the indigenous people in the Amazon. Michael and his family do basically the same thing we want to do so he was able to offer some insight and advice to us. When we got to the airport, we were pleasantly surprised to meet one of the local pastor\’s wife who \”happened\” to be on our same flight. This was just another tiny provision from God as she was able to help us get through the check-ins at the airport since our Portuguese isn\’t 100%. After a bit of \”left engine trouble\” before we got off the ground, we landed safely in Tabatinga after our three hour flight.
We took a taxi to our hotel that Michael had reserved for us and were able to rest a bit. Once dinner time rolled around, we decided to head out to grab a bite to eat. Since it was good Friday, basically nothing was open. There is a heavy Catholic influence in Brazil and no one eats meat that day because they believe you are eating the literal body of Christ. But they did eat fish… and they ate it ALL. Scales, eyes, you name it. Sooo, we decided to head back and munch on our granola bars for the night and pass on that particular cultural experience.
On our way back we were suddenly crowded by hundreds of people participating in some sort of Catholic ritual for the Easter celebration. There were some carrying candles, some reenacting the beating of Christ, and everyone was chanting along with the loud speaker. It was very sad to see the emptiness of the event. On one end they were chanting, on the other there were vendors selling various items and snacks. No doubt this is a yearly tradition that many place their trust in for forgiveness and a ticket to Heaven.
When we got back to our hotel, the kind gentleman behind the desk asked if we\’d like him to order us a pizza. It was like he read our minds! So that night we feasted on Brazilian pizza and slept like rocks.
Day 3: April 11
The next morning we gathered our things and took a cab to the dock. We boarded the boat and found a cozy place for our hammocks. Little did we know, we would soon be crunched in with no swing space. But it was actually a lot of fun and we met some Argentines who we could speak Spanish with. We quickly got accustomed to the sway of the big boat and learned our way around. When nightfall came, we went up top and met some nice Germans who spoke English. We talked for a couple of hours and watched the moon rise over the distant trees. It was a great experience in and of itself. Our first night in our hammocks was surprisingly comfortable and relaxing.
Day 4: April 12
We docked in Santo Antonio around 9:00 AM on Easter Sunday. The missionary family we would be staying with (the Peace family) had said if they weren\’t at the dock, to get a mototaxi and tell them we were headed to \”the American\’s house\”. Since the boat was ahead of schedule, Lloyd wasn\’t there and we hailed a \”taxi\”. Cars are rare in those parts and since there were two of us, we each got a mototaxi. So, here I am, sticking out like a sore thumb on the banks of the Amazon and the other driver has already taken off with Richard on the back. I\’m still trying to get on the back of the bike and balance my backpack and camera bag without making a complete fool of myself. I couldn\’t help but laugh at myself. As soon as I got my balance we were off. I\’ve never feared more for my life. With nothing but the back of the driver to hold onto, I prayed to myself and said, \”Ok God. Surely you didn\’t bring me this far just to have me fall off a taxi and break my neck here in the middle of nowhere. Just let me make it in one piece.\”
After a bumpy, prayer-filled few minutes, we arrived at the missionaries home. Athena, the wife, got us settled in and soon there-after we met the family. They have four precious kids, all nine and under. We had a great time with them all week.
Later that afternoon we got a tour of the ABWE hospital and got to spend some time asking questions and learning more about the town. We had dinner with another missionary family, the Phillips, who work as medical missionaries. That night the local church put on an Easter play that was very touching. The church there is growing but facing it\’s one share of problems, mostly cultural. We learned that the people in this area are very quick to commit, but slow to follow through. This makes discipleship and spiritual growth very slow.
Day 5: April 13
We woke up early and headed out to Betania, a small Indian village about 45 minutes upriver by speedboat. Lloyd does a weekly Bible study in this village and has a morning class for young people and an afternoon class for middle age and up.
When we got there, I was surprised at what I say. I guess in my naive thinking, I imagined an \”indigenous\” village to consist of partially naked Indians with war paint and tribal dancing. There was none of that to be found. Instead this village has been \”spoiled\” by the government. About 30 years ago they came in and basically gave them everything they needed. A generation later the missionaries are dealing with a complacent, self-centered society with little desire to grow or work hard. This is not conducive to spiritual growth. Though the village has the largest church of any indigenous tribe in Brazil with an average attendance of 800, there is little effort to truly grow and have a changed life. There is much discord in the church even among the leadership.
Other problem is the language barrier. The native language of the people is Ticuna, one of the 6 most difficult languages in the world. For that reason, no missionaries in the area (that I have heard of) speak it. Fortunately, most of the people also speak Portuguese. But, as with any people, they learn and grow best in their heart language and the missionaries don\’t have that advantage. This creates some distinct barriers and hurdles to overcome.
The children were different that I had previously encountered in other countries. Normally, you would have to hide to avoid the throng of kids that flock to you as an outsider in a South American or Central American country. Not here. With that experience, I tried to immediately join the kids in their games, but to my surprise they all but ran from me. The fact that I couldn\’t speak their Ticuna language didn\’t help the situation. So, I was forced to be a spectator for a few hours until they final got sight of my camera and I was able to show them pictures of themselves. That was the ticket. I spent a couple hours playing with them and observing them in their element. It\’s amazing that no matter where you go, kids are kids. It was fun to watch them swimming in the river and climbing the trees. It was so natural to them. I couldn\’t help but fill the burden for them. Jesus died for them just like me. But who will tell them?
We wrapped up our time there after a quick tour of the village. Lloyd continued to explain the trials he faces in reaching this group of people and it helped us gain a better understanding of the challenges we may one day face.
That evening we had the privilege of eating dinner with a great man who has adopted nine children and has a true heart for God. He is a native Ticuna speaker but also speaks Spanish and Portuguese. We had a great time with him and his family.
Day 6: April 14
In the morning we were able to take a tour of the Santo Antonio area. Lloyd took Richard on his bike and Athena and I went on another and we rode around as they shared with us the struggles and triumphs they have had as missionaries to these people. It was good to gain perspective and hear what they had to say about missionary life in those parts. There passion was evident, but the need for more workers was even more evident.
They are working with a group of people who are not well educated and many of them can\’t even find Brazil on a map. A lot of the older people can\’t read which produces real challenge when it comes to discipleship. How do you assign Bible reading or follow up studies? Athena told me that sometimes they will share the Gospel and talk with a person who accepts Christ and they will be 100% confident of their decisions but just a few days later when asked about it, they won\’t recall any of it. This is very discouraging for the national pastors and missionaries alike. Some of it has to do with the culture and some with language barriers but it\’s equally challenging.
Day 7: April 15
We had a very laid back day on Wednesday, just hanging out with the family and getting more acquainted with the people in the area. When the afternoon rolled around, we all loaded up in the church van, me, Richard, Lloyd, Athena, 8 kids, and Shadow (the family dog) to head out to the \”watering hole\”. Once there, the kids were in instant play mode, sliding down the mudslide and swimming in the creek. I wasn\’t planning on getting in myself, but the slide became more and more appealing and before it was all said and done, Richard and I were both covered from head to toe in mud. It was fun just being a kid again.
That evening we had dinner with the Phillips family. Chip, the missionary doctor, was able to give us a lot of pointers on the ins and outs of Brazil\’s legal challenges. It\’s not easy to get citizenship or a visa to do ministry in the country. He shared with us how to best go about doing that to avoid the common red tape and delays. He was very helpful and encouraging and we plan to implement his advice when the time comes to apply for our visas.
Day 8 and 9: April 16-17
As with the other countries we have visited in South America, time is of little importance. By this time, I was keep track of the days by references my previous journal entries. Same thing goes for the boat schedules. We were scheduled to leave on the 16 and the boat typically docked between 11AM and 2 PM. On this particular day however, it came in at 7:30 AM. Richard had had the opportunity to share the devotional for the staff at the missions hospital so when Athena told me they had heard the boat horn, we were in instant rush mode. She went to get Richard and I quickly packed the remainder of our things. Without a chance to say goodbye to the kids, we were off to the dock. We barely made it in time, said our quick goodbyes, and no sooner had we purchased our tickets when the boat sounded the last horn, signifying its departure. We thanked God for working out yet another detail of our trip and got our hammocks situated for the two day ride.
It was a pretty uneventful trip and time for us to reflect back on all we had seen and learned during our time with the Peace family. God allowed us to see a new aspect of mission work including the trials and challenges we may oneday face working in the Amazon area. But through all of the obstacles we were encouraged to witness His hand at work and His faithfulness in the lives of His people. Truly He is doing a great work in the Amazon.
Day 10 April 18
We docked back in Manaus early that morning and hailed a taxi to take us to the Asas de Socorro guest house. Before we left Keith Dodson of MMS had recommended we get in touch with Ryan and Rachel Joy. They worked with Asas (the biggest mission aviation ministry in Brazil) and Ryan had done the same program Richard will be doing when we go to Ohio. They were kind enough to open the doors of the guest house for us to stay there until our flight out Tuesday. This would prove to be a very useful time.
We had lunch with the family and bombarded Ryan and Rachel with questions about missions aviation in Brazil and the challenges it brings. Ryan is the head mechanic for Asas so he knows first hand what trials the pilots face. They were very helpful in giving us advice on a good airplane for the field, steps to take to avoid the red tape, where the greatest need is in Brazil right now, and so much more.
That evening we rested from our travels and prepared for another day of learning on Sunday.
Day 11: April 19
We slept in a bit on Sunday morning. Churches in Brazil have Sunday School on Sunday mornings and the main service in the evening. We met back up with the Joys for lunch and again picked their brains for more on what the ministry is like.
That evening we went to church with them and I was surprised at how much Portuguese I was able to understand in the service. Their church is awesome. They have well over 1,000 members (maybe over 2,000, I can\’t remember) and are a fairly young church, maybe 10 years old. They started with under 200.They already run three services and are in the midst of a building project. It was refreshing to see a church with a passion and vision for reaching the lost. Everyone was very welcoming and involved. There seemed to be a positive peer pressure and influence to get involved and grow spiritually. What a blessing!!
Day 12: April 20
This was our last full day in Brazil, but it would prove to be the most beneficial in the aviation aspect of our trip.
We left out that morning with Ryan to go to the Asas de Socorro hangar in Manaus. Once we arrived, we were able to meet with Jeferson, the hangar manager. He is a Brazilian national and very passionate about the work of God in that area. We met with him for over two hours, sharing with him our vision and asking questions about the logistics, the need, and the possibility of partnering with Asas in the future for the ministry of SCORE. Not only did he say it was a possibility to partner, he wants us to partner with them. Because of Brazilian regulations, they don\’t allow foreigners (especially Americans) to come in and do the work we feel called to do with out it being supervised by a Brazilian ministry. That\’s exactly where Asas comes in to play. The would serve as our \”umbrella\” to avoiding the red tape involved in the mission and we would be able to reach our own objectives. On top of that, their mission is the mechanical and technical aspect of the ministry. Their slogan it \”Giving wings to those who give their lives.\” There ministry is helping people like us. We were very excited to learn of the ideas and prospects of this partnership.
It seemed God was opening doors well before we arrived.
We stayed there until about 3PM getting familiar with the missionaries and the airplanes and headed back into the city. We were very excited about what we had learned and already our wheels were turning.
We ate dinner at a great pizza place and the Joy\’s dropped us off at the guesthouse and we said our goodbyes. The taxi would soon arrive to pick us up.
But God had one more surprise in store for us. As we were packing, we got a phone call from Wilson, the director of Asas de Socorro. He had planned to meet with us earlier, but time hadn\’t permitted so he called instead. He was VERY excited about what we want to do and gave us an open invitation to work with Asas in the future once we are ready to go to the field. He promised to keep us up to date on the progress of Asas as they have a big meeting coming up very soon to discuss their plan for the next 10 years. He emphasized his desire to partner with us to reach our ministry objectives.
Talk about the cherry on top. It was very humbling to realize that God had been at work all along, preparing us and the missionaries to receive us to talk about future ministry opportunites.
So, to summerize our trip, God is good. He not only provided the means to get us to Brazil, He met each of our needs while we were there from the smallest detail to the key contacts. It\’s very evident that God has a plan for the future of SCORE Aviation and we are humbled at the idea of being a part of it.
After almost two weeks of filling up on all the knowledge we could hold and meeting some great people, we are ready to hit the ground running. Please pray for us as we continue in our support raising. We know that we serve an awesome God with awesome plans.
Thank you again for your prayers, donations, and faithful encouragement. God is so good!
\”…to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.\” Ephesians 3:21