This year the LAC’s prayer emphasis is for the Amazon Basin. Join us as we pray for the unreached in the amazon basin of South America.
The following article was published April 6, 2014 in the Pentecostal Evangel’s World Missions Edition and highlights the Amazon Jungle Journey.
Amazon Jungle Journey
By Bryan Webb
Apr. 6, 2014
Deep brown eyes stare out at me from beneath ebony black bangs that hang low over charcoal eyebrows. An expressionless face accentuates the stoic gaze of the tiny, 6-year-old girl.
Noiselessly the young girl rocks a hammock that serves as a makeshift crib, trying without success to quiet the crying baby lying inside it. On the girl’s opposite side, on a simple bed made of palm bark slats, her mother moans continuously.
The father sits at the foot of the bed, his eyes red from drink and grief, already mourning the passing of his wife. At the mother’s head sits the frantic grandmother. She massages her daughter’s belly with frenetic movements born of desperation and urgently implores the missionary to pray.
I glance among the faces: the stoic face of the young girl; the besotted, grief-filled face of the husband; and the desperate, pleading face of the grandmother.
O Lord, help us tell them about You, I pray.
My journey into the Amazon jungle had begun a couple of days earlier in Houston, Texas. After meeting up with AGWM photographer Gaylon Wampler, we journeyed by air to Peru. We landed in the capital, Lima, a city of 8 million people perched on the Pacific coast. From there, we caught a commuter plane to the interior city of Tarapoto where our host, missionary Steve Ford, waited to meet us.
Along the way I am struck by the startling collection of contrasts Peru offers: affluent cities, primitive villages, seemingly endless coastlines, vast river systems, icy mountain peaks towering 20,000 feet above sea level, massive swaths of rain forest, and pockets of unreached people groups.
These people groups have compelled me to visit Peru. I want to look into the faces of those who have yet to hear the gospel. I hope to relate Steve’s heartfelt passion for these remote peoples and his plans for planting churches among them.
Steve meets us at the Tarapoto airport and leads us to a waiting taxi. The taxi driver quickly navigates the busy traffic and slips out of the sweltering, tropical town toward the Andes Mountain foothills.
Cool mountain breezes replace the damp, fume-laden air of Tarapoto. Adobe houses protrude from the red clay earth. Coconut and banana trees give way to fern fronds. Flat, swampy rice paddies yield to towering mountains, plunging valleys, and misty waterfalls.
As the taxi weaves its way around hairpin turns, Steve relates the basics of his ministry. He and his wife, Terry, arrived as missionaries to Peru in 1992. Initially they focused on planting churches among the mestizo communities surrounding the river port city of Iquitos. Over the years they have trained hundreds of pastors and assisted in starting 100 churches. Seven years ago, the Holy Spirit led them into their current ministry of planting churches among the least reached tribes scattered over Peru’s portion of the Amazon River Basin.
At this point in our journey, a vast plain opens before us. We descend rapidly and the tropical air returns, wrapping around me like a heavy cloak. In the riverside city of Yurimaguas, we trade our taxi for a cart pulled by a three-wheeled motorcycle and head to the port.
When the motorcycle stops, I step out of the cart and into thick, smelly mud. Around me, small stores and food stalls line the area. A cacophony of Latin music blares from competing loudspeakers. The steamy smell of roasting chicken and plantains fills the air.
The river, broad and brownish-orange in color, is lined with an amazing assortment of boats — slender dugout canoes, v-bottomed boats complete with tin roofs, flat barges that transport people and cattle, stout tugboats, and massive balsa wood rafts. I watch as a raft is unloaded and then disassembled, its logs to be carted away to lumber mills. While I gape at the view before me, bright pink dolphins leap from the river, adding the surreal to the unusual.
Upriver, two tribes — the Chawi and the Candoshi — live in a complex maze of tributaries. Steve and a team of national pastors he trained are seeking to establish churches among them.
Steve says prior to his engagement with these tribes they were “partially reached but abandoned.”
“People kept taking potshots at reaching them,” he says, “but none were willing to give their lives for them. No one was willing to invest the next 20 years to reach them.”
Early the next morning, we head upstream. Our boat, a long canoe-shaped craft of plank construction, comes equipped with a pikipiki — a lawnmower engine welded to an 8-foot shaft tipped with a small propeller. During our eight-hour trip, I feel as if I’m sitting on a riding lawnmower that has no muffler.
In spite of the noise and vibration, the scenery mesmerizes me. Verdant green jungle and quaint villages line the banks. Brilliant blue kingfishers skim the water and effortlessly pluck fish from the surface. Each bend in the river reveals yet another exotic species of bird with amazing plumage. Monkeys cavort in the overhanging trees.
Yet the trip is not without risk. Massive caimans, cousins to the alligator, surface beside our boat, and piranhas hide farther below. The thick riverside jungle is home to man-eating anacondas, venomous snakes, deadly spiders, killer bees, and quicksand.
On the flight from Houston, someone stole my boots from my backpack. Once in Peru, I replaced them with a pair of tennis shoes. As Steve listed the litany of dangers in the jungle, I asked about the presence of snakes.
“Of course there are snakes,” he answered. “That’s why I wear boots.”
At that moment, my replacement shoes seemed woefully inadequate.
We stop for the night in a riverside village. As the sun sets, its light glazes the river with shades of pink and red while the growing shadows add hues of deep blue. Below me, a dugout canoe equipped with an outboard motor slices diagonally upstream. Its wake peels back the glaze, revealing the darker water below the surface.
Darkness yet untouched by the light.
This graphic illustration reminds me of the condition of the Chawi and Candoshi. Surrounded by and reflecting outward beauty, many of their villages harbor a darker, spiritual reality just below the surface. Because they have never heard the message of God’s love, the people are lost, without God and without hope.
Reaching these remote villages will incur risk and require commitment. Making a difference here can’t be accomplished over a long weekend or on a short-term trip. It will exact a price.
Yet telling them is our responsibility. Christ gave the Church one overarching mandate: to go and keep going until every nation, tribe, language and kindred has heard the gospel. Steve and his team are doing all they can to reach these remote Amazon people. But for every village they contact, there are many more that remain untouched by the gospel.
The next morning we head to a Candoshi village. Our boat navigates through a narrow canal into a circular lagoon ringed by bare, trench-filled dirt hills.
As we disembark, a cluster of children stare at us from beneath the shade of a mango tree. The village smells of rotting food, human waste, and wood smoke. Women prepare the staple food by fermenting large vats of tapioca and sweet potatoes. Smoke from cooking fires wafts upward from beneath thatch-roofed huts.
Expressionless faces greet us. No smiles. No friendly welcoming voices. I am not surprised. Steve had told Gaylon and me repeatedly to be cautious and exercise discernment because the Candoshi are very suspicious and prone to violence.
Suddenly the silence is broken as the village chief’s wife approaches and urges us to go to the home of a desperately ill young woman. We enter the humble hut, a thatch-roofed structure with no floor or walls. There I find myself standing at the bedside of the suffering woman while her desperate family helplessly watches.
Steve looks at me and says, “Pray with everything you’ve got. If Jesus doesn’t help her, no one can.”
Before we pray, I glance around at the stoic little girl, the crying baby, the grieving father, the frantic grandmother, and the moaning mother.
O Lord, help us tell them about You, I plead silently. Help them understand that You love them and sent Your Son to die so they could have abundant life.
Together, Steve, Gaylon and I join in praying for the young mother.
“Lord, I know You hear me,” I pray. “But so that they may know that You are the God who created them and loves them and seeks after them, please heal this woman.”
The next morning the young mother, miraculously healed after being bedridden for two months, made her way to the church for the 5 a.m. prayer meeting.
Watching the scene, I thought again of other villages along the Amazon where the message of Christ is unknown.
O Lord, I plead again, help us tell them.