We drove for 3 hours – the last hour of which, a VW campervan is in no way designed for! I honestly can’t believe how far we go in that van, but time and time again the campervan proved my doubts wrong. After being thrown around the van, it was actually nice to discover that the road had been broken up by recent rain and we would have to walk the rest of the way. We walked for around an hour, first along something like roads, then as we went further into the rainforest, weaving between trees, squelching through mud and balancing on logs across waterlogged ground. We discovered that we were going to take a boat to get to the riverside community, and waited for the boat at a lady called Josephine’s house. Met some jungle chickens!
The canoe took us down little rivers which broke through dense rainforest, trees often touching overhead. The sound of the rainforest around us was amazing - a constant cacophany of who knows what creatures. The rivers are very shallow in some places so a small canoe type boat, called a ‘habita’ is the only kind that can be used. The water is just a couple of centimetres lower than the edge of the boat so you have to sit very still so it doesn’t rock, and you have to bail water out regularly. A motor can be used most of the time, but the paddle is crucial to avoid the random branches sticking out, and to go around the sharp corners. At one point we got stuck on a tree, and George had to get in the water to shove us off. When the shoved, the boat tipped, water poured in and I nearly fall out! Big gasp, life flashing before my eyes, but luckily George steadied the boat quickly and I got away with just one very wet leg! Having visited the Amazon room at the Sealife Centre, I was very keen NOT to go in that water!
The Methodist Church in Brazil has committed to buying 25 habita boats, which cost £230 each, and giving them to missionaries to travel into the Amazon and meet with the communities there. George will be one of the missionaries to benefit from being given one of these boats. Up until now he has had very little support from his church so he made contact with the Methodist Church who are keen to support him both by providing a boat and in other ways. This project is in the very early days and our visit was the first time the Methodist Church in Brazil had visited the community so a very exciting time to be there. The photo below shows George and a habita.
We arrived at 10.30am and stayed for 3 hours, first of all looking around the house and getting to know the people (about 10 including children) and waiting for the second habita to arrive. When it came, we have a sort of church service, where we each introduced ourselves (and I gave the customary gift of a box of toffee from Weymouth with greetings from the Methodist Church in Great Britain!), then Pastor Juliao gave a sermon. As part of this he told us that when Leo Osborne (ex President of Conference) had visited Manaus he had spoken with him about the dream of starting a project working in the hard -to-reach communities of the Amazon, but had no idea of how this would be possible. Then George got in touch and now just one year later the project is underway. Pastor Juliao encouraged the community telling them ‘you are the fruit of the dreams in our heart. You are a gift from God’. It was lovely to see these people being told that they were valued as they spend much of their life cut off from the rest of the world. Then we prayed, they took up an offering which they asked me to pray for, and they shared some testimonies with us. One gentleman told us about how he used to drink a lot and wander around the rainforest, not letting his family know where he was going or when he’d be back. One time he was drunk in his boat and he started seeing things, thinking he was being chased by policemen, and he fell out of the boat. Later he woke up under a tree with no injuries. He said ‘God had saved me. I am very grateful to God and the church for all you have done for me, it has changed my life. Now I am safe.’ A lady told us about how when her son was little he became very sick, and they were very worried because they live far from Manaus. She had heard something about Jesus, but didn’t know him, but she prayed and asked him to save her son, and he got better and is now 5 years old and totally healthy. She cried as she told this emotional story, and said to us ‘I will never leave God’. It was amazing to hear these stories and know that God is doing really great and loving things in people’s lives in places I’ve never even heard of! I think God is so kind to us.