A new passion for the peoples of the Amazon River is welling up. Our volunteers from Rolling Hills Community Church have just returned from our second trip to the Amazon in the Manaus region of Brazil. A second team from various churches will be going in June.
Consider the story of an 8th grade girl living in the small village of Sao Tome’, about six hours from Manaus by boat along the Rio Negro tributary. Ana-Rita (pronounced Ana-Hita) is an amazing young girl. She is articulate, the smartest girl in her class, socially engaging and an extraordinarily committed Christian who wants to be a missionary some day. Before our group left her village, she asked if she could pray for our families back home. Considering the poverty surrounding her, it was a stunning and humble moment for us to encounter such a concern for others.
The children of Sao Tome’ attend school in their village through the 4th grade. Because they are tribal, they are considered to be deficient to those living in the cities. 5th through 8th graders must make a hike through jungle and then board a boat to get to the nearest school. In the past year, one child was killed by a jaguar making this trek and another had a close call with a large snake.
The only option for an education higher than 8th grade is to live in faraway Manaus. One young lady from the village attempted that last year and was trafficked into prostitution, a significant risk for these simple, unassuming jungle dwellers. Ana-Rita worries about that happening to her. She will, in all likelihood, choose to be married instead and, like most of the other girls in their culture, have her first child by about 15 or 16 years of age. To be able to earn any money for herself, she will string beads or carve skewers. Carving 1,000 skewers as a family will take a week and earn them a little over $2. These are the only commercial options available to anyone in her village, despite the fact that their men are considered to be tireless workers.
Ana-Rita deserves so much more than that and I believe we can give it to her. Over the course of the next few months, JMI will be developing a strategy to come alongside three villages and provide them with sustainable solutions to their greatest needs: adequate shelter; protective mosquito nets; the cultivation of vegetable gardens; clean water; construction tools; medical and dental care; microenterprise opportunities; places of worship and places to keep their traditional culture alive. In fact, we’ve already begun by setting up four water purification systems and left money to start a program to raise chickens for eggs and meat.
Going forward, this mission will be highly relational and reciprocal. We have and will be invited into their lives as family. Mission trips will include the opportunity to worship with them and we’ll be allowed to observe their historical, cultural dances. Those who are interested will be trained to use bows and arrows and invited to go along on hunts for food in the jungle and fish with nets from canoes. The women have expressed a desire to learn crochet and would love to discuss family issues with us.
In addition to trips organized for church groups that would address spiritual needs, I envision multiple mission trips a year to accomplish specific objectives: medical/dental trips, construction trips and trips dedicated to agricultural and farming concerns. Those of you who are skilled in any of these areas may never have a better opportunity to make a more lasting difference.