Well, we've started our 24 hour journey back to Manaus. We're enjoying a relaxing day of food and fellowship on the Linda Esperanca. We currently have a competitive spades tournament going on while people nap, sing songs and read while enjoying the beautiful Amazon scenery. Praise God we have a breeze because the boat is moving!! We've blown up baloons with Bible verses and candy to launch off the boat along with soccer balls as we see young children in the villages along the river. Who knew a baloon launcher would be so handy in the Amazon! It's entertaining to see how kids will jump off boats and swim into the river just to grab the goodies - it's also funny to see the ones who are expecting the boat of Americans and flag us down! We stopped briefly this morning in Itacoatira to say goodbye to our friends Audrey and Lexi who had to catch an earlier flight back to the US. Please pray for their safety as they make the long journey home.
We ended our time in Lake Carada with an adventurous speed boat hunt for alligators. We seriously thought they were joking until we ended up on the boat armed with life jackets, head lamps, and an alligator net. We took 4 speedboats through the same alligator infested canal that our group got stuck in the night before. We sailed through the canal with no light but the moon and a spotlight looking for the perfect gator. Once the glowing red eyes are spotted everyone has to be silent and all lights go off while one of the crew goes in for the catch. Those gators are quick though and out of 4 boats only 1 came back with a prized catch...a baby gator only about 2 feet long...we have proud pictures of Jeff holding the gator now. He might have reacted differently if it was hog hunting. Tonight we have a big boat party planned that involves bowling, coreography, skits, and of course hair braiding. We may or may not take Amazon Glamor Shots...there are no words to describe the look of one who has been in the Amazon for 9 days. Keep in mind the pictures will not do the smell justice!
On a serious note today has been a great time to reflect on the work of the Holy Spirit in the Amazon. We truly believe that we advanced the kingdom in ways that we've never been able to before. The success of the speed boat teams were crucial in not only building relationships and witnessing but in discipling our new friends. Our prayer is that this format of discipleship will forever change mission work as we know it in the Amazon. Because of the positive feedback from the speedboat team of the first 4 days, the entire team was able to minister to the villages of Lake Carada in the same way. We split up into small groups and went to all 4 villages going door to door as VBS was held for the children. It was amazing to see the Holy Spirit at work in ways we had never witnessed...rather than focusing on quantity we focused on quality. We spent most of our time investing in individuals by being intentional with building relationships. Once we built trust we presented the gospel. Some had never heard it before, some resisted, and some are heavily catholic (which for the most part here in the Amazon means that they believe that heaven is based on works). Several individuals from all 3 categories made professions of faith and after that decision was made we poured scripture and encouragement into their lives. Rather than just leaving with a good feeling of furthering the kingdom we stayed longer to make sure they understood their decision fully. We then showed how to study the Bible and taught them what it meant to be a disciple and to spread the Good News to their family and friends. The Evangicube was extremely helpful...it was especially a success among the younger people as it served not only as a way to share the gospel with them but was an intriguing way for them to share with their friends since it's easy to follow and serves as a prompter as they walk others through the gospel message. A few of our team members were able to share and practice the Evangicube with new believers...what an encouragement to have them repeat the message of the cube with us so that we were certain that they understood the message in order to pass it on. It was amazing to see how comfortable our team became in speaking with these Brazilians. Although there were different bariers, with the power of the Holy Spirit, they were all lifted in that moment. We connected people in the villages and began to set up small groups as we taught them the importance of what Paul said that the church should look like. These villages are so tight-knit that many of them already practice community as it is described to us in Acts 2. That was enlightening and encouraging to our team and presented a great opportunity for us to learn from them. We often go to foreign countries thinking that we have so much to give and bless others with. Our approach this time was different. Rather than meeting a person once, sharing the gospel, and leaving with hopes that they got the message, we were intentional with our time and invested in really getting to know these people over several days. That way, we were not only able to know that their decision was genuine...we were able to teach them to grow in a relationship with Christ. We taught them the importance of sharing and that is could be their first step of obedience as a Christian. We made sure that the people in the villages were aware of everyone who made professions of faith so that they can encourage one another and discuss their faith further. Essentially, these will be the first village small groups. The missionaries for the areas are aware of the decisions as well. They will be following up with the progress of these new believers.
We have both been on mission trips before, but this one is different. As fun as life on the boat with our friends is and being surrounded by beautiful scenery, it is the relationships we built with the people that will be missed the most. We came here to change lives and are leaving with our lives changed just as much. The way we prepared and approached this trip has forever changed our thoughts on missions. We have learned the importance of disipleship and how crutial it is for future and further impact on the world. We believe our group has a new grasp on the Great Commission. We have committed to pray for these communities that we were so welcomed to over the past 9 days. Although praying for them seems like all we can do, it is actually EVERYTHING we can do.
We will be home soon! We will do our best to explain what took place on the trip, but honestly, there are just not enough words to do it justice. Thank you guys for all of your support and prayer. Please pray for our safety back. Also, Josh Rolf's passport cannot be found as of right now. He will be going into the city to work everything out. Please pray for a quick resolution and a quick way to return to the states.
Lauren Newman and Cathleen Moffitt