Friday, December 30, 2011

Day 3 - Sol Nascente

Praise the Lord... finally a rain-less morning!
      Another great day in Sol Nascente... such a blessing to be able to have spent a day and a half with the people here and see the ministry that the Lord has created in Sol Nascente using Erika and Vanderley. A highlight this morning was when our friend Becky was able to reconnect with a friend, Junior, who she had met during the time she spent here this summer. Her testimony had a profound effect on him in July and he promised her then that when she returned next, he would be "a Christian like her". When Becky saw Junior again this morning, he made the decision to turn from his old ways and trust Christ in full surrender. Twas such a sweet moment for her and for all of us to be reminded of the freedom that the gospel gives.
    VBS was a grand 'ol time as always! There are some pretty sassy kids here... a brother and sister pair, Cida and Yudi, made me almost feel bad for their parents if they hadn't been so dang cute. Once again our boys and Julie acted out the nativity story for the kids, but with a little twist for today... the Dentist's daughter Annabelle as baby Jesus. Really gave the story a validity that the creepy baby doll was unable to provide in past performances. Then more picture coloring, painting t-shirts, and passing out goldfish, fruit snacks and candy. Those kids wear ya out...
    It was really important to Erika and Vanderley for some of our team to visit the homes of those who are a part of their church to encourage them to continue to grow in their faith and also to challenge them to become leaders in their community. Erika and Vanderley need for their church to step up and begin serving and helping the people of Sol Nascente. Overall, the team was exhausted after a long morning in the village.. and terribly sunburned.
    Rosey and Ross are feeling much better after their little sickness of sorts and were able to rejoin us in the village this afternoon! Erika also asked us girls to talk to the teenagers about their struggles... finding their identity in the Lord, purity, self-confidence... all issues that transcend culture as things we equally battle with. Our American girls were then able to share their testimonies of how the Lord is able to give us freedom from those pressures. The kids enjoyed the playground, the soccer game, and the attention the crazy Americanos showed them.
   All day we spread news of the church service we would hold at Erika and Vanderley's house at 5. We began with a skit that depicts the many worldly things that distract us from the Lord, even though He is there through it all. Becca followed with sharing her story of how God has worked in her life and Catherine presented what we call the "sin solution"... an illustration much too confusing to explain in a blog... spoiler: the secret is clorox and iodine. John then spoke and shared the gospel with the people, informing them on how their eternity depends on what they choose to believe. Then praise the Lord, back to the boat for a much needed shower (a baby peed on the both of us) and one of the best dinners I've ever had here. Chicken with some sort of Ramen-ish noodle, beef, beans and rice (duh), and Shannon's fav dessert... key lime pie perhaps? Not really so sure...
    And now it's almost 11, playing games on the boat after alligator hunting, snacking on nutella and peanut butter pretzels. All around, life is good. We're happy... and best of all, the boat's still floating.
    New Year's Eve tommorrow, yay! Missing you all, but can't say we're dwelling on it... all the same, we are so very thankful for each of you and for what you have done to help us get here. Thank you for your prayers, we are beginning to get tired and need them so!
    Boa Noite,
        Shannon and Lauren  

Day 2 - Paraiso & Sol Nascente

 Oi Oi,
      That's two "Oi"s for two days of sweet service.  Concerned parents, be at peace! We have only lost three people to anaconda attacks. And better yet, we were in Paradise today. So here's how it all went down.
       Woke up to a thunderstorm, so we spent the first few hours of the morning eating breakfast, chillin like villains, and enjoying some prayer and worship led by Erik and our Brazilian Dentist/Musician/Friend, Thiago. After the lengthy rain delay, we finally made our way to Paraiso, going 6 or 7 people at a time in the skiff boat we tow around with us.  Paraiso is beautiful. Located on a hill, it enjoys a marvelous view of the mighty Amazon. Everyone was feeling more comfortable with their various roles, and it didn't take long before there was a swarm of kids laughing and playing. They seem to especially like learning how to throw a football.
       Soon the men, being the studley studs they are, led a fierce charge to the soccer field, where Will proceeded to continuously sic his pack of devoted children upon the others in the group.  Once the children were defeated in combat, we proceeded to have them run around in circles until they were exhausted. Cue the ladies.  The chicas took over from there, executing another marvelous VBS with the now throroughly tired kids, the highlight of this undoubtedly being Will and Nancy's groovy dance moves. Dancey Nancy, Rhythm Queen of the Amazon.
       After leaving Paraiso we proceeded to Sol Nascente, the town where Erica and Vanderley live. Its a long...long walk to the top.  But, the village is very quaint and beautiful, and I can't keep from thinking that this could be a 5 star resort with just a little bit of plumbing.  Upon reaching the top, bags in tow, and playing with the kids on their new playground, our team essentially split in two.  Half of us stayed at the playground and primed the fence surrounding it with white paint while the other half went guessed it, the soccer field. We played until sunset, after which we collapsed in a heap of bones on the ground.  It is exhausting fun, and the smiles on their young faces make every pulled muscle, cramp, scrape, bump and bruise completely worth it.  Plus, we got some nicknames out of it.  Austin is now known as "La Flama Blanca" (White Flame), I am "La Pared Blanca" (White Wall), Jay from Sao Paolo is "J-WOW," and Will is "Tiny Dancer." Huge success. 
       When the day was done, we all enjoyed what must have been one of the top 5 showers of our respective lives, and stuffed ourselves with food. Yay rice!  The night came to a sweet close with our group devotional, with Lauren, Patrick, Nancy, and a pastor traveling with us from Manaus...sharing their hearts with the team.  Can't wait for day three!
You are very loved,

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Day 1: Wednesday

Oi from the Amazon!
    Yesterday, the second gorup arrived in Manaus and loaded the boat around 3 PM. We got settled in and floated through the meeting of the waters on our 15 hour voyage to Sol Nascente to pick up the missionaries, Erika and Vanderley, who oversee four villages on Lake Carara (for all you people who know how to use Google earth, you can see exactly where we have been) just off the Amazon.
    We started off the morning going to Bucuzal where we had VBS, medical, dental, women's, men's, and a church service... all before a lunch at 3 PM. 30 minutes later we headed out into Divino village where we did the same ministries plus some worship with the people of the village. Oh and let's not forget soccer, soccer, soccer in both places. And yes we lost in both places. The boys are very good but nothing compared to the Brazilian pros.
    A few highlights of the day:
-Erik Nieder has led sweet times of worship on the boat & in the villages with the Americans & Brazilians singing in their native languages.
-Will Shellenberger dancing for all the children in VBS to a Portuguese song. He had everyone laughing.
-Jeff Johnson starred as Gabriel in a play where he held his halo proudly.
-Becca Nail shared her testimony with the women's ministry and spoke with some girls who related to her story.
-Becky Sayman and John Nieder shared their testimonies at church.
-Rose Delph and Shannon Thompson were encouraged to see the joy in a 19 year old girl whose mom was killed during a fight between her husband and her brother.
    We are all encouraged to see the Lord working, even beyond the obvious language barrier. The kids have so much fun during VBS with the songs, skits, coloring and laughing. Today we sang a song during VBS in Portuguese, Spanish, English, and Korean because of the many nationalities represented on our trip. It was neat to visit these specific villages because of the relationship that has been built in previous visits and with the two missionaries who are with us.
    Tonight we had our first nightly devotional with the group and discussed what we saw today and how we were encouraged. We are reading a C.S. Lewis book of meditations which has been a great book to read on this particular trip.
We are all safe minus the one who was attacked by an alligator when he was thrown into the river after he tried to win over the cute girl in town... we'll let you guess which of the boys that was. :)
Thanks for your prayers and support. Tomorrow we are going to Paraiso (Paradise) and the largest village on the lake, Sol Nascente.
Boa Noite,

Monday, November 21, 2011

Prestonwood November 2011 - Villages Day Two

Greetings from the Amazon! Bags still M.I.A. but spirits are high.  We once again split into three teams and journeyed into three different villages, Varre Vento, Saint Sebastian and Saint Antonio. 
The Varre Vento team was invited to the school to conduct a VBS in the morning which about 18 children attended.  We were encouraged to see how open the teacher of the school was as she allowed us to preach the gospel to the students. We had planned another VBS and an adult Bible study for after lunch, however the Lord had different plans.  It proceeded to pour down rain.  The villagers do not like to leave their homes when it rains, therefore no one showed up for the afternoon meetings. Two VBS students (sisters) came and invited us into their home.  During our visit, we discovered that the parents and sisters were not believers.  After sharing with them the Evang-a-cube and personal testimony, all four prayed to receive Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. Praise God!!!
The Saint Antonio team followed up with the villagers we visited with yesterday.  The influence of the Catholic church is very strong in this village.  One woman, Maria, said that she could not put her faith in Jesus because the church would kick her off her property.  She lived with 3 of her 6 children and 5 of her grandchildren, so this decision would effect not only her but her entire family's well-being.  Many in the village profess to knowing Jesus, but they believe that it takes good works to get into heaven. This town has an incredible number of children, the majority of which have been coming to VBS.  Today we held VBS in the school which is a great blessing since the Catholic church has such a strong hold on the village. Part of the reason this was possible is because the president has been away.  We pray that we can continue to use the school for VBS once he returns. 
The Saint Sebastian team had the opportunity to visit with Vanderlay and Tiani, who are new believers and have suffered much persecution for their faith.  We were very encouraged by their story and will be praying for their influence in the village of Saint Sebastian.  We went to visit a man named Junior, who we met yesterday, but he wasn't home.  Instead, we had the opportunity to speak with his brother, sister and niece.  All three came to know Christ!! Also, this village is receiving a water well.  The digging of the well is progressing very smoothly and should be up and flowing tomorrow!
The medical team has been serving Saint Antonio the past two days. Dr. Pablo, a local missionary doctor, was able to share the Gospel with many children as they waited to see Dr. Tom.  He walked the kids from Genesis through Christ's ressurection. 7 out of the 12 kids raised their hands to receive Christ. Dr. Pablo did a great job following up with each child to make sure they understood their decision.  God is really using our doctors to serve and minister to these people.
God is visibly moving in the lives and hearts of many Amazonian people.  Please continue to pray that walls and traditions will be broken as people profess Jesus Christ as their Savior. Also pray for the health and wellness of our team since a couple of us have been sick.  We are truly learning that we have been blessed to be a blessing.  It's a great lesson to learn!
Boa noite! (Good night)
Varre Vento Team:
The Symes Family (Jeff, Kim, Sydney, Zach and Avery)
Traci Townsend
Lauren Davis
Saint Antonio Team:
Aaron and Jen Lill
Amy Dearmon
Jenny Clemmons
Cathleen Moffit
Megan Elmore
Marshall Hunter
Saint Sebastian Team:
Josh Rolf
Kate Brewer
David Snedecor
Amber Lee
Corrienne Bottom
Leslie McAninch
The Medical Team:
The Johnson Family (Tom and Nancy)
Bo Patterson
Roy and Jessica Reis

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Prestonwood November 2011 - Villages Day One

We made it! Oi from the Amazon!
Today is Sunday and our first day in the villages.  After several days of travel we are really excited to finally be with the people of the Amazon. 
The week started off great and we all shared amazing stories tonight after dinner!  Between all three villages we had a little over 100 kids in VBS.  We also started the medical side of our trip in Saint Antonio, the largest of the three villages with two doctors and one dentist.  The dentist pulled over 30 teeth - ouch! Dr. Tom and Dr. Pablo treated about 150 people in the village and are preparing for another very busy day tomorrow. 
The rest of the team started door to door evangelism in the villages and had great success. Success for us is defined as finding a person of peace. These people allow us into their homes and are our best avenue in spreading the gospel.
We never realized how much we love peanut butter, body wash and hair gel. Please pray God brings us our much needed  checked bags for VBS supplies, protection against the sun and bugs as well as a good old American PB&J.  Not to mention that some people are beginning to stink...praise the Lord for the three people who packed body wash in their carry-on bags!  "They're on their way" is all we know after TAM left all of our bags in Miami.
We end the day saying Muito Obrigado Senhor (Thank You Very Much Lord)!
Prestonwood -  November 2011 Team

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Prestonwood & 1st Baptist Terrell

DAY 5 (Monday, Aug. 08)

As I write this, it is Wednesday morning, approx. 99 degrees, with a slight breeze. We briefly had rain this past Friday night and last night for about an hour. We are in the dry season, so it will rain less frequently until later in the year. There are only two seasons on the Amazon, dry & wet. The river level fluctuates approximately 30 to 45 feet between these two seasons. Just 150 feet from shore, the river along our journey can be 75 feet deep and drop to around 200 feet in the middle. So it is easy to see how the river remains navigable in the dry season.

Just to recap our Sunday activities, we had a morning Worship Service at Igreja Presbiteriana de Barreirinha (pronounced ge Bahadinya), then after lunch went to the second Church in Nova Con Quista. This second Church is where the water well is being drilled. We received a report that water was reached on Tuesday and they are in the process of cleaning out the well. The residents are very excited about having clean, fresh water. Until now, their water supply has been from an abandoned business near the town and it is has limited availability. The first Church is about a 20 minute walk from the boat and the Church in Nova Con Quista is about a 40 minute walk from the boat. After the first walk though, one of the leaders on our team got smart and contracted with one of the locals to transport the team and supplies each morning, afternoon, and evening. The truck wasn't big enough though, so some still got their exercise. Our trip sponsor, Ron Kelley, has labeled this trip a "Cooper Fitness friendly" trip. We spent about 3 hours Sunday afternoon in Nova Con Quista dedicating the Church and conducting medical & dental, and VBS for the children.


DAY 6 (Tuesday, Aug. 09)

The key word for our team has been flexibility, as plans often need to change with each new day…or hour, in response to the needs of four villages we have scheduled to visit. We mentioned in our Day Three blog entry that enough money was raised for two Churches and a water well, but the actual number is 5 Churches and a water well.

Church 1 Igreja Presbiteriana de Barreirinha

Church 2 Igreja Presbiteriana de Nova Con Quista and water well

Church 3 Igreja Presbiteriana de Terra Preta

Church 4 Igreja Batista de Barreira To Agira' (pronounced ge Badayda Tu Ahjir-ah')

Church 5 Igreja Batista de Castanho (pronounced ge Castanyo)

We spent Tuesday in Terra Preta (a little further from Manaus{pronounced Manows'} than Barreirinha), where a third Church (Igreja Presbiteriana de Terra Preta) is being built. Both the second and third Church have walls and a roof, but need the walls finished with stucco, painted, and the electrical wiring installed. As with most mission trips, there is more to be done than is physically possible. Since much of the construction work on these five Churches is done, our team has been able to minister directly to the people. Four groups of three people visited homes in Terra Preta to witness and tell people about the new Church. Other ministry activities included medical and dental, Vacation Bible School, pharmacy, and fitting people with eye glasses. All of these are standard ministry activities on any Amazon Outreach mission trip. This past Saturday, all clothes and toys were divided and placed into 230 plastic bags, which were then given out in Terra Preta at the conclusion of a Church Service. In Barreirinha, about 50 people were fitted for new reading glasses and in Terra Preta, 42 people were fitted with new reading glasses. Our prayer is that this makes it easier for them to read God's word. Also, on this day, several team members took a small boat to the fourth Church to check on its progress, but our team was not able to conduct mission activities at this Church. Only the walls are up.

As of the end of Tuesday's ministry activities, approximately 100 people have made decisions for Christ through personal witnessing and Church Service invitations. Pastor Mario and his ministry team plan to follow up on all people making decisions in the coming weeks.


DAY 7 (Wednesday, Aug. 10)

We began our journey to the fifth Church site last night and expect to arrive in Castanho on Thursday night which gives our team time to catch up on the blog. With our first three Church sites, we traveled east from Manaus, to arrive in Terra Preta (about a 12 hour boat ride). Castanho is about 6 hours by boat west of Manaus. Before anchoring just east of Manaus we enjoyed a time of fellowship and devotion. We assessed our trip to this point and Pastor John reminded us all that this mission trips may begin far beyond the US boarders, but the purpose is to take these experiences with us and back to America and be a better witness day to day and not just trip to trip.


DAY 8 (Thursday, Aug. 11)

Travel from Manaus to Castanho




DAY 9 (Friday, Aug. 12)

Planned is a full day of ministry and conclude the day with a Church Service.

Travel through out the night and arrive in Manaus on Saturday morning.


DAY 10 & 11 (Saturday & Sunday, Aug. 13 & 14)

Leave Manaus at 3:10 pm, Saturday for Estados Unido; Arrive in Miami around 8:30 pm

Brief overnight stay in Miami

Leave Miami at 6:20 am, Sunday; Arrive Charlotte, NC around 8:25 am

Leave Charlotte around 9:30 am, Sunday; Arrive DFW around 11:06 am, Central Time

Monday, August 8, 2011

Prestonwood & 1st Baptist Terrell

Sorry for the delay in blogging post. Believe it or not, it's not easy as we thought to get signals and send out information via the world wide web from a river in the middle of the Amazon. This may be our only post, but we are grateful to be able to send this out and let our friends and family know we are doing well, and creating waves here on the Amazon. Who knows, maybe we will be up and running from each village from here on out. Regardless of our future posting activities, be assured we are taking lots of pictures and collecting many stories to share when we return. In the meantime, here are a few stories to tide us over until our return…

DAY 1 and 2 :The journey to the Amazon began long before August 4th. This trip involves more than the 30+ people on this boat. We've spent months preparing. Friends and family have spent time, money, and above all, prayer to make this mission possible. It's hard to describe in detail the impact each of those contribution have made in this mission, but it's a living breathing gift here on the Amazon making changes far before we arrived, and with God's will, remaining years after we leave.

Our group met at DFW August 4th, this is where our ministry would begin as we attempted to make our way through airport check in and convince the agents our shots were accurate, our luggage was acceptable, and our body parts all pass inspection. This is also where we made some of our first friends. TSA Agents. There are pictures involved. Perhaps we can sell some of the evidence to raise funds for our next Amazon trip.

After some of us (fill in the blank if you have a friend on this trip) tried asking the TSA Agents to a dinner and movie after close encounters, we took a flight to Miami, stayed overnight in MIA airport, and journeyed 5 hours to Manaus, Brazil.

Minus one bottle of hot sauce, everything and everyone arrived safely.

We set sail up the river, eating, trying out hammocks, meeting up with are a Brazilian translator…or on a few occasions babysitters (it all depends on who they tag along with on any given day), but most importantly-new friends. Around 7, we were treated to a friendly pirate invasion via our sister boat from Amazon Outreach. More translators hopped aboard.

The Village Church sponsored a trip that was returning, and the boats allowed us the opportunity to float side by side, hop over railings and greet new friends. It was a sweet reminder that each journey is a part of a bigger story here on the Amazon River as we seek to reach the villages up and down this amazing place and bring them the truth of the Gospel and the promises God's love can provide in our lives, regardless of where we are living those lives.


After a small storm and a swinging sleep we woke up early to the sunrise, and…more food. We passed small villages, small huts with people coming out to see what our boat was doing as we passed by, and many…many heads of cows. We spent the morning unpacking the clothes, shoes, hats, glasses, and goodies we brought with us and shuffling them into family size bags to give out later at the villages. We also launched balloons filled with information about our visit, and candy to some of the villages we passed that we are planning on heading back towards as our mission continues. The local children swam up to grab up these goodies, and we hope to see these faces in a few days.

The first village we arrived in is actually a large city by the Amazon's standards. Enough money was raised (Most of this a la Bill Blythe) to build two churches and a well in this village. We left the boat and made the first of many…many…many long and hot walks to the church. It's another reminder of how different life is for so many people on this earth, and we are reminded of just how grateful we are for a breeze, much more the luxuries of air conditioning that so many who came on this trip get to enjoy daily. Seeing the church, and meeting the people make this all worth it. It's important to stop and pause for a minute and just say, there is a lesson to be learned in giving and receiving that is so very visible in a place like the Amazon. We've taken many pictures of these churches, and they are true jewels in these villages. Amazon Outreach is run through donations, donations are raised by people brave enough to ask, bother, stalk….whatever the term is, but after seeing the impact, and the difference those dollars, clothing, and candy make, be warned, many of us will be banging on your door, asking for your support with future endeavors.

We spent the afternoon walking through the village and meeting the members in the community. Each group traveled with a member of the team who can speak Portuguese. Americans are a rare site, and half of the battle to launch conversations is conquered in citizenship alone.

It goes without saying it could not be done without so many willing to join this boat who can speak Portuguese. Their passion for the people of the Amazon is humbling, and learning is being accomplished through our visits, but also the friends we are making who are going on this journey with us.

We spent the evening at the first of three evening services the church held, this was the launch to open the church.

The church asked the Americans to come and sing a few songs, and we managed to stumble through a few songs. Translations were made on both sides as various groups got up to speak, preach, and preach some more. We discovered there is a universal beat we can keep without translation while singing, and regardless of the words being said, you can feel a pastor's passion for the word through his tone. This village is very alive. There was a special guest singer who attended the service who had written a song for Bill Blythe. He was able to gather support from many people back home to not only build the church, but provide musical instruments for worship. One of the church members called Bill Pastor Papa, many who know and love Bill call him Papa, he assured us he has been called many things in his life, but this is the first time he's been called "Pastor." As his friends, somehow Papa merged into PooPoo via translations and accents, and Pastor PooPoo was born. We promise to bring Bill back from the village, but his honorary title is reserved only for his trips below the equator, one can only imagine where this could take him if we let it continue much further. After much laughing, and singing, we came back to rest and do it all again on Sunday.


We spent the entire day serving two villages in the same docking site on Sunday. We attended the morning service at the same church from our first day, and provided Vacation Bible School activities for the students during worship. After a long walk and a quick lunch we visited another village whose church walls have risen, and the first water well is being drilled as we blog. While some members stayed to bless the church, many of us also went outside and conducted our second Vacation Bible School of the day. Our best count is around 300 children attended, listened to stories, created crafts, and then were fed hot dogs and juice. The children were very engaged and well behaved. Many of the mothers attended the event with their children, and a group provided hair cuts to these parents. A dentist and a doctor also travel with the Amazon mission trips, and free services were offered to this village to try to better their lives in some way. We went back to the first church for evening service, and the process began again on Day 5. In many ways the routines have been the same the first few days in this village, but each person has new stories, and new chapters to add to their testimonies. Some of us even have a few new trade skills-nail painting, face painting, hair cutting….

Tomorrow we will be heading on to the second of four stops we are planning on making on this trip. We are each looking forward to sharing our travels on an even more personal and individual basis. Please keep us, and most importantly those we visit, in your prayers as we are given the opportunity to meet, greet, and grow in Christ with each other and the villages of the Amazon.