Some recent journal entries…
I write this while on a boat about 60-70 miles North of Altamira, on tributaries of the Xingu River. We are joined on this trip by a group from Thirst Relief International, two men from each Columbus and California. They are here for a river trip to see how their new, non-profit organization and its funds can best address the global issue of water contamination, especially in developing areas such as the Amazon Basin.
We are traveling with Richie Bouthillier, one of the Xingu Missionaries, who incorporates water filters into how he serves the folks along these rivers. The rivers here are the "roads". They are the only means of transport, as the forests are too thick for foot travel and there are no roads. These “Biosand” filters are quite simple and made from local materials (cement gravel, and sand), by local Brazilians, and are 90% effective at eliminating water borne illness. They are built to last for many years. Richie has seen communities and families go from multiple diarrheal illnesses a year, to none, by using this simple filter, which is made for $R100 (Brazilian) or $50 American. If you would be interested in making a contribution that would radically change a family’s or a community’s life, please contact this group. www.thirstrelief.org. For $50, much can change, for many, for a long time.
Today we traveled about 6 hrs to a village of about 10 houses. It’s a large water buffalo farm. All houses are on 8-10 feet stilts and the water level on the flood plain is currently at about 3-4 feet. They’ve had a Biosand water purifier for about 2 years. One month before beginning to filter their water, they had 25 cases of diarrheal illness in the family. In 2 years since, they’ve had one case of diarrhea! The head of the family spoke with emotion as he told us of the strikingly different illness pattern in those he loves. After it became dark, they lit diesel fuel candles. It was a pretty cool setting. One of the guys caught only a piranha. Richie almost stepped on a 8 foot snake and did quite a dance for a few seconds. There are many kids, many smiles, in this tiny house on the water.
I awoke this morning to perfect stillness on a small river with dense jungle on both sides. The river’s about 30 meters. wide. I woke during the night to howler monkeys in the distance and monkey calls this morning. These howlers have the most eerie howl. It sounds like the wind howling around your windows amplified about twenty times. Apparently one monkey’s sound will travel up two miles. The sound is most impressive. Many large, green parrots flutter among the trees above us. I’m truly blessed to be able to experience even one morning like this. The setting is spectacular. Many fish jumping around the boat, some quite large. Its not uncommon for these guys to catch fish weighing more than five pounds. The rivers are truly teeming with fish and this is the main food source for these “river people”.
I went spear-fishing for about ½ hr. I didn’t see anything in the murky water, but Richie shot 3 fish. A large, 3 lb black piranha and two 1- lb fish similar to Peacock bass, which is the prize catch here. I have some american, hollywood bias to overcome before I really enjoy the experience. Why did I watch those movies?! Am I hunting, or being hunted? It was fun snorkeling and diving among the tree roots and lily pads and weeds. The water is warm and dirty and I hope I didn’t swallow enough to get sick.
At our bfast, we were swarmed by a type of fly or small bee. There were millions! They were all over our food, but hunger won over the irritation. We delivered 3 water filters to very simple river families in very simple houses. One thatched. All the houses were about 3meters x 6meters, and on stilts over the water. One house nearby has had a filter for 2 years and the owner went on and on about what a difference it has made in their lives. They have virtually no diarrheal illness now and the only water they drink is directly from the river. But now all their drinking water is filtered. It was thrilling to be a part of something that will make such a difference in a number of people’s lives.
These folks cook with either a charcoal pit or a gas stove. The houses typically are about 10’ x 20’ with an outhouse. Vertical wood boards with many gaps. No electricity, no plumbing, no way to preserve food. They were quite gracious and welcoming. Many, many cute, smiling kids. Curious, playful, like kids anywhere. They lead difficult lives. I sure want to help them…. We put the filters in by transferring them from the hull of our boat to a canoe, to the river house. The typical routine for filter installation is to bring the boat close to shore and then load the 250lb filter into the canoe and take it to the shore and to the house. It is carried on a dolly by 4 men to the house.
Instructions were given and the filter’s use demonstated. The water going in was yellow. That coming out, clear. Could every house on the river have one? This will be a part of my ministry to these folks.
Last night we had a service in a church building that was about 20’ x 40’, by candelight, for about 30 people. It is the neatest experience to see God being worshipped so genuinely, in such a setting, so different than what I’m used to.
This trip has been such a confirmation as to what I wish to be doing. Going to a real need and simply meeting it. Providing clean drinking water, meeting basic health needs, sharing the love of Jesus with those unfamiliar with the same.
About health care: I was able to provide some assistance to a few, without practicing medicine. One 50-55 year old man fell off a dock and broke his hip several months ago and his wife has impressive arthritis with marked swelling in both knees. I was able to provide some of my own anti-inflammatory pain meds for them. A 10 month old baby had 5 days of diarrhea and I was able to provide assurance to the parents that the expense of a 10 hour trip to the city for medical help was unnecessary at this point. Just advise them. A 60 year old woman who has had asthma all her life had a significant flare-up and I was able to provide my inhaler to her. She was thrilled and experienced marked improvement while I was there.
I sometimes wrestle with what good I can really provide on the rivers and this trip confirmed to me that I can be quite useful in providing information or medication that can be of benefit to these folks. I will work on getting licensed in Brazil, so I can be of more help to them than simply offering advice. I really have a desire to help directly these folks with very real health needs, and to tell them of God’s very real affection for them.
I’ve gone spear fishing several times and right now its about overcoming the discomfort of being in water with crocodiles and snakes. This morning I saw several fish, about 12”, resembling perch. I was able to dive to the bottom at about 10’ and hold roots or logs and watch for as long as I could hold my breath, which at this point, isn’t very long.
It was quite a day. In the morning, we fished and swam and went for a canoe ride in the flood plain which is essentially a swamp. We caught a few piranha, but nothing significant. In the late morning, we went to an area of 5-6 houses and installed several water filters. There were so many people. Over 100. Now they will drink clean water. What a difference it will make in these lives. I gave some advice on a rash and encouraged treatment of mastitis with antibiotics.
Then we went on about a 2 hour jungle walk. Our local guide cleared a path with machete through about a 40 yr old forest to get to the virgin forest. The forest was just like you’d picture it (moist, lush, thick, so green), but difficult to appreciate because it was SO thick, so mosquito infested, so hot. On the way out, a nice shower cooled us off. We ate dinner, swam and had a lot of fun wrestling canoes. We had a small dugout canoe brought to us from the villagers and the challenge was to climb in from the water, and paddle without sinking. Only Luke and Richie could do it among those with white skin. Of course, all the local folks made it look easy! We then installed our last filter in the dark at a river house that was a water buffalo farm and had about 20 people living there from several families. They had a generator and a TV which is always strange 10 hours out of the city on a remote river. While we were in the house, a severe storm hit and we got soaked getting back to the boat in canoes.
At each stop throughout the trip, it was cool to see Richie genuinely interact with these folks. Encouragement was shared, care was communicated, and people were prayed for. At one stop, a baby was dedicated to the Lord and prayed for. Then another, then another… The plan was one and by the time we were done, about a dozen kids were prayed for. The relationships built by Richie’s intitiative are bearing fruit. He has loved these folks and this has generated an interest in His God.
The only unique things we ate on the trip were several kinds of fish and a large snapping turtle. The brains of the turtle are the favorite part to the locals so they encouraged Luke and I to try it. It tasted like fatty chicken, and was ok. We had the turtle tied up, alive, on the boat for a couple days before they butchered it. They are masters at keeping things alive until they eat it because there is no other way to preserve meat.
Yesterday I went to an Amazon “barn raising.” One of the women in the Mirante Church (near our house) was the recipient of the efforts of many. From 9-5 on Saturday, about 30 people contributed to laying the bricks that would be the walls to her new house. The house will be of 4 rooms and about 20’ x 30’ outside. Cement was mixed, bricks were laid, dirt was dug and moved in wheelbarrows. Many worked, some brought bread and coffee, and many laughed. There was horsing around, teasing, conversation, just like work days I’m used to in “my” culture. I, of course, understood none of the conversation. Everything in this setting is impressive. This group that gathered to bless one was pretty special. This reminded me of the times our church and homegroup worked together to be a blessing to someone. Pretty special memories. And it reminded me of working at MCH. So many laughs. Such special people. They have one of these once every month or two. I just dug dirt and loaded it into wheelbarrows. I’m paying for it dearly today.