Ben and I just returned from a trip into the bush. We traveled into the Assurini, which is roughly the size of Ohio and is home to approximately 15,000 people. We rode about 300 km on trails and dirt roads and visited about 30 homes. We rode two to five hours/day over roads and paths that were pretty rough and quite dusty, in contrast to the water and mud of the rainy season. Ben just ate it up. Each time the ride ended, he wanted to know when we would be getting back on the bike. The weather was quite warm and the conditions pretty rugged but Ben didn’t seem to notice. The whole adventure was a pretty special time for father and son and I leave the trip more connected to Ben and more grateful for, and aware of, the unique beauty God has placed in him.
The homes we stayed in each night were quite simple, with dirt floors and walls, no electricity, no running water. We ate rice and beans for each meal (these folks eat this without variety, day in and day out), cooked on a clay stove over wood, and slept in redes (“hedgies”) (hammocks). In the dry season, the biting insects are not nearly as bad as in the wet season, but our fresh white meat still got eaten up pretty good. Ben developed a liking for Brazilian coffee, typically made very strong and very sweet. He enjoyed giving candy to the kids and we played rummy in our down times. The mornings were spent traveling (on the bike), the afternoons were devoted to home visits (with the bike), and each evening we hosted a worship service. I was struck again at the desire for God evident in these simple, hard working folks living in the jungle. The home visits were never less than an hour and each visit revealed people hungry to hear about God. It’s quite a contrast to our American culture. Clenildo (Brazilian pastor I went with) passionately, tirelessly, and with much love, shares Jesus stories, past and present, and always adds much humor. In his own house, one man said He wanted to meet Jesus for the first time. It was a thrill to watch this unfold in the course of about an hour’s discussion.
The services were each by candlelight and attended by about twenty adults and an equal number of kids. They were each so special, considering the setting. Miles and miles from anything remotely civilized, shrouded by the the steamy jungle in all its darkness and wonder. Many of the people attending these services walk more than two hours, and return home in the jungle dark (jungle dark is like cave dark – pretty dark!). The first service had about half the people tearful before the worship singing was finished. There is something so special and heart-softening about singing directly to God. At the end of this same service, more than half of the people asked to be prayed for, for various reasons. There was such a humility in this group of tough, tough people. Another service was held on a porch and another was held in a church/school building. We sampled “tatu” (Tattoo”) or armadillo which tasted like, you guessed it, chicken. Ben and I had a bench break from under us and my rede knot came undone one night leaving me sprawled on the ground and surprised, but uninjured.
God seemed to speak to me on the trip about my need to live more on a listen and obey basis, rather than on principles and rules. The bible calls this “living in the Spirit” and it is a life of interaction with Jesus rather than one based on religious do’s and don’ts. I can slip into this nonrelational, performance tract pretty easily and Jesus seemed to be gently pulling me back to Him throughout the trip. I had some sweet times with Him and I returned closer with Him than when I left.
Each morning and evening, we were greeted by howler monkeys and their cool, eerie, howls that Ben said sounded like traffic on a highway. One morning we got a sunrise treat as three small, black monkeys frolicked about in a nearby tree. It was beautiful to observe them in their home, relaxed and free.
One afternoon we attended a baptism of three 60+ y/o adults with about thirty other people. Once again, people walked and rode horses up to two hours to attend this baptism, held in a simple, jungle creek.
In many ways, a baptism is like a wedding. It’s a formal, public declaration of commitment and allegiance to another. It marks the beginning of a relationship and a commitment to love. Seeing these people make their commitment to Jesus public, in this simple, remote setting, was beautiful. Jesus spoke about baptism and saw it as necessary in a way quite sensible. Love declared and shared is love indeed. Love held entirely secret is something other than love. True love of anything will be made public, especially to friends. This also pertains to our love for Jesus. Baptism is an opportunity for one to publicly express devotion and commitment to Jesus in the same way a wedding is an opportunity for a couple to publicly declare their love and commitment to each other. What is already real inside is expressed outwardly. If the outward act is done without the inner devotion, it is simply a bath, devoid of meaning and eternal benefit. Jesus was really into inner reality expressed outwardly. He was quite critical of those who focused on the outward acts with loveless, lifeless hearts.
Draw us, Jesus, to a pure, simple devotion. Help us to “care not” for the things of this world (I can be so outward focused) but to run hard after you. “As the deer pants for the water, Lord, so my soul longs for You.” (Ps 42). Please give us utter disregard for performance, self-focus, self-protection, self-improvement, self-realization, and self actualization. Please free us to love, Jesus. Free us to love you and to love people. Free us to lift our eyes from our selves to the white fields, to our lonely neighbor, to our inner city, to the tropical belt of poverty, to our co-workers caught in the performance trap… To love…….. To love…………To love…