For the purpose of exploring the possibility of adding a new Xingu Mission base of operations, Rick Bergen (Leader of the Mission for twelve years) and I spent a week traveling to and around the city of Maraba. Two Brazilian Vineyard pastors, Clenildo and Naldo joined us for several days. Maraba is on the eastern border of the state of Para, southeast of Altamira about 10 hrs by car. It has a population of 180,000 and is a "hub" to a large part of the eastern Amazon Basin. Three large rivers flow through the city and it is connected by road to Brasilia, Brazil’s capital. It is also on the southern edge of a large reservoir, created 25 yrs ago by the construction of the world’s fifth largest dam, located 150 miles north in Tucurui. The power generated by this dam supplies energy to much of northern Brazil.
The location is attractive, strategically, for reaching the rural communities of this large region. Our trip revealed that the city appears minimally churched and the rural areas surrounding it are even less churched. The city is quite poor, more so than Altamira. Health care also appeared more lacking than in Altamira. At the same time, there was a "business district" that offered more products for better prices than we currently have. It’s an interesting mix. Maraba is three cities in one and this business district is centrally located. The residential areas have very simple houses on dirt roads. It appeared most people had electricity and running water, the quality of each unknown. Few people had cars so most people’s world would be likely centered around their neighborhood. We spent a day traveling the large rivers flowing through Maraba and found that there are many villages within several hours by boat or car without any church presence. Most can be accessed by both road and water and appeared quite poor.
We also spent some time in and around Itupiranga, located forty km north of Maraba, right on the reservoir, with a population of about 70,000. Strategically, this would put us right on the reservoir and would allow the reservoir to be a central focus. An estimated 8,000 families live on the reservoir and have very few churches (if any) and very little health care. The town of Itupiranga is very poor, has three doctors, and one small hospital. In the US, by comparison, there are 350 people/doctor. It only had a few very small evangelical churches and a very large catholic church. It had a very safe feel which was confirmed by the people we talked to. It also had a small town feel, where perhaps your kids could ride their bikes to the store or to a friend’s house without concern. Is there really such a place in 2007? We explored the reservoir by boat for a day and gained much information visually as well as from peppering everyone we met with questions. It is quite beautiful. Large fingers of water stretch into the periphery and the body is several miles across and about 100 miles long. The banks are hills and cliffs rising out of the water, covered with rain forest greenery. The people on the reservoir are quite poor, most living in mud houses with thatched roofs and dirt floors. They live off the land and the water, and we understand that the fishing in this water is some of the best in the Amazon region. There is more malaria and dengue fever here than in our current area but "not much" according to the local health care workers.
We also explored a dozen or so other towns, including Tucurui, all of which appeared to be well churched and not potential candidates for a missionary base.
During these trips, we try to keep an ear open for anything God may be communicating to us and it was fascinating that virtually every person we met in Maraba and Itupiranga seemed welcoming and almost inviting. These were the only two places (out of the dozen or so that we visited) where we (all) had this sense.
We are nowhere near making a decision but we will lay this gathered information at the feet of Jesus to reason together and listen…
We have scheduled trips to other areas in April and May.
a small finger of the reservoir.