Many have been curious about our trip in November and December. A brief summary follows. The trip was full of many long conversations about values, how we want to work, with whom we want to work, how we will make this decision as to where we will relocate. We prayed, talked, fasted, and gathered much information. It was a thrill to be able to do all of this with Luke and Ben. They were in on every conversation and I believe these conversations will be used in their inner man for a long time. We had some beautiful nights sleeping on islands, and we slept in run-down hostels. We ate well and we ate poorly. We laughed a lot and whined a little, though the conditions really were not that tough. It was a nice experience and we were able to travel through a large part of the Amazon Rain Forest. It is quite beautiful, quite wild, and sparsely populated.
We began our month-long trip with a visit to Santa Isabel (SI) on the Rio Negro. SI is a beautiful little town of about 4,000 people with good infrastructure and little activity. There are reportedly about 40 river communities that relate to SI and most are indigenous. They have medicine needs with three docs currently serving a population of about 14,000. The combination of local, state, and federal govt provides significant benefits to each family and even free housing in brick homes is offered by the city govt. These are very simple, one-room houses and yet free. The place has a dark, sad, oppressive, tidy feel and SI could definitely benefit from an infiltration of Jesus-lovers. There are a shortage of goods (fruit/veggies, etc), real estate is inexpensive, access to Manaus is by plane (usually about R$400) and by boat (three days). There is one pastor working river villages but he lacks resources and would benefit from partnering with us. The city and the region are minimally churched. We spent an afternoon with a beautiful 80 year old catholic priest from Austria who had been in SI for forty years. I can’t imagine what it was like when he arrived. He shared some of his frustrations, saying the people generally feel no spiritual need. He said there is little physical need, as well. He said that when they are hungry, they fish, and most live on the govt benefits alone. Few people work but they think life owes them and that they shouldn’t have to work. The interesting thing is that the govt benefits amount to about $75.00 US / month. This is certainly not much but apparently enough for many to be content. Alcohol is a huge problem. We ate several meals with a twenty-something Yanomani indian and shared Jesus with him and his friends. He invited us to his village but backed out on the morning we were to leave. I took about 10 minutes and reshared with him how special he is to God (who is real) and that God desires a relationship with him. He seemed to listen attentively and when I asked him if he had any thoughts or questions, he paused… and asked me for R$20 ($10US). This was so sad and a humorous illustration of a very real problem with the indigenous people here.
Barcelos is a larger city (24,000) on the Rio Negro with high fishing tourist activity. They have >4,000 tourists for fishing each year. I guess it’s a pretty special region for Peacock Bass – Michael Jordan was there recently. It has 50+ river communities, and is a very large municipality. It has a high current need for medical help but this will likely change with a large expansion of military presence planned. This doesn’t seem to be a place for us right now.
Tabatinga is a city built around a military base and is connected with Leticia, Columbia on the western border of Brasil. Combined, these two cities have a population reportedly around 100,000 but it doesn’t feel like it. It feels about half that. Tabatinga appears the poorer of the two but with much activity. The river’s edge part of the city (where we stayed) is quite poor and quite minimally churched. A large, poor Peruano (Brasilian word for a person from Peru) market has much daily activity at the river’s edge. Especially this part of the city could benefit from an influx of Jesus-lovers. Many of the people in this part of town are either from the interior or have relatives there.
Benjamin Constant is a very nice town of about 40,000, 30 minutes by speedboat from Tabatinga. It apperared more prosperous and organized than most Amazon cities. It has nice supermarkets, nice streets, nice houses, and is clean, is growing, and appears well managed. It does not nave medical needs at this time (by Amazon standards). It has 60+ river communities within a stretch of 66 km. It appears minimally churched. The need in this city for an influx of Jesus-lovers is apparent but more research is needed in the interior communities. Its proximity to Ataláia do Norte is attractive.
Ataláia do Norte is a small town of 4,000, with 10,000 Brasilians living in its large interior. It is 30 min by paved road from Benjamin Constant. It is a hilly town with minimal commercialism (only small corner markets for commerce) and a very simple, third-world hospital. There are no current city medical needs as 5 docs split time with Benjamin Constant. It has 15+ river communities and approximately 10,000 Peruanos living on the border (Javari River) that relate to the city for purchasing, selling, and medical care. The city is minimally churched as is the interior (according to what we heard). The attraction to this city is the Peruanos living in the interior, who appeared very poor, and the proximity to Benjamin Constant for its interior communities and its amenities. An influx of Jesus-lovers would likely have impact here. A challenge would be that most of the people in the interior are indigenous and much effort is made by the Brasilian Govt to prevent them from receiving outside contact.
Sao Paulo da Olivença is a very poor city with an obviously high indigenous population. A healthy Baptist work has been working the area for many years. We were graciously hosted for three days by a wonderful family of long-term missionaries. The city is dark, oppressive, and sad and would be very attractive for us apart from the Baptist work already present and working the region well.
Santo António do Içá is being well served, as well, by some wonderful Baptist missionaries. It appeared to be a very nice town, much in contrast to SPO. The Rio Içá is not for us, as there is one main town and not much else.
As we traveled the region between these cities and Tefé, on the Amazon River, and found it to have a decent church presence and minimal health care needs.
Our conclusions: the larger towns (>15 – 20,000) consistently have decent church activity, though we don’t always know the impact of these churches on the city or the river communities. These towns also are relatively healthy economically (poor, but much less poverty), and have few health care needs (third-world standards). The only two smaller towns that we visited had higher apparent economical and/or spiritual need and there seemed to be a consensus of opinion in our many conversations that the smaller towns in Amazonas were all of a similar nature (less access to health care and to the good news of Jesus love for people apart from religion). It appears that the higher need areas (for what we can bring – health care assistance and making disciples – Jesus lovers) are in the smaller towns (<10,000).
We need to find the first small town where our Father would have us live and infiltrate the town and its surrounding communities with Jesus’ love in a non-church, non-religious manner. At this point, I see this as a temporary move, moving again in 2-3 years, after we have established a network of home groups that reflect our Father’s heart.
We see Ataláia do Norte as the most likely place to start, but we only managed a superficial glance this time. We will return there this February for a week and travel the Javari River, investigating the need on both the Peru and Brasilian sides of the river, as well as seek to know what resistance we may face as we try to build relationships with both the Peruanos and the Brasilians living in the interior.
We also have about 6-7 other small towns in different parts of the state to investigate further.
Please pray for God’s clear guidance. We want to see where He wants us and dive in to serving the people in the town and in the surrounding river villages.