Three of us, Clyde Bergquist, Josh Pflederer and myself, just returned from a trip to the western edge of Brasil, where the three countries of Brazil, Peru, and Columbia border each other. We traveled there because of the potential we saw from our earlier trip in December for working in this region. We saw the Javari River, which forms the border between Peru and Brazil, as having much potential for Kingdom work. In visiting the area in December, we heard about the many villages along both sides of this river, that they were completely lacking any churches or Kingdom work, and that they were extremely poor.
To arrive in Atalaia do Norte, I traveled 12 hours by boat and one hour by taxi to Altamira. Here, I was joined by Josh and Clyde and we traveled about seven hours by air from Altamira to Tabatinga, took a speed boat about 40 minutes to Benjamin Constant, and drove the remaining 40 minutes to arrive in Atalaia do Norte. We set out from there on the Javari river, heading southwest. We hired an Indian guide who was familiar with all of the villages on this river and traveled nine hours by speedboat to the town of Estirao do Ecuador. This is a border military outpost and we spent several hours with several soldiers who showed us around their town. They asked me to see perhaps a dozen people for health reasons as they currently have no doctor. Something very cool and quite rare, is that they have a small Assemblies of God church and a small Catholic church in the town (of about 100 houses) that have a worship service together once/month. We met with some of the leaders and you could tell that the differences between the churches were minimized. It was so nice to see in the middle of nowhere something that Christians cannot do anywhere!
We took three days to return, stopping at more than twenty villages on both sides of the river. There are four distinct groups of people living on this river: Brazilians, Peruvians, indigenous people, and a religious group called Israelitas. It was fascinating to visit these villages and to experience the similarities and the differences of each group. Of the twenty-something villages that we visited, only two had churches (both < 25 people) or any evidence of any Kingdom work. The villages are extremely poor, as almost all buildings had thatched roofs and dirt floors. The economies are supported by farming and fishing, with some selling of goods in Atalaia do Norte. The people were extremely friendly and hospitable (normal for the rural Amazon). We were told by a Secretary of Health that the region has more malaria than any other region in the state of Amazonas. Everywhere we went, we saw many people with malaria. It is an illness that certainly has my respect.
It is a beautiful, wild region, quite spread out and minimally populated. The fish are abundant and the wild life is almost without the effects of civilization. The pium (a day-biting insect) are quite thick and are everywhere along this river. They can be quite a nuisance but carry no illness and are repelled by DEET (I just need to find a sweat-proof variety!).
Below is a bulleted summary of the trip and our thoughts following.
We are fasting and praying this month in seeking God’s heart for us and our families as to whether this region may be where He would want to use us to share Jesus’ love and truth over the next few years. If God would bring us to your mind, please ask Him to speak to us and direct our minds and hearts!
Trip Summary – Atalaia do Norte/Benjamin Constant/Tabatinga/Letícia
· Large region (>30 hr by speed boat to Acre on the Javari River)
· Three neighboring countries and 6 neighboring municipalities in close proximity
· Many people living remotely (outside of the cities)
4500 Brasilians (1500 – Rio Javari / Atalaia), 3000-5000 – Rio Solimoes / Benjamin Constant)
3500 Indigenous peoples
· Economically, as poor or poorer than the interior of the Xingu region, where we currently work
· We visited 20+ communities, finding 2 interior churches (both very small)
· The town of Atalaia do Norte
Municipality population: 14,000
Evangelical churches – 4-6, with a total of approximately 300 attenders
· High health care need outside of the city, minimal current need within the city
· High water filter need
· High need for mosquito nets (much malaria)
· High need for Good News
The region consists of 1) fully reached groups with thriving Kingdom work (none), 2) partially reached groups with existing, weak Kingdom work (a few), 3) partially reached groups with no existing Kingdom work (many), and 4) unreached groups (many)
Draws for Planting a Base in this Region:
– Four very distinct groups of people/villages – variety of work
– Large number of people in the interior (16,000+) with very little Kingdom work
– City – minimally churched
– 2 of 4 groups unreached, 2 of 4 groups minimally reached and all almost completely unchurched
– High interior health care need without city health care need
– High social assistance need in interior (water treatment, mosquito nets, health care)
– Opportunities to work with other missionaries, other churches
– Easy access to other larger towns (Benjamin Constant, Brazil; Tabatinga, Brazil; Letícia, Columbia)
– Atalaia is a major, concentrated hub for people from the interior
– Less expensive travel for teams through Columbia
Challenges for Planting a Base in this Region:
– Extent of malaria
– Very, very simple town (much simpler than Porto de Moz, where we currently live)
– Distance from other Xingu Mission works/people (7-10 hrs by plane, 8-10 days by boat)
– Learning Spanish will be necessary for building relationships of any depth with the Peruvians
– 2 of 4 people groups are, practically speaking, “closed” to the preaching of the Good News (though likely accessible through social assistance service, especially health care)
– Expensive work because of distances (gasoline for boat travel)
– Questionable availability and/or quality of internet in homes for communication
– Water activities with family difficult (no beaches, dirty river, pium)