After a nice 22 hour bus ride which included all seasons in their extremes, we arrived back home with bloodshot eyes and sore hineys. I hope I can soon forget the pains of the bus ride. It could be worse, although I am not so sure how.
I have been very antsy to get my fingers pecking away at what I think to be some extraordinary stories of the jungle. The problem I have is where to start. I guess a general overview is in order to wet your whistle, and then I will give you a few of the specific stories. Hang in there- The stories at the end are pretty amazing!
Our project in Puerto Maldonado officially started on Friday the 23rd. The group exited the airplane to find that the weather was a bit different than the cool temps when they boarded. They were in the jungle. Humidity that would make a cotton ball ooze with moisture and temperature hot enough to make your cat want to jump into the pool, they got off the plane and gathered luggage. While it was a relatively easy process, we only had a few items that got held up in customs. We got those taken care of and got everyone settled into the beautiful 5 star accommodations. Too bad they were falling stars! The hotel was functional, but left a lot to be desired. There are not a lot of options in Puerto. In fact, there are only a few hotels that even have AC. This was not one of them. It wasn’t so bad as long as the fans were on, but the nightly power outages would really set one back as the sweat made it difficult to sleep.
The building project was a major part of the job at Puerto. In fact, the amount of work to be done was way more than this group could possibly get done considering the time, energy, and resource constraints that were in place. Being on the field for almost a year, I have learned that surprises are not that easy to come by anymore. This crew put out more work than was ever possible. They worked themselves into the ground trying to get the building to a point where the 40/40 missionaries would be able to move in on the night of our inauguration, the 3rd of November.
They got it done! The missionary housing was ready, although not totally tested. There were a couple of items that needed to be fixed to be 100% functional, but it was livable. Praise God for willing and committed people that were able to grind themselves into the ground with immense amounts of physical labor in spite of the sweltering heat and humidity. These guys were troopers. Thanks go to the Bethel, MacNaz, Lompoc, OroNaz, Emmett, and Creswell churches. Bless you guys!
As far as the impact goes, this is where the stories begin. During our impact events, we were able to reach numerous kids,
parents, prostitutes, concert goers, athletes, and many others. We held English classes taught by two of our long term volunteers, Leanne and Alyssa. We had a day of prison ministry to the local women’s prison. We had a door to door ministry where the testimonies of some of our volunteers were used to reach people in the community. We ministered to a local school by painting their kitchen facilities and running a faith based art contest.
We held a community wide sports tournament. We reached another school with a drama presentation. We had a big concert in the main plaza in Puerto. Then there
was the day of fasting and prayer followed up with a healing service in which the community was invited. During the fast, we annointed the new church plant communities by pouring oil and praying over each of the areas. We showed the Jesus film, and held kids events. Then to top it all off, we had an inauguration service at the end of everything and invited the whole community. There was no shortage of things to do while in Puerto. What was so exciting to see was the results. The English classes were well received and had over 30 people in some of the classes. We held two kids festivals in two separate locations. Each drew solid crowds of 75-80 people each. Both events also yielded great results. We had a combined total of new decisions for Christ at 55 during these two events. That was just the beginning.
One of the evenings, we sent out a small group to a number of the brothel/bars. Their goal was to just connect with some of the prostitutes and invite them to a small intimate time of sharing during the next day. They handed out all of our invitations within just a short time. I think most of our group thought it would be a futile effort. I sure did. In fact, we made a backup plan in case none of the ladies showed up to the event. I was wrong. We had 3 ladies and a baby show up the next day. It was a miracle! We gave them bibles and shared Gods love with them. Although I was not present, I heard the stories and was blown away at the results.
We were also able to do a hard hitting skit inside one of the local schools. We thought that the best case scenario would be to do our skit to a couple of the classes of 30 or so students. When we arrived we were in
for something else. Pastor Freddy grabbed me by the arm and said “I need your help!” So I went with him. He walked me through a courtyard of about 800 students. He pulled me up on the stage and proceeded to introduce me. Then he did what I was hoping that he would not do: he handed me the microphone. I stood there trying to figure out what to say. In English it would have been easy. In Spanish, it was a different story. I caught a little bit of whit and whipped out a few funny things in my messed up Spanish. They enjoyed a good laugh at my expense, but they got the message. We gave them a flawless performance of a wordless skit. We combined that with a salvation message from Pastor Freddy and a number of kids made decisions for Christ right there on the spot. Pastor Freddy had a bunch of us write down contact info so that our missionaries can follow up with a discipleship program and tie these young people and their families into one of our new church plants. We had many of the students and faculty participate in another one of our events which was a very encouraging. This was a public school in case you all were wondering.
Another one of our events was a community wide soccer/volleyball tournament. It was set up as a tournament that would evolve into a concert and evangelism event. However, with the Peruvian culture the way it is, we changed midstream and turned the one event into two. The tournament went really well. We had 17 teams sign up. The prizes were great and the competition was fierce. Great times were had by all. There were a good 200 people present.
As far as the concert part, this is a long story. The concert was changed to the main square in the city. That was a blessing! However, there was a very large gap in the planning of the main event. Our event was going to join the existing event. However, they forgot to order a sound system. We had one, but it was not large enough for the venue. We made it work by the grace of God. The concert portion of the event was put on by the local
Christian pastors. However, it was our sound system, so we took full advantage of that. We did our tournament prize ceremony, had our band play some songs, then at the end, we put another promo piece together that announced our inauguration of our new church and missionary facility. In the end, the 5000 people that showed up thought it was the Nazarene church that put on the event. We got our money’s worth on that one. It also included another incident with Freddy handing me the microphone in front of a large crowd and asking me to say a few words. I gotta stay away from that guy when he gets a microphone in his hands. That is some scary stuff! Did I forget to mention that during the salvation message 300-400 people came forward? It was a great night of God guided work that could have only been made successful by His grace. And it was on Halloween night! How about that?
Now for the big story. It was a day of planned kids festivals and Jesus Film in an area called Guacamayo(sounds kind of like guacamole). This event turned out nothing like we had planned, but again we are not the ones in charge. God had this whole thing figured out, little did we know.
After about an hour and a half bus ride out to the gold mining area of Guacamayo, we came to a spot in the road that was crowded with the bustling of a number of people, motorcycles, chainsaws, fires, and filthy malnourished dogs running rampant around the area. What was it? We were all asking the question. It was an area where gold had been discovered just a few weeks before we arrived. In fact, the trail had not been cut all the way. The town was beginning to take shape as the new businesses were moving in to support the new industry.
The trail was being built, which would allow more supplies, people, and services to inhabit the area and provide a place to support the miners.
Our information about the new community was that most of them lived in another area just down the road at KM marker 104 and the area called Lamal. We knew, because one of our guides was very knowledgeable about the area and the industry. She described how the miners would take a break at a certain time of the day. We needed to be ready to give the message at the time when they were taking a break. Otherwise, we would be wasting our time. So off the bus we went, down a nasty path riddled with logs, puddles, elephant sized mosquitoes, and mud that would peel your boots off if you stepped into it. It should have been a good clue when Laura, our guide, suggested that we all buy rubber boots at the market before we left. How bad could it possibly be? Well, it was not an easy place to keep your new kicks clean; that is for sure. We trounced through the jungle trial with the speed of a disabled turtle only to find ourselves piling up in the middle of a clear cut piece of jungle. Why there? Well that is where the fun began.
Our group of white Americans as well as a few of our Peruvian counterparts, were stopped on the trail by a number of machete toting locals that were concerned with us being there. Why would they care that we were there? It became known to us that the whole community was being developed illegally. The people that were there did not own the land nor were they supposed to be mining, cutting jungle, or participating in commercial activity. They were squatters that were raping and pillaging the resources that were on the ground of the government. Not an above board operation to say the least. They were concerned that we were sent by the government to pose as missionaries to gather information about the activity and to take pictures of the illegal people that were working there. As we continued to take pictures, they continued to get more and more skiddish. They demanded that we put our cameras away and would not let us through. They asked for our credentials, of which we had very little to show; Just an Extreme Nazarene name badge from one of our volunteers. As they asked Pastor Freddy for his credentials, he quickly seized the opportunity. He asked if anyone had a bible. He raised up the bible, and in his sarcastically funny way said to the skeptical crowd, “here are my credentials!”
Then with the courage that can only come from God above, he fired off a salvation message that captured many hearts and made believers out of many. There was a crowd of about 40 people, and by the end of the ordeal, the angels in heaven were rejoicing for the 9 new believers who made a decision in the center of a clear cut in the middle of the Amazon jungle on the outskirts of nowhere. What an amazing thing to watch unfold. The machetes were a bit intimidating, the crowd never let us pass, and the lack of shade made it tough to enjoy. Nonetheless, it was an ordeal worth talking about.
Well, it ain’t over! We turned back towards the bus and hiked back out wondering how God could have put this plan together. It was not planned from our end, but it worked out better than any of us could have imagined.
We got back to the bus much earlier than planned. So instead of calling it a day, we decided that we were going to hit another area just up the road. It was an area called Lamal. This place scared me just by listening to the description from our guide. She described the place as a town of about 800-1000 people. She also pointed out that the town had 56 prostibars(brothels). Do the math. That isn’t a good place to raise a family. It is a terrible old west town straight out of a Hollywood movie. This is the wild west that we have all learned about in US history classes. We headed towards this God forsaken place in a hot and airless bus in the sweltering heat.
Low and behold, there was a swimming hole on the main road. With hardly any arm twisting at all, the group was influenced to stop for a few minutes to enjoy the crocodile infested waters. And enjoy we did. It was a refreshing treat. The crocs only come out at night, or so we were told. Everybody was accounted for after we loaded the bus. The crocs didn’t bother us.
Down the road we went a few more miles to KM 104. This is where we would get off the bus and start our hike to Lamal. We reached the location, piled out of the bus, dispersed all of our equipment, and began the second jungle adventure of the day. There were a couple items that we were able to strap to a motorcycle and have Rosa, Pastor Freddy’s wife, take to the final destination. The rest of us, loaded with many pounds of gear, trudged down the single track trail through the jungle to the little community of Lamal. We arrived about an hour and a half later with wet sticky clothes, bug bites, and crippling hunger pains . We ate lunch at a marginal restaurant while plans were made as to where we were going to set up our Jesus Film.
Just like everything else throughout the week, changes were inevitable. We had agreed on the location and started promoting to the neighborhood. The setup crew had about ¾ of the screen set up when Pastor Freddy shows up and says, “we gotta move!”
No surprise to me. That is how the whole week had been. Told one thing and something else would happen. It builds character, or at least I am trying to believe that. So off to another location we went. The new location was, and I’ll admit, a much better place. It was in the heart of the little city. We set up our film screen in front of two brothels. Now this was not hard to do as we could set up anywhere in the town and would most likely be in front of a brothel or two. The miracle of that ordeal is that there was a mix up with the original Jesus Film screen and it got left back at the office in Arequipa. We were able to purchase a piece of regular canvas so that we could at least show the film on the one side of the canvas. The other screen allowed us to show the movie on both sides, but because of cost, we could not get the material for a two sided screen. One side would have to work.
God worked out the screen for us. Not only for us, but for the prostitutes that were watching the movie from the back of the screen. It worked on both sides. They watched the whole thing! Sight and sound for the ladies on the front porch of the prostibar! Praise God, they got the message.
There were a couple of other things that I need to point out. The generator died during the middle of the film. Gas was the issue. No worries for Pastor Freddy. When the movie stopped, he jumped up and started the first part of a salvation message. By the time he was finished we had the generator back up and running, the movie cued up to the life of Christ right before they hung Him on the cross, and the crowd of 140 people ready for the end of the movie. When the movie ended, Pastor Elvin jumped in and closed the deal on those hearts that were ready to surrender. In the end, we had 44 more names written down in the book of life. It could not have been planned that way. It could not have been any more perfect. It was only Gods presence in the middle of Lamal. What else can I say?
Well to finish off the evening, we needed to get out of town. Lamal is a lawless, wild beast that comes alive after dark. It was time to leave. We gathered our things as fast as we could, gathered all the necessary info from the new believers, rounded up enough motos to carry our group, and we readied to head out. It was 1 ½ hours by foot. Not a safe bet for our group. Motos was a better option. However, we had many that had never sat on a motorcycle let alone one in which they were going with two other people on board; the driver and another passenger. In addition they had to carry out the stuff that was brought in. No easy job for a short term volunteer that actually paid money to do this.
We all loaded up in an ordeal that must have mimicked pit row at a NASCAR event. Bikes coming in, people hopping on and racing away into the unknown darkness of the jungle single track trail that awaited our people, and the rumble of an awaking evil beast of a city were all happening simultaneously in the main square.
We all managed to board our motos with all things accounted for. It was then a mad dash for the bus which was patiently waiting for us at KM104; just a treacherous, uncomfortable, and downright crazy run through the jungle and nothing less.
Everyone got out. No wrecks. No incidence; Just a bunch of transformed lives and a great story to tell. I cannot wait to see what will happen to those people that made decisions that night. Our 40/40 church plant missionaries will be following up on the leads. God is good! Where He guides, He provides!
I am running a bit long here, but I wanted to share some of the adventures so that you know what is going on down here. It is exciting to be part of this. There is much more where that came from. The stories are piling up. If you want to be part of some of these stories, come down and join us. We are trying to fill up our projects right now. If you have any interest in what is taking place down here and want to join us on one of our projects, please let me know. I would love to share some of it with you.
We continue our thanks for those of you that are praying for us and supporting us with finances. We know that God is protecting us as is evidenced by the story above. Know that you are in our prayers as well. We cannot do this without you. May God richly bless you and your lives in every possible way.
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I hope you enjoy the stories. God bless you all!
In His hands,