Thursday, December 18, 2014

December Newsletter

Here is our newest newsletter-  Please leave a comment or email us if you would like a copy sent to you directly.
Have a wonderful Christmas!

Monday, September 1, 2014

The meat of the schedule

Trisha ready for the start of our two week circuit in the jungle with Jonas getting some camera time.
Well, we'd survived our week in the Villano River area of Pastaza (see previous post) and were able to get a few days rest before we headed back out, this time by plane to several Zapara communities in Eastern Ecuador.  This circuit would take almost 2 weeks and end on the Conambo River just on this side of the border with Peru.  Again, Trisha and Hannah (summer medical interns) would be traveling with us and I'd also be bringing Sebastiao along as well.  Accompanying me on this part of trip were Compasion's missionary Jonas Lopez and Reach Beyond missionary nurse Ian McFarland.

Heading back to Masaramu from Jandiayacu
A blood pressure check prior to the doctor visit

Jonas teaching Sebastiao and the other kids a new song
Jonas letting the kids know that Christ's blood covers all sin.

Our week began with all of us and our gear being flown into Masaramu, or so we thought. Part of our group was mistakenly dropped off in Jandiayacu (Masaramu's neighbor) and later met up with us by canoe.  This was my third trip to Masaramu and I was excited to see how the village was doing.  I was fortunate enough to take part in some of the evangelism there in 2010 and 2011 (you can read about it here).  Despite the earlier mix up with the landing site we were soon reunited and began getting situated to our surroundings.

The plan was to perform checkups on all of the kids and adults of both communities and also hold a few devotionals with those willing to come.  Because each community is fairly small our medical work didn't take very long so we were able to spend time sharing the Word and had a captive, albeit small, audience both days.  Overall it was a nice introduction for the interns to remote jungle life and also  a nice opportunity to spend some more quality time with Sebastiao.  He brought his fishing pole on the trip but was unable to catch anything despite using some nice juicy worms.  When he wasn't trying to go fishing he was a great help entertaining the kids and kept them in stitches.

Hannah getting stuck in the mud and slowly sinking . . .

Trying rescue her boot - a lot harder than you'd think.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

August Newsletter

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Friday, August 29, 2014

Summer interns in July

Sunset in Masaramu

For many, the month of July is a time to take a much needed break - fourth of July picnics, days on the lake, long afternoon naps, etc.  The list is long.  For us, it was an opportunity to visit a few more villages but this time with some of our summer interns.  By the end of the month we'd spend roughly 3 weeks in the jungle in ten different communities.  Joining us were two college students from the US, Hannah Borsheim from Minnesota and Trisha Carr from Chicago.  For both of them it was their first time to Ecuador and the first time into the jungle.  We'd prepared a pretty rigorous schedule so we were praying for two individuals that were flexible and eager to experience new things and were fine operating outside of their comfort zones.  Luckily, our prayers were answered.  Both did extremely well, even when both were sick in the jungle.

Hannah (L) and Trisha (R) getting to know the kids in Jandiayacu

The Caravan truck
Literally, within 24 hours of their arrival to Shell we were loading up to go on our first trip, this one to three communities that were accessible by road - Paparawa, Rayayacu and Pandanuque.  Since we were able to use the roads, we were also able to bring along a dentist and medical resident as well as the medical caravan truck which is a large mobile dental unit.  We ended up seeing over 100 patients and were able to provide care that many of them greatly needed.  What was also great was getting to know Hannah and Trisha better and getting to see how they'd do on the next phase of our trip.  They both adapted to sleeping in a tent without any complaints and also quickly started forming a close bond together that would see them thru the next few weeks.  God was good (as always) and brought us back safely and in good health.

For me it was a nice trip for 2 other major reasons - one, I was able to bring Bella with me and spend some time with her and two, I was reunited with a patient that I'd help care for in the hospital when he'd suffered a severe brain injury a few years back.

Bella in Pandanuque
One goal I'd set out to achieve at the beginning of the summer was to take each of the kids into the jungle with me but separately.  This would allow me to spend some quality time with each of them away from home (and also not have to deal with their fighting with one another, Hah!).  When given the choice, Bella wanted to go on the shorter trip (no surprise as she's not the jungle warrior that Sebastiao is).  She was a great help.  She became known as the queen of Phase 10 and helped Trisha and Hannah adjust to life in Ecuador.  She also proved to be a huge asset when we visited some of the smaller communities as she'd gather the kids together and have impromptu art classes.  In the community of Pandanuque she shared her crayons and markers with all of the kids present and held a contest for the best drawing.  The winner got some of Bella's cookies that she'd brought along.  As I examined patients near her she kept me in stitches and filled me with a great sense of pride.  Hopefully she'll remember this trip as fondly as I do.

Stymied by an overflowing Villano River causing a long delay

The Villano River when passable.
Visiting with Bruce and his family in Rayayacu last month.  Their story was detailed in our current newsletter.

Bruce, shortly after his surgery to remove the wood from his skull and brain from a fall from a tree in 2012.  You can see what was removed in the jar.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The struggles of a Christian in the jungle

Copataza as it sits on the Pastaza River
Recently I had the opportunity to bring a caravan into the community of Copataza.  I'd been in Copataza about a year and a half ago and had related how a small church was thriving there and how the church leader, Pedro, was from Copataza and had a calling to serve his people up and down the Pastaza River.  Since that time I'd communicated with him from time to time but hadn't spoken to Pedro since we'd left on furlough.  Needless to say I was excited to see him again and hear how the Lord had been using him.

Heading to Copataza from Achuar

On the day that we were to fly in I learned that he'd moved to another community so I didn't think that I'd get to see him.  It would still be a few days before we arrived in Copataza as we were going to spend a few days in Achuar first.  When we did finally arrive in Copataza and as we were unloading our gear from the plane one of Pedro's daughter came up to me to greet me. I told her how excited I was to get to see her, as I'd heard that she and her family had moved to another community.  What she said floored me.  Pedro had apparently left his wife and daughters for another woman and moved to another community.  Pedro's estranged wife was not in Copataza but was in the hospital in Puyo with complications from her current pregnancy.  Pedro's brother, Pablo, and his wife were taking care of Pedro's girls while their mother was in Puyo, all eight of them.

Examining a 'patient' in Achuar - a little wild pig that was 'rescued' by an Achuar family.

In the Achuar culture it's not uncommon for men to have more than one wife and Pedro badly wanted a son.  Frustrated that he was the father of eight girls, with another one on the way, it was too much for him and he left.  What he left behind was a family in shatters and a very real testimony to the community of what sin can do in our lives.  How do you tell his disillusioned children that this is all part of God's plan for them?  How do you tell a community that is already skeptical about Christians that He is in control?  These were things going through my mind as I tried to take it all in.

Pedro's daughter and I, taken during a happier time several years ago.
I'd like to say that I had all of the right things to say and was able to bring them all closer to God, but I didn't.  All I could think to do was spend some time with them and pray with them.  Kids in the jungle are very stoic and don't share their feelings often so I never could hear what they were really thinking.  I did try to remind them of God's perfect plan for each of us and that He was never far, especially when we're faced with the realities of life.  I also reminded them that we would be praying for them and their family (especially their father, Pedro).

I did get to spend a lot of time talking to Pedro's brother, Pablo, who was tasked with trying to provide for his small family in addition to helping out Pedro's wife and daughters.  What was worrisome to me was seeing how burdened Pablo was and hearing some of the struggles that he was facing.  Pablo has two young daughters but had lost a son a few years back from a drowning in the Conambo river.  The boy had been his first and only son and Pablo was still definitely grieving.  My fear was that he might follow his older brother's footsteps and leave his current family, as having sons in the Achuar culture is very important.  Being a somewhat new Christian I was worried that he didn't have a strong body of believers to fall back on.  I reminded him that we would keep him in our prayers but left Copataza with a heavy heart.

Reach Beyond missionary nurse Linda McFarland taking the temperature of a young Achuar girl with a severe kidney infection in the community of Achuar

A week after we left Copataza, Pablo and his wife came to Shell and were able to share a meal together in our home.  We gave them some of Sebastiao and Bella's clothes and I took Pablo to Puyo to buy him a new fishing net so he could have an easier time feeding his family.  They were grateful and vowed to stop by again the next time that they were in Shell.  They left the next day and we're eager to hear how they're doing.

Please pray for Pablo and his family and that the Lord may provide for them and fill them with his grace to get them through this difficult time.  Please pray for Pedro and his estranged family and especially for his daughters as they try to understand all of this.  And especially pray for the community of Copataza as it tries to reconcile Pedro's struggles with what they've heard about Christ.  Some have mentioned that they didn't want to be a Christian if Christians lived the way Pedro did.  Ouch!

Recently I've heard rumors that Pedro has left this other woman and is trying to reconcile with his family in Copataza.  I hope that this is the case but I've also heard that this other woman had already given birth to a child fathered by Pedro.  No one could tell me what sex the baby was but I wouldn't be surprised if it was another girl.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014


Still somewhat clean before the fun started

After leaving Alto Corrientes, our next stop was Conambo, a large community located on the river bearing its name.  Though originally a Zaparo community it now is a mix of Quichua, Zaparo and Achuar families and, as you might expect, prone to differences.  Truth be told, I had mixed feelings about going to Conambo.  Jonas Lopez, the missionary with Compassion who accompanied us, mentioned how volatile the community can sometimes become.  He told me a story how a man had been murdered during one of his visits there.  It had occurred a number of years back and had happened as a result of one of the many disputes that occurred between families.

Conambo, a 35 minute flight from Shell

Apparently most of the community had been gathered one evening drinking chicha together when one man got up to go to the bathroom and never returned.  Part of his body (a leg, I think) was recovered downstream a few weeks later (I'm not quite sure how they knew that it was his leg, but anyways, they were sure that it was his).  He'd had an ongoing feud with one family over the marriage of one of his relatives to someone from this particular family.  As is common in these situations, the authorities are never involved as vengeance is sought out from the victim's family.

Honestly, I thought that Jonas was joking.  It wasn't until another missionary told me something more disturbing that I started to get a little anxious.  Jonas's boss, who is an American missionary that has served in Ecuador for decades and is well respected in the jungle, happened to be at the Shell airport when we flew out.  He mentioned that he'd been in Conambo a number of years ago and during one of the meetings of the village elders someone came up to and killed the man that had been sitting beside him.  He wasn't sure exactly why but knew that there had been a lot of disagreement and strife between this man and the rest of the community.  All of this was making me a little nervous, to say the least.

Lucia having her vision tested
What I experienced in Conambo was far different from what I'd expected.  This just goes to show how our opinions about people, places, or things are often formed before we have had any real personal contact with them and can often lead to prejudices.  What I found in Conambo was a diverse community that already had a few strong Christian families.  We were there for only 3 days so I know that I didn't get to see the friction that might exist within the community, but I did get to see a large group of healthy kids and a group of teachers who really took their job of mentoring and teaching the kids seriously.  What I found was not a dysfunctional community but one eager to hear more about ourselves and what God was doing in our lives. I got to meet and encourage one teacher who'd served as the Sunday school leader for many of the kids since there wasn't a church in Conambo.

Catfish and Hush Puppies, Conambo style
On one evening we were able to borrow a generator and some gas, plug in an old TV and VCR and watch an old movie about Joseph from the book of Genesis.  It was a real treat for the kids and it gave us an opportunity to share our testimonies with them and the adults that were there.  I shared with them the story of Paul and Silas is Prison in Philipi and how God had broken down the doors to the prison to let them escape but they remained to witness to the jailer and his family.  We shared how merciful and gracious our Lord is and how he constantly watches over us regardless of our situations or circumstances (Rom 8:37-39).  There were a lot of tired yet excited little faces that went home that evening.

The community that I thought would be 'together' was really the dysfunctional one and the one with all of the 'baggage' was the one that had a strong Christian presence. Please pray for Christian families there and especially for 'Jose'.  Jose is from Riobamba, a community in the Andes mountains, and teaches in Conambo while away from his family.  He's been doing this for 8 or 9 years now and has such a heart for the kids in Conambo.  He opened up his home to us so we could shower (a true rarity in a jungle community) and have fellowship.  After days of bathing in a small river our medical resident from Quito was very excited to have some creature comforts.

Jonas Lopez (a missionary with Compassion), Sara Zapata (a medical resident from Quito), and myself as we land in Conambo

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Jungle Posts, Jungle posts and More Jungle Posts

So, prepare yourselves for lots, and I mean, lots of jungle posts.  We (mainly Joe) have been busy and are finally getting around to writing some posts and a newsletter (but don't hold your breath for the later).  This will probably be in no particular order (as we can't remember which trip came when) but there is plenty to tell.  God is doing amazing things in the jungles of Ecuador and He is raising up great leaders in the jungle communities.  We are so fortunate to get to be involved and excited to be along for the ride even when it involves eating interesting things.  So, here we go.

In May, the entire family traveled to the community of Wayusentsa for a combined Water Project/Medical Caravan trip.  Joe began seeing the children supported by Compassion and then moved on to the rest of the community.

The water projects team is in the process of putting in a clean water system in this community so they wanted to do a parasite study before and after to compare.  I took in a field microscope and found lots and lots of parasites along with having fun showing them to the community.

Doing homework in the jungle can be a little bit harder than at home, but Bella got lots of help.

This was our "home" for the week.  Hammock tents are definitely the way to go.  Every night we were visited by the local dogs and a few bats flying overhead.  One night, a bat even flew into a hammock line.  So much for eco-location.  

Breakfast of yuca, platano, and a wild turkey.

Sebastiao being good and drinking his Chicha

A little helper

Enjoying the foot in the chicken foot soup.  

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Alto Corrientes and Conambo - Mud Bath with a Ball Pt 1

Who doesn't like playing in the mud?
Who doesn't like playing in the mud?!  I realized rather quickly that mud transcends all cultures.  Whether you're north or south of the equator, the appeal of mud is universal.  What started out as a 45 minute PE class for these students turned into a mud marathon that left all so dirty that classes had to be suspended so that the kids could go down to the river and bathe.  What started out as a cornucopia of colored shirts turned into a sea of brown!  . . . But there were smiles all around.  We'd been in the village of Conambo for 2 days and it had rained most of the time, but none of this seemed to dampen the kids' spirits.

Welcoming committee from Alto Corrientes
It was my first trip to Conambo and one of the things that I remembered most was the sea of mud in front of the school building where we stayed.  Conambo was to be the last village that we'd see this week as we'd just arrived from Alto Corrientes.  As with the other 4 villages that we'd traveled to, we were going to see the Compassion kids and others that wanted a checkup.  I've mentioned in the past how each community seems to have its own personality.  On one hand there's Alto Corrientes, a small community that seemed very dysfunctional and on the other hand, Conambo, a vigorous community with strong Christian leaders.

Sara, myself, and Jonas

Our week began in Alto Corrientes, an Achuar village on the Rio Corrientes, about 35 minutes by plane from Shell.  Traveling with me were Jonas Lopez, a missionary with Compassion, and a family practice resident from Quito, Sara Zapata.  We were to stay for a couple of days and on the third day, fly to our next destination, Conambo.  Alto Corrientes is a small village with only about 8 to 10 families and about 12 children sponsored by Compassion.  There were, however. many more that aren't sponsored that we were able to see.

Why we do what we do. . .
I'd mentioned that I felt like the village was 'dysfunctional'.  What I meant to say was that there seemed to be alot of strife and apathy shown by its inhabitants.  Although we saw all 12 kids, it was almost like pulling teeth to have them come down to see us.  The parents didn't seemed to be interested in what we were doing or saying and were often absent.  While there, I found out that the Ministry of Education last year had actually closed the school down because parents weren't sending their kids to the schools and were mistreating the teacher that was living there.  It was now open again and Alto Corrientes was blessed with a new teacher who was from the community and had a heart for the Lord and the kids there.  I got to meet he and his wife and talk with them.  He's from Alto Corrientes and was eager to make an impact in his community.  What was truly gratifying was to find out that one of the reasons he was so eager was that HE had been a child sponsored through Compassion in the distant past.  He knew how important Compassion's ministry had been to him, and he wanted to be sure that the kids in Alto Corrientes received the same benefits that he had.  There is no pastor there and the person who'd led Sunday School classes for the community had left so he gladly volunteered to be the leader. 

Calixto and his wife
We did get to visit with the health promoter, who is also a believer and learned that he was having a hard time getting the people to come to Sunday School so I ask that you pray for this community.  I could feel that there was a spiritual battle going on there and many didn't realize it.  There are so many wonderful children there that need the continued presence of a Christian leader so please also pray for the Christian teacher there, 'Gustavo'.  More, later, from Conambo. . .

Oscar, my shadow most of my time in Alto Corrientes

Jonas, telling the story of Lazarus

Capt Chad Irwin in our taxi as we arrived in Alto Corrientes

Friday, May 9, 2014

San Carlos and Mashient

Sunset on the Pastaza River

Laura and I in San Carlos
Our third week in the country was also my second week in the jungle.  San Carlos and Mashient were 2 communities that had been expecting us so we weren't able to postpone the trip.  It'd taken us a little longer to get back to Shell from the US than anticipated so we had to hit the ground running.  I'd just returned from Kapawari, had the weekend off, and then flew back out on Monday with Jonas (a missionary from Compassion) and with a medical intern (Christian Vazquez).  As before, we were going to do checkups on the children sponsored by Compassion and also see others that wanted to be seen.  With each trip we also try to arrange a time in the late afternoon or evening to share God's word.  Often it's either Jonas or I sharing our testimony and a story or lesson from the Bible.  Compassion usually sends in a pastoral team to each of the communities for a week at a time so that each community where there is a sponsored child gets visited 3 or 4 times per year.

Laura, in blue, with her mom and older cousin (also hospitalized with pyomyosistis).
San Carlos is the jungle community that is closest to getting road access.  It's only a 20 minute flight and sits on the Pastaza River.  We saw about 120 to 130 people there and had a great time.  What is always enjoyable is seeing patients in their communities that we'd cared for while in the hospital.  Below is a picture I took sitting next to "Laura" while in San Carlos and below that is a picture that I took when she was in the hospital last year.  She'd been admitted with a condition called 'pyomyositis' and needed to have surgery to drain pus from inside her upper thigh.  Pyomyositis is an infection rarely seen in the developed world but very common in the tropics. I'd never heard of it until I saw it for the first time in Nigeria in '96.  As cellulitis is an infection of the most superficial layers of tissue beneath the skin, pyomyositis is one involving the deeper tissue planes, usually large muscle groups.  It's linked to chronic malnutrition and also is typically caused by 'Staph'.  It is a more serious infection than the abscesses seen in the US as it can quickly travel to the bloodstream and lead to sepsis.  It typically responds well to antibiotics and, more importantly, surgery to drain the pus.  Laura was with us for 4 days in the hospital and I got to know her and her family fairly well so it was nice to see her again in her own community.

After our time in San Carlos, we flew to Mashient.  Mashient is only a10 minute flight from San Carlos and is also an Achuar community.  It's also down the Pastaza river from San Carlos. I'd been to San Carlos before but this was my first time visiting Mashient. Because it's a smaller community we didn't see quite as many patients but had more time to visit with the community elders.  Even though it doesn't have a church, it is home to a handful of devout Christian's.  One was a man named Carlos.  Carlos is a village elder that takes his calling seriously.

Carlos and his wife in their home
While we were in Mashient he was worried about a fellow Christian that was out in the jungle wanting to kill a young man that he thought was responsible for his sister's death.  Apparently this woman had died of unknown reasons and her brother was convinced that this other young man had had a witch doctor put a curse on her which led to her death.  He lives in a community about a 3 hour walk away and had mentioned that he was going out to kill this young man.  Carlos and a number of other Christians from that communiity were looking for the brother to talk him out of it.  They were not able to find him but at least warn the sought after young man to hide.

Carlos and Christian, our medical intern.
What struck me about this entire affair was how difficult it is for many Christian's to set aside their old ways and adopt a new life in Christ.  Their animistic and dark culture always seems to rear its ugly head.  I never did get to hear whatever happened to this young man or the 'Christian' that was out to kill him.  The other thing that struck me was how important his Christian beliefs were to Carlos.  Here he was willing to risk his own life trying to intervene on behalf of his Christian brother who was giving in to desires of the flesh (wanting to avenge his sister's death).  Carlos also talked about what he and several others of his brothers were going to do the following weekend.  They were going to get together and preach in a nearby community for a few days.  It was something that they'd done in the past and starting to do on a more regular basis.  Please keep Carlos and his brothers in your prayers as they try to live out the Great Commission.


Sleeping quarters in San Carlos.