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.