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