11 March 2020
A New Home
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. (2 Corinthians 5:1)
In the West we take great pride in our homes. We go to great lengths to make them functional, reliable and beautiful. In other areas of the world, like the Amazon in Brazil, this is not the case. Although the Amazon provides beautiful wood to build, it is also a harsh environment. The humidity, rainy season and extreme heat mean houses in the jungle last for about 10 years tops. For this reason, locals are not as invested in their homes. Houses fulfill a purpose, but there is no point in investing so much in them, when you know your house will be gone in a few years.
Besides being basic and not having electricity, most homes in the jungle do not have running water or bathrooms. In Brazil, along the Purus river, there are small communities that are far from the cities and can only be accessed by boat. 'Laranjeiras' is one example - it is located 2 hours by speed boat from the closest town, Lábrea. The inhabitants of these communities along the Purus are the 'Ribeirinhos‘ or ’River People'. These communities are usually small, made up of about a dozen houses. Back in the day, during WWII when rubber was an expensive commodity, the government of Brazil promised jobs and a better life to families who would move to the Amazon to tap rubber trees. Thousands of people did, only to become trapped in bonded labour. They worked for low wages in poor conditions. Once the rubber bonanza ended, they were trapped in the Amazon without any means to go back to their places of origin. Forgotten by the government, some of these people intermarried with indigenous peoples. With time they developed their own culture and were recognised as their own people groups only in 2007.
The River People live tough lives.
They live off the land and what they can hunt or fish. There are many wild animals in the Amazon. During the rainy season, when the river rises, crocodiles, snakes and venomous spiders become a bigger threat to their lives. I met a gentleman who demonstrated to me how he hunts for crocodiles from his own porch, when the river is high. Yikes! Another man I met lost his feet due to a snake biting him.
Most of the River People are illiterate and live in poverty. They have no skills and live too far from any cities, making it cost-prohibitive to travel to seek medical care or to sell produce they have grown. You may ask, why don’t they move to a city with better opportunities? With no marketable skills they have almost zero chance of finding a job. Some of the women end up in prostitution and the men working for gangs. So at least in their own communities in the Amazon, they have a place to call home.
The Evangelical Mission for Assistance to Fishermen felt called by God to go to the fisherman living in the coastal communities of Brazil.
Recently, they expanded their work to reach out to the fishermen along the Purus river (the River People). This operation has been going on for more than three years with great results. Initially missionaries make contact with the communities: visiting them and building relationships. This part is extremely important, because River People naturally distrust outsiders, who may pose a threat to them. Once the missionaries have earned the right to speak (thanks to the developed relationship), they start to share the Gospel. Their work entails evangelism and discipleship, church planting, children’s programmes and literacy training. Ideally with time, a missionary couple would move to live in one of these communities. This is a big adjustment for the missionaries who are not used to the harsh conditions and lack of basic necessities like clean running water or a bathroom. But this approach allows them to model what living a life with Jesus is like. They can also influence the community and rally them together to complete projects that will benefit them, like income generating projects, digging wells, building washrooms and creating community centres.
Because of all the difficulties they face, it is most likely that the River People will never leave their homes on the Amazon. But, thanks to the work of EMAF and their missionaries, the River People have hope for a better future. Although not all their present problems are resolved, they can look forward to their eternal home with Jesus. For now, these communities are changing for good, experiencing the peace that Jesus promises us. Where there used to be violence, alcoholism, abuse and vengeance, now there are communities that have learned to love their neighbour, to improve their living conditions and to care for their children and families. Churches are growing and the Good News is reaching more and more communities in the Amazon.
By Yalexis Barr (pictured left), who works for Partners International Canada, one of our Alliance Partners.