Please welcome Kelly Minter to the blog. Kelly is the author of Nehemiah, an outstanding, new small-group study for women. Having the opportunity to share with women from the stage is a passion of Kelly's, whether it's teaching from scripture, leading worship, or simply singing her songs with her guitar. Her desire is to see women make the connection between the pages of Scripture and their very real, and often hurting, lives. I'm excited to have her share about a recent trip she took to Brazil.
Be sure to comment below. Kelly will be stopping by the blog today and to answer questions and interact in the comments.
I recently returned from the Amazon River in Brazil, my fifth trip there in 3 years. My stomach is a little off to put it politely and I'm recovering from some sort of cold and cough, the strain you pick up from children who are hacking and whose lungs grumble when they breathe.
But what choice do you have, really, than to swoop up a baby girl in your arms who's wearing a VBS Statue of Liberty hat, whose mouth has the stick of a Dum Dum hanging out of it sideways? Germs are part of the price of admission, and those infectious children charge me every time.
I tell you this so you can read this blog post in the context of me being a little sick, worn and weepy. If there's melodrama, you'll know why.
One of my favorite parts about visiting the Amazon with Ray of Hope (a local, on the ground ministry) is spending time with the jungle pastors. I know, it's not what I would have initially thought either. When a place boasts of gorgeous children, vibrant women, exotic fruits, tropical animal life, sunsets that gleam off the rippling river, who knew the jungle pastors would steal the show? (Well, not over the kids and women, but you know what I mean.)
I've had the privilege of interviewing about 30 so far, and when I say interview, what I really mean is I sit there and say something like, "Ready, go..." and then they talk through an interpreter about all the miracles God has done in their lives. Pastor after pastor, story after story; it's like a hit parade of God's faithfulness. These men look as much like the book of Acts as Stephen, Paul, or Peter; They've challenged the furthest edges of my theology without having any idea: "What, you mean God's never filled up your boat with fuel when you've run out in the middle of the river?"
They don't just speak of visions and supernatural happenings, but also of their afflictions - without this piece I may be given to skepticism. Truly they live out both halves of Philippians 3:10, the power of Christ's resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings.
Pastor Francisco Simas particularly stood out to me this year. His face is attractive and dark with loose curls of hair that sweep across his forehead. He recounted the call on his life to leave the city of Manaus and move with his wife to the jungle. His spirit is tender beyond words.
The call came 23 years ago but the tears streamed down his face like it had come that day. He earnestly recounted the agony of knowing he had been called, while his wife, Maria, had already suffered so much in the jungle she vowed never to return. Pastor Simas prayed for God to touch his wife's heart. After all, if he'd been called surely she would be too. While dabbing his forehead - it's hot in the jungle - Pastor Simas looked up and said, "After 2 weeks, God spoke to my wife and she was ready to go." His eyes smiled at the retelling.
The first village he and his wife tended hated and mocked them furiously. There were only 8 believers when they arrived, and apparently even the Christians had their prickly sides too. Imagine that.
Francisco and Maria came with no money and were without a home, forced to string their hammocks up in open areas. Their hammocks were repeatedly stolen, or strangers would just crawl into them at night, refusing to move even when challenged. Pastor Simas' voice thinned as he remembered how he and his wife had to sleep on the jungle floor a few times during those first tortuous years in the jungle. I will never forget him saying, "But God told us to live in the middle of these people and to keep loving them. Just keep loving them."
2 years later Francisco and Maria left that village with 182 people in the church. "To the Glory of God", Pastor Simas said. Everything about him told you he meant it.
As Francisco recounted his years in the ministry, you could feel his call to the jungle was no fly-by-night whim. You can't do 23 years of jungle on whims. I wish I had time to tell his entire story, but 13 bouts of malaria and a team from America that helped him build his first church building.
Francisco and Maria are living out the Christian life in a way I have rarely encountered. Their road is steep and their lot is heavy, but their joy is contagious, inspiring, and worthy of pursuit. Speaking with them has given me much to ponder upon my return.
I pretty much went from conversing with people who'd slept on the jungle ground for the sake of Jesus on one night, to flipping on my flat screen television and watching snippets of the Grammys the next - airplanes make this sort of whiplash possible. I'm not taking a thing away from some of the most laudable singers and songwriters we know, it's just that after sitting with heroic and sacrificial saints whose names most of the world will never know, I laid on my couch wondering if we have it just a bit backwards.
"But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal." Matthew 6:20.
Pastor Francisco and Maria Simas understand this verse in a way I envy. I don't know how it will work in heaven, but if I ever hear an angel say, "And the award goes to...", I'm pretty sure I'll hear their names.