“And you will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth.” Never do these words of Jesus mean more to me than when I’m in the jungles of Brazil. I’m not sure what constitutes the ends of the earth, but if ever a region deserved this title, the jungle would have as good a shot as any for ends-of-the-earthness. I just returned from my fifth trip there in connection with a ministry called Ray of Hope. They’re a local, on the ground mission in Manaus that exists to serve the people who live along the vast and glorious river we call the Amazon.
My experiences there have forced me to rethink the various elements of my life, thus my Christianity as a whole. So here I am, attempting to blog about this latest trip while it’s fresh on my mind, while I can still smell the scents of the Amazon and my spirit’s still buzzing with the excitement of meeting people who are living the Christian life in ways I’ve scarcely encountered. More than anything, I want to write about the unrivaled joy of serving with my family, my mom in particular this time.
Yes, my mom came with us for her first time, the trip’s first miracle. How shall I put this? My mom doesn’t do bugs. She doesn’t do camping, roughing it, excessive heat. She really doesn’t do roaches the size of rodents, leaping tarantulas, or scorpions that lurk in people’s shoes (people meaning us). And when smartypants people say, “Well, most tarantulas aren’t dangerous”, I want to respond with, “Does this matter when the spider is the size of your face?” The whole Amazon caboodle is not really my mom’s cup of tea. Actually, tea is her cup of tea, as in Earl Grey in an English cup that’s perched on a coffee table inside someone’s home that has central heating and air. Going to the Amazon was a tremendous act of obedience on her part, one I don’t take lightly.
As the boat pulled up to our very first village, I turned to my mom, “Mom, I need someone to share a testimony for the families today, can you do it?” Mom gave me a mom-look that said something along the lines of I am bodily present in the jungle, can that be enough for now? But my mom is a quiet spiritual giant, and I knew how effective it would be if she shared how God had taken hold of her life as a young high school girl desperate for a relationship with a Savior she knew nothing of at the time, even if she was just settling into her surroundings. My mom is subtle and unapologetically what-you-see-is-what-you-get; when she shares how the Lord transformed her heart, you listen.
Please imagine the swell in my soul when I watched her share her testimony with the jungle village of Sao Tome while wearing her hot pink Living Proof Live t-shirt. Some of my favorite worlds collided in that one moment. Now imagine my joy when, after she shared, a man and a woman stepped forward to give their lives to Jesus. The young man had been someone Ray of Hope had known for years, but never had he expressed interest in becoming a Christian. Today was the day.
Having my mom in the jungle meant much to me on layered levels because I knew she wouldn’t have chosen this trip. She went in obedience to God and she went out of love for Him and her family. As Nehemiah mentioned being “very much afraid” in chapter 2 while approaching the king to request permission to help rebuild Jerusalem, so my mom had her fears but she didn’t let them paralyze her from seeing what God wanted her to see and doing what He wanted her to do. Had she stayed in her familiar and comfortable surrounding she would have missed an encounter with a young husband and wife with HIV. Through tears, the mother thanked my mom and dad for starting a church that would, on that day, help them build a home in a village that once shunned her family because of her and her husband’s disease. It was a moment of eternal joy. A memory no one can steal from my mom or me ever.
As my mom and I walked away from that village – I have no idea where my dad was, he tends to go off exploring unannounced – I thought about my parents’ legacy. How 38 years ago my mom agreed to move to a tiny, no-name town in VA to begin Reston Bible Church with my dad. 38 years, thousands of people, hundreds of collective mission trips, countless people who’ve come to Christ later, that decision blossomed in a village called Acajatuba where hard working saints from that same church showed up to build a house for a suffering, believing couple who otherwise would never have had a home. It was a memorable walk to the boat.
I don’t know if you have a family of your own. I am not married and without children so my blood family consists of my parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, and I count my two star in-laws in there as well. My chosen family is a few dear friends who I shudder to think of life without. These are the family members I am blessed to serve with, a joy more furious than the Amazon River itself.
I have no idea what God has put in your heart to do. I would never suggest it be a particular continent, city, or street, only that you seek Him hard for the people to whom He’s called you. I know He has inexplicably commanded us to love people, serve them, teach them, give to them in a way that points them (and us) back to His saving grace. He has not asked us to do this alone but in the context of community. Go get it.