My Mom In The Jungle And Other Ramblings

by | Mar 19, 2012 | 8 comments

“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.



  1. Cyndi Hayden

    Blessed my heart, yet again. How real you seem. How fresh. I need more strength for this day (ok, pick a day, it will be the same request) Thank you, for pressing on and the encourgement you are to me. <>< Cyndi Hayden ( all the way up here in Alaska)

  2. 3dlessons4life

    What a beautiful testimony of faith!

  3. @3kidsin3years

    What encouragement!!!! I am a stay at home mom of 3. My heart longs to go on missions to far away lands yet I know that it is not time for that. Right now is time for me to live out an unequally yoked marriage and raising 3 kids sharing all Jesus teaches me with anyone who will listen and living it silently for those who won't. But the thrill it gives my soul to get a touch of the experience you had!! Thank you for sharing!

  4. Kathy Schwanke

    Kelly, I just love reading what you write when your heart is on fire! Such beautiful testimony of the work of God, a legacy of faith, and the response of His cherished people to His incredible love. May He continue to prosper your family and the ministry He has called you to. I have asked Him if I might meet you someday this side of Heaven…just feel drawn to His presence in your words…

  5. KCHicks

    Awesome Kelly! And you describe you Mom exactly how I remember her…. and so glad she step out to do this trip with you. Oh what she would have missed. Thank you for sharing this Kelly. Be Blessed. XXOO

  6. Debbie Volz

    God bless you and what you do Kelly. You (and your Mom) know exactly who has equipped you to do something not many of us can fathom! He gives us all His strength to face our fears, especially when we step out of our comfort zones….and you and Mom have heard His call! God Bless You for stepping way, way out in his name….He is doing a mighty work throughout this dark world….using people like you….and we know he triumphs in the end! Halliluah!
    I've met you here in Louisville, KY; done two of your fantastic bible studies and tried many of your great recipes….You, my dear, are a gift to us all! Thank you for reaching us!

  7. Cheryl Leachman

    Hi Kelly! What a great word! Your writing always places me right beside you in the midst of your experiences and I loved this entry! Perhaps it is because I am 52 and about to go to Africa this summer for 2 weeks. I, too, do not relish camping or roughing it but, like your Mom, will embrace it because God has chosen this time for me to go. Isn't He sooooooo good to allow us a glimpse of his transformational power? Thank you for sharing your gifts with us! I hear you are coming to Ruston next year! I have completed 2 of your studies with girls in my college small group! I cannot wait to hug you. I wish I could meet all the nogs! May God continue to bless you and your family!

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