9 years ago I took my first trip to the Amazon jungle in Brazil. No other place on earth, besides the home I grew up in, has influenced my faith more. Nearly a decade and 18 trips later, the Amazon jungle is still the place that fuels my faith, deepens my prayers, and ignites my passion for God’s Kingdom more than any other. (It’s also the only place where I’ve seen a pink dolphin and caught a piranha, but that’s another blog.)
I just returned from Justice & Mercy International’s 7th Annual Jungle Pastors’ Conference where we gathered with 130 jungle pastors and their wives. I was challenged and encouraged by these men and women who serve in obscure parts of the jungle. Many of them live in villages without electricity. A few of them struggle to find enough food when the crops are flooded and the fishing is bad. None of them have any regular income to speak of.
Sarah, our national director, told me that a few had called her before the conference saying that they wanted to attend but were concerned that they didn’t own enough changes of clothes for a four-day event. One pastor summed up many of their situations best when he said, “When God called me from the city of Manaus to be a pastor in the jungle, I left with only one thing—my calling.”“When God called me from Manaus to be a pastor in the jungle, I left with one thing—my calling.”Click To Tweet
This morning I went to see my physical therapist because sometimes my lower back gets stuck. She’s always eager to jam her elbow into angry muscles that need to be released or put me into a pretzel-like configuration so she can snap my joints back in place. So I can move again. The jungle pastors do the same thing for me, only for my soul. When my priorities are out of whack, when I’m particularly self-focused, over-indulgent, and my sights are set on temporary pleasures instead of on Jesus, they snap me back into place without even knowing it. A few weeks ago it happened like this…
I was sitting with Manuel and Michelle, a beautiful couple with four children. They minister in a part of the jungle that’s dramatically affected by the yearly flooding. They mentioned the many times they struggle to find food during the flooding season. My eyes welled with tears as I confessed to them that I have never once, not a single day in my life, been without food to eat. As they continued to tell me what it’s like to not always know how you will eat or feed your family, Pastor Manuel said, “But God’s timing is always perfect”. I asked him if there was a particular experience behind that statement. With an engaging smile and his wife nodding beside him, he said, “I have just the story for you.”
A Hungry Faith
One Sunday a few years ago, they ran out of food. The high waters of the river left their pantry bare, their crops saturated, and their fishing attempts futile. Over the sound of their four children’s growling stomachs, Pastor Manuel made the decision that they would still go to church even though they were all so hungry.
Michelle interjected at this point in the story, “I couldn’t believe he was taking us to church when all I wanted him to do was stay home and figure out how we could feed our family”. I appreciated her honesty. Manuel smiled at her tenderly and without judgment as she recounted her side of the story.
After the church service ended, another pastor asked Manuel if he could minister at a church down river later that day. Michelle recalled thinking, I’ll kill him if he says yes. We’re hungry and he can’t be off ministering when we need food! Even as they shared this story, Manuel was a little sheepish when he admitted that he had agreed to go. He assured his wife in the moment, “The Lord will take care of us. I know it. We just need to be faithful”. Manuel and his family got in their canoe and headed toward their home. He planned to drop them off and then continue onto serve in the other church.
At this point in the story, both Manuel and Michelle’s faces started to beam. Manuel explained that while they were on the way to their house a three-foot long fish shot out of the water and landed in their boat. Michelle said she was screaming trying to capture it because it was thrashing all over the place, and they were afraid it was going to flip out of the boat.
I wanted to make sure I understood. “So a fish jumped in your boat but you weren’t fishing?”
“Right!” they exclaimed. “We weren’t fishing! We were just heading home, and this enormous fish flew out of the water and into our boat. It fed our family for a week!”
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I think I did both simultaneously. I’d never heard of such a thing. When I asked them what kind of fish it was, they told me it was an arowana fish. Later, I visited the Manaus fish market and discovered the arowana is a delicacy. Of course it is! I suppose that if God is going to go to all the trouble to have a fish jump out of the water, He might as well make it an expensive one.
A Fish Out of Water
A friend of mine recently said, “If you’ve never experienced the wilderness, you’ve never tasted manna”. I suppose the same is true in the Amazon: if you’ve never been hungry and utterly dependent on the Lord, you’ve probably never had a God-fish come flying into your boat.
At the end of their story, I sat in awe, utterly marveling at the provision and timing of God. I wondered what a bite of fish straight from the Lord’s hand tastes like. I wondered if Manuel and Michelle worshipped when they sat down to eat. Although I don’t envy their hardships, I do envy the way they’re experiencing Jesus in their day-to-day lives.
Spending time with these jungle pastors is so good for me. It reminds me that God is not only at work in the Amazon. He’s at work here. In your life and my life. The question is, how dependent on Him are we? How faithful in our obedience? How prayerful? How expectant?
I don’t know what your need is right now, but after hearing Manuel and Michelle’s story of the arowana fish, I keep thinking… there’s more where that came from. God is not limited. He can send manna from heaven, rain down quail, and shoot a fish out of the water and into your canoe. He is able.God can rain manna from heaven or shoot a fish out of the water and into your canoe. He is able.Click To Tweet
I wrote a memoir about my trips to the Amazon jungle. It’s the most personal book I’ve written called, Wherever the River Runs. If you’re interested you can find it here.