I have just returned from a ten-day mission trip to the Amazon jungle.
I am not making that up.
Iquitos, Peru, is the largest city in the world that is not on an island and is not accessible by automobile. Only airplanes and boats can get to this city of over a half-million people. Initially fueled by the rubber boom of early 1900’s, its economy is now based mostly on petroleum exported in barges. It is over 2000 miles down the Amazon River from Iquitos through Brazil to the Atlantic Ocean. It literally swarms with small motorcycles, three-wheeled motorcycle-based “mules”, and buses. A few people can afford cars or trucks, but it is rare.
Many times, I’ve been on mission trips associated with some danger. El Capotillo once had the highest murder rate in all of the Dominican Republic. North Omaha, Nebraska, (where I went just this summer) also had a very high murder rate. Guatemala is known for dangerous gangs, and there were people concerned for my safety when I have been to Israel.
In each case, I trusted in the LORD and never truly worried about my safety.
The Amazon jungle was different. I wasn’t worried, and I am not by any means a germaphobe, but I took extra precautions because of bacteria and bugs. Disease-carrying mosquitos and a biological breeding ground of consistent temps near 100 degrees with 100% humidity frankly concerned me more than people with guns. In many ways, I think small and insidious can be more dangerous. But (Praise God!) modern medicine and mosquito netting can greatly diminish concerns in this area.
Then, on the very day before I left, a trusted and beloved friend told me that there are still some isolated tribes in the Amazon jungle who practice cannibalism.
The thought of Dan Jones ending up as the entrée at some jungle feast deep in the darkest part of the jungle truly creeped me out, but after ten minutes of profound heebie-jeebies, (and an internet search that verified there probably weren’t any cannibals left in the Amazon jungle) I told my friend that I would much rather my obituary read that I was eaten by cannibals while trying to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world than I had died of arteries clogged with bacon fat while sitting in my recliner watching reruns of old Westerns.
And, as usual, I needn’t have worried.
God had my back –and the backs of the other ten who went on this trip through GoServe Global. Our time at the home of Nelton and Bethany Noriega was marvelous and blessed. The “camp” where we stayed was indeed in the forest (“jungle” is a word heavy with connotations) but it was spacious and comfortable. I was not bitten by nor did I see a single mosquito in the ten days I was there. I never had to use the mosquito netting I brought. Yes, it was warmer than a native Minnesotan is used to in November, but (Let’s be honest.) “Duh.”
We were treated as honored guests. Grace and hospitality were abundant and genuine.
But this was not a vacation. We were welcomed into the ministry of Genesis Church, which they founded less than 14 years ago in their kitchen and has now grown to a vibrant, living, active, Gospel-centered, disciple-making, Spirit-driven, real, honest-to-goodness “Church” with a capital “C.”
In fact, what I saw was a church with a capital “C” underline, italic, bold, with an exclamation point.
There were two services on Sunday –one in the morning and one in the late afternoon. At each one, there were hundreds of people singing and dancing and praising God in Spirit and truth. There was energy and light and joy and the power of the Holy Spirit present and awake and active. They were not shy in their praises and they sang in both English and Spanish. The services lasted well over two hours and absolutely no one was looking at their watch wishing it would end so they could go watch the football game. They were up and moving and participating in what was going on and, even though the vast majority were teenagers, they very clearly preferred church to their phones. (Yes, read that last sentence again.)
Then, on Monday night, we were invited to participate in a dinner for some local prostitutes. (Yes, you also read that right.) The church welcomed about a dozen local women who had never been invited to any church anywhere before. They were treated with respect and love, given supper, and heard the testimony of a lady whom Jesus saved and brought out of that life. They were shown hope and future, and they were told that real and true love was available in and through Jesus Christ. We sat and ate with them. We talked to them like they were real people and I watched tears well up in their eyes as they heard songs of praise to the Lord Jesus.
On another night, we went out giving meals to people in need we found on the street. We found a lady named Eloise whose eyes lit up when I told her we had a gift for her in the name of Jesus. My Spanish is minimal, but I could tell she wanted prayer for someone in the home who was ill. They brought out a man in a wheelchair named Juan Renee who had a brain tumor and could not walk or talk or eat solid food. We prayed over him, asking that he would be healed and the name of Jesus be glorified in him and through him.
We built benches and tables and painted and tiled a kitchen at the camp. One team member spent days repairing a tractor axle.
And through it all, the Holy Spirit was present in power in our team and in that church. Prayers were answered in powerful and glorious ways. I felt and knew I was exactly when and where I should be –in the center of God’s will.
As I shared with Bethany Noriega one day near the end of the trip my lament that, from what I could see, the church in the United States had become sleepy and lazy and tired. The contrast between what I saw at home and in Peru was startling to me. Bethany, who had by this time become like a trusted and treasured friend and sister to me, told me gently but directly that all that I had seen during my time in Iquitos would not have been possible without the prayers and support of the church in the United States. In much the same way you support Kinship Radio, Genesis Church is a ministry supported by people and churches just like you.
And my heart was wrecked as I realized that the most dangerous place of all was the part of me that would bite and devour brothers and sisters in Christ in my own land and neighborhood because not all of them measured up to standards that came not from our Lord, but from a part of me that is no better than the Pharisee who thanked God that he was not like the tax collector who beat his chest before the altar of the LORD in Luke 18:9-14.
“For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.” (NLT)
Photo by author. Sunrise in the jungle. The building to the left houses the generators and workshop for the camp. The road in the center is sand. It’s about three miles through the jungle on this road to the nearest paved road. The structure in the tree is not a kid’s tree-fort, but the water tank for the house. The vehicle in the right corner is a heavy-duty, 250cc motorcycle-based “mule” that’s used like a pickup.