This month marks four year since God allowed me to go on my very first short term missions trip. It was to the town of Arumanduba in the Amazon jungle in Brazil! The mission was to build the church you see pictured above.
The church stands as a testimony to the power of prayer. The people in that community had been praying for seven years for a church to be built there. They had no idea how they would be able to pay for it or who would do the actual manual labor!
The church is also a symbol of what a small army of folks dedicated to the Lord can do.
There’s so much I could say about that trip. A group of 12 of us flew from New York City amid a snowstorm on March 2, 2009. None of us city slickers knew quite what to expect as we joined our leaders from Amazon River Churches (ARC) on this extreme adventure.
Our goal was to build a church in a week. The only problem was that it was during the rainy season, and our team was made up of 7 women! That was the most females ARC had ever had on a team.
How I even got on the team was a shock to me. I remember our leader Steve sharing a video of a previous team building a church and him asking the congregation, “Do you see yourself doing this?” My immediate thought was, “No!’ All I saw were men at a construction site! I had no construction experience. All I had ever put together was IKEA furniture.
And going to the Amazon jungle! No way!
But for some reason I kept going to the meetings, asking questions, and God kept giving me peace about moving forward. What finally drew me in was the thought of sleeping in hammocks on a boat on the river and going on home visits to meet the locals. My plan was to “get through” all the construction in week one so I could enjoy the home visits and evangelism during week two. That was my goal. And despite the fear that the place would be crawling with more bugs than that infamous scene from “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” I boarded the plane to Rio, flew to the city of Belem and boarded the van (or combie) to the town where we boarded the boat that would be our home for a little more than a week.
When we literally had to walk across a plank to get on our boat, it hit me that we were not in New York City anymore!
In this post, I’ll only focus on the church building part of the trip and how God s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d me during that time.
When we arrived at the construction site, the foundation had already been finished by local workers. Our job was mainly to put up the walls, raise the roof and paint the church. But it had been pouring all the days prior to our arrival, so our first assignment was the lowly task of using the top halves of plastic soda bottles as shovels to scoop out the water from the holes where the posts for the walls would go. So there I was, my first day in the jungle, literally on my hands and knees getting all muddy as I put my hand in some holes and scooped out water with my makeshift shovel. It was quite humbling for me, but I knew it needed to be done so I did it unto the Lord. It helped that my fellow teammates were also down on the ground. We had come prepared to work.
My Dad’s pep talk to me before I left was simply, “Get the job done.” That’s what I planned to do.
After the scooping was done, we assembled a bucket brigade to pass along concrete (or masa) to fill the holes. Then it was time for the part I was dreading the most. The 50 pound placas (or concrete slabs) needed to be moved so that they could be stacked up to create the church walls. We women paired up in teams of two and just hustled as we moved those heavy suckers around. I still say God gave the team the strength of Samson during those days.
Amazingly, by the end of Day 1 the walls were up! I don’t know why I thought we’d be moving placas for days and days! Day 1 did have a few hitches including me getting “bit” by a placa. It happened while we were sliding the concrete slabs into place. A little piece of the palm of my hand got caught in between two placas. It immediately started to swell up and I started thinking, “Oh no, man down! Man down!” But I had little time to feel sorry for myself as I soon found out that one of my teammates had stepped on a nail! I was impressed by how calm she remained. So after icing my hand for a bit, I sucked it up and went back to work. And that meant helping to put primer on the outside of the church walls. That’s when I saw a snake in the distance and was reminded that not only was I on a construction site but one in the Amazon jungle! Oh, what we do for the love of God!
Day 2 included caulking and painting. It was fun getting to know my teammates as we painted and repainted the walls. By this time we had attracted quite a crowd of locals who had come to see what the crazy Americans were up to. Thankfully, a few pitched in to help us. As I stood in the muck and mire in my work boots, I was shocked to see the kids running around in the mud barefoot. But they wanted to be part of the action, too.
To my surprise, all that was left to do was to finish painting and to put up the roof. I affectionately call Day 3 my “bi polar” day as I found myself laughing, and then crying, and then laughing again. I felt so honored to get to help paint the front, right-hand side of the church. I was so overwhelmed by what God had allowed me to be a part of. Little me who had only assembled IKEA furniture and had never painted so much in my life. God had allowed me to help create a beautiful church in this remote part of the world.
Looking back, I see that while I was busy helping to build a structure, God was at work building some character and faith in me.
God did so many amazing things on that trip! I have never been the same!
Miraculously, God held off the rain in our area during our work hours. When it did rain, it was as we were putting up the roof! That just added to the fun we had while passing all the tiles along to each other to place them on the steel beams to finish the roof.
To our amazement, God allowed a team with 7 women to help build the church in record time – 3 1/2 days!
One of our favorite songs we sang while working was, “What a Mighty God we Serve.” That is an understatement.
The icing on the cake was being able to invite the locals to come to the inaugural service that Sunday. People traveled quite a distance by boat to get there. It was standing room only during the service.
As I soaked in all the celebration, I noticed I was standing right near the spot where I had been “bitten” by a placa. Things had come full circle. My blood, sweat and tears literally had gone into helping to build this church that I was now worshipping in!
I would be remiss if I didn’t include some takeaway lessons for you as well:
Don’t be afraid when God calls you to join Him on an adventure! – I was at such peace while painting in the middle of the jungle. I know it was all the prayers of the saints! When God calls you, He will be there protecting you every step of the way!
Let God change your “no” to “yes” – I would have never signed up for a construction trip, But God….
Don’t put God in a box – He really can do exceedingly abundantly above all we ask or think! (Ephesians 3:20-21)
Let your light shine – That church stands as a beacon of hope because a few men and women obeyed the call from God to go and bless His people in Arumanduba. And what wonderful people they are! Such humble people. It was our honor to serve them.
What is God calling you to do? It may not be as extreme as going to the Amazon. It could be to volunteer at your church, to sign up for a small group, to try out for the choir or to speak to someone about Jesus. Once you figure out what God is asking of you, pray and then ask God to help you do it!
Has God recently asked you to do something completely out of your comfort zone? I’d love to hear about it! Feel free to leave a comment below.
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