By Marilyn Stewart
At four degrees north of the equator, cayman are easily spotted on the lush banks of the Rio de Negra, a tributary of the Amazon River. The abundance of tropical fruit there means the Brazilian people will never go hungry. Hunger for the Gospel is a different story.
Dr. Ken Taylor, NOBTS professor of urban missions, and master’s student Irvin Wasswa traveled Oct. 5-12 with Amazon Hope, a mission organization that is taking the Gospel to the tens of thousands of villages that fill the Amazon River Basin.
The vision trip became a launch point for two mission trips next year—May and October 2017—that NOBTS students are invited to join.
Though four days of mission service were cut to two when Hurricane Matthew stranded team members in Miami, the team’s evangelistic efforts saw 150 come to faith through their work with the sole evangelical pastor in the area.
“You have all these folks come to faith and you only have one pastor there,” Wasswa said. “They’re in need of folks to come behind us and really teach them how to walk in the Lord. That’s a big need and a prayer for those communities.”
Tropical and green, sights along the river banks are reminiscent of scenes from a National Geographic magazine, Taylor said, adding that the black water of Rio de Negra clashes with the muddy water of the Amazon at its confluence, giving a visual image of “light versus dark” in a place where the gospel is needed.
Amazon Hope’s sixty-foot boat takes team members to villages up and down the river and doubles as housing. Some sleep in air-conditioned cabins below. Others sleep in hammocks on deck.
In one village, Taylor shared the Gospel with a young father, Sebastian, using Evangucube, a pictorial evangelism tool. When Taylor asked if the man was ready to give his life to Christ, the man responded, “I think that today must be the day,” Taylor recounted.
As Taylor and Wasswa left the house, they encountered seven boys, ages 8 to 14, including Sebastian’s son. After Wasswa shared the gospel, each boy prayed to receive Christ.
Amazon Hope was founded by Ty Harris, a layman from Sardis Baptist Church, Boaz, Ala., who felt the call to reach the people of the Amazon after serving there with a mission team five years ago. Through connections with NOBTS alumni Jake and Deb Goforth, Taylor was invited to go. Harris knew the impact the trip could make on NOBTS students.
“The most exciting thing to me is that young seminary students who when they get out of seminary, they will have already been on the foreign mission field,” Harris said.
The boat is vital in keeping the cost down and getting to where the need is, Harris said, adding that the cost is approximately $1000 plus airfare.
Harris recounted that he raised the money and secured all documentation and clearance to take cash into Brazil to buy the boat only to have it seized by a customs agent. After a four-month legal battle, the Brazilian Supreme Court returned the money. Harris purchased the boat a year ago and said that on the first two trips into the region utilizing the boat, more than 2,500 made professions of faith.
Taylor was asked to bring someone from the seminary to accompany him. He invited Wasswa, associate pastor at Gentilly Baptist Church where Taylor is senior pastor.
Wasswa called the trip “life-changing” and said that seeing the people’s eagerness to hear the Gospel encouraged his own faith.
“It was a great and timely reminder that God is moving in a mighty way still,” Wasswa said. “He’s the same God who moved in Manaus (Brazil) who moves here in New Orleans. I can trust that and believe that.”
Taylor and Wasswa traveled with Southern Baptists from Alabama and worked one day at a clinic handing out free “flip-flop” sandals and giving away reading eyeglasses. Taylor told of a young woman at the clinic who had tears in her eyes as he shared the gospel.
“It’s a harvest field there,” Taylor said. “I think it’s really good for our students to experience what it’s like to see people anxious to accept Jesus.”
A team of Brazilians travel with each mission team and include six or seven translators, a boat captain, assistant captain, engineer, guide, and four cooks.
Harris said he hopes for a long and fruitful partnership with NOBTS. At present, the boat is used about seven times a year as churches and mission teams are available.
“Our dream is to have the boat used every month,” Harris said. “I would love to get it where Dr. Taylor calls up and says, ‘Hey, I need the boat for this day,’ and we just line all the Brazilians up, and he knows where to go, and he just takes off.”
Though their time in Brazil was limited due to travel complications, Taylor said much was accomplished.
“It was a rich time,” Taylor said. “I felt like God used every minute of it.”
To learn more about future trips with Amazon Hope, email firstname.lastname@example.org.