GRACEVILLE (BCF)—“Incredible!” is how Rich Elligson, assistant professor of missions at the Baptist College of Florida in Graceville, described his recent mission project to Brazil’s Amazon basin.
Elligson, a former missionary to Brazil, led a group of sixteen BCF students and several others to the Amazon as part of the school’s partnership with Amazon Vision Ministries.
Upon their arrival in Manaus, team members boarded a riverboat for a 15-hour journey upriver. From there, Jon boats ferried the team to two small “floating” communities in a remote area of the rainforest. Because of the relative isolation of these communities, permission had to be granted by community leaders before the American team was even allowed to leave the boat.
“The people there are suspicious of outsiders,” Elligson explained. “We had to work hard to ‘earn the right’ to even visit among them…much less share the Gospel.” After a rather cool reception by two community leaders, a breakthrough occurred with the third. “When after about twenty minutes we sat on the floor together and shared the family’s bowl of soup, ground corn meal, and fire-cooked fish, I knew we were in,” Elligson said.
Once the barriers began to break, they fell with a crash. The schools cancelled classes and allowed the team full access. Within ten minutes the children were laughing, singing, playing games and learning about Jesus. Teachers and administrators joined in, taking pictures and singing along with the children.
In the meantime, other BCF students were allowed to visit door-to-door in the floating homes, sharing the hospitality and the Gospel. Children received toys, balloons, coloring books and trinkets, while parents were given sewing kits, fish-hooks, and Bibles donated by Florida Baptist churches.
According to Elligson, the environment itself created some challenging situations. Over the course of the week, team members never touched dry land. Homes were built on stilts above the water, or were built to float like rafts. Smaller rafts were built to house pigs and chickens. Ladders led to doorways, and strung-out wooden gangplanks acted as walkways. Where the river receded, team members slogged through ankle-deep muck that splattered skin and stained clothing.
“That’s what makes it fun,” quipped 78 year-old Laura Root, a former missionary to Mexico and current missions student at BCF.
Root, who was fulfilling a lifelong dream of ministering in Brazil, was warned of the challenges before she signed on. “My doctor was concerned I might die down there,” she reported. “But I didn’t!”
Even in the midst of the physical and cultural challenges, team members never lost sight of their main objective: sharing the Gospel of Christ. “I tried to keep in mind what we have been trained to do at BCF,” said junior ministry major Michael Hogeland. “Always move the person one step closer to the cross, and always leave the door open for the next person.”
“We learned very quickly not to rush things here,” added BCF graduate student Henry Fullington. “We would stay and visit for about an hour the first day, then go back for another hour on the second day. By then, whole families would sit and listen to the Gospel message. Then they would beg us not to leave.”
“A lot of what we did was relationship building,” explained BCF music major Faith Johnson. “Once they knew we were there to give and not to take, they opened their doors and their hearts. It was amazing. I believe God changed some of their lives, but I know He changed mine. I’ll never be the same.”
The Amazon trip was the product of a partnership shared between the Baptist College of Florida, Amazon Vision Ministries, and the Florida Baptist Convention. For more information about The Baptist College of Florida and its programs, call 800-328-2660, ext. 460.
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Copyright © 2013 Florida Baptist Witness
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