Brazil #4: Fresh fragrance of life
by Celia Stone
Barreira, a Brazilian village of approximately 16 families and the least populated of the four we visited along the Amazon River, was the second stop of our medical/dental boat. It appeared that most families had basic long, narrow fishing boats or canoes, some with standard outboard motors and others with motors made from what looked to have been weed eaters. The people we encountered throughout the week fished regularly and grew a few vegetables. Lush fruit trees seemed to grow naturally.
My plan for Tuesday was to help again with Vacation Bible School since that was a good area for me. A few minutes before we were ready to go off to our ministries, my three roommates and I were in our 8’ x 9’ bunk room. Claudia, one of the missionaries from the Manaus Presbyterian Church who was also the wife of the dentist, knocked on the door and asked if any of us could join her for women’s ministry. Two of my roommates were nurses. They and our third roommate already had assignments for the morning. Since I was more of a “floater” I said I could help.
It did not happen this way in every village, but on this day the women came on board the J.J. Mesquita to see or bring their children to see the doctor and/or the dentist and met jointly for women’s ministry. They gathered in the one common area which was air-conditioned and also used for our meals and meetings.
Most of the women had pink sheets with numbers indicating who would see the doctor next. There were loads of young children. The villagers were dressed in clothing just like what you and I would wear. The Brazilian nurse named “Netch” began by giving a presentation about the importance of clean drinking water and how to purify it with Chlorine drops. She reminded them about the need for washing hands thoroughly and scrubbing underneath fingernails. She gave advice for keeping children healthy.
Claudia then took over the assembly and spoke to the women about the love of God. Since I was the only one not from Brazil she asked me to stand up and speak about my journey of faith and how Jesus had changed my life. After each sentence, Claudia translated. We then gave out kits of soaps, shampoos, deodorants, body washes, and pads. A group of women in Indiana had sent dozens of home-sewn drawstring bags each containing five fabric feminine protection pads complete with snaps, which could be washed in the river and reused. Finally, we set out supplies and invited the women and children alike to color. We pulled out puzzles and matching games - activities which could be enjoyed despite a language barrier.
For the afternoon session, my roommates helped with women’s ministry. Claudia asked the ladies about drug and alcohol abuse in their homes. It was a prevalent storyline on the trip that husbands and fathers abused alcohol and, in turn, brought negative behaviors upon their families. Claudia asked if any of us from the U.S. had stories of how God had intervened in such situations to bring positive change. My roommates spoke individually about circumstances they or loved ones had been in related to substance abuse and how God had rescued them. We also heard similar stories from women in the Amazon. Many of them wanted the Portuguese New Testaments which we offered.
Tuesday marked the beginning of me getting to watch the incredible enthusiasm and commitment Netch and Claudia had to love and serve people in the name of Jesus. For more than two weeks per month, they lived in cramped quarters on a boat, translated, led singing in worship, helped with medical care and told villagers about God’s grace. The J.B. Phillips translation of the apostle Pauls’s words in 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 says, “Thanks be to God who leads us, wherever we are, on his own triumphant way and makes our knowledge of him spread throughout the world like a lovely perfume! We Christians have the unmistakable ‘scent’ of Christ, discernible alike to those who are being saved and to those who are heading for death. To the latter it seems like the very smell of doom, to the former it has the fresh fragrance of life itself.” Netch and Claudia were indeed like the aroma of Christ to all with whom they came in contact.