Twelve hours upriver from Santarém, on the clear waters of the Tapajós, is a most extraordinary place, unlike any other place I’ve ever been. Recently, fellow missionary John Eisenmann and I caught a line-boat to meet up with a team that was out starting a new work. What would ensue would be a very memorable experience.
We headed to our line boat Ana Carolina III at around 3 PM. It was set for departure on Wednesday, June 5 at 4 PM, and we had to secure our spot onboard. You claim your spot by hanging up your hammock and then promptly sitting in it, taking up as much space as possible. If you do not, you risk being crammed into a small area, hammocks hung all around you; hands, feet, and other body parts all too close for comfort. Another missionary, Pablo Fast, learned this the hard way when, on a line boat, a rather large woman hung her hammock above his and in the middle of the night it fell. Gravity took over and — well, let’s just say he had a “smashing” experience.
We took off around 4 PM and made our way up the gorgeous Tapajós River. Heading “up” the Tapajós is a little confusing, because you’re actually heading south. We passed the beautiful beach town of Alter do Chão and watched the sunset over the Tapajós. There is nothing quite like making your way through the Amazon on a boat: watching the landscape putt on by, getting further and further away from civilization, the immense river system branching out in every direction. It is awe inspiring and relaxing all at the same time. You just want something to drink, because it’s plenty hot. We were scheduled to arrive at our destination around 4 in the morning, so we turned in early to get some rest.
Thankfully we got through the night without any hammocks coming undone. Upon arrival, we walked down the plank and no sooner had we gotten off then the boat took off, leaving us to fend for ourselves. Welcome to Fordlândia. It was like a ghost town. No taxis, no motorbikes, no foot traffic — nothing. Furthermore, we had no idea which way we were supposed to go to reach the PAZ boat. Most villages are small enough that everything is close by. With 7,000 people in Fordlândia, the town was much bigger and we couldn’t be sure where the boat was. We walked up the main road until we came to a guard house where we asked about the church. The guard also wasn’t sure, but he thought it was several kilometers on the other side of the city. Rather than walk a good distance through an unknown town in the middle of the night, we set up our hammocks on the porch of a house by the docks. The night guard said that no one lived there and we could use it. So we said a prayer for protection and then slept off the rest of the morning.
The next day, as the sun came up and we saw for the first time the strange but beautiful town of Fordlândia. Henry Ford built the town in 1928 to help supply the huge demand for rubber. Ocean-going ships brought in all the materials from the States and thousands of Brazilians were hired to build and maintain the town under the direction of Ford Motor Company. For several reasons, Fordlândia never produced viable amounts of rubber, and when Ford sold it back to Brazil in 1945, it sold it at a $20 million loss ($208 million at today’s value — thanks Wikipedia). Now the huge factories lay abandoned. The cobblestone streets have fallen into disrepair. Lining the streets are houses and fire hydrants that look like they belong in the states. It is a strange feeling one gets in Fordlândia — it’s as if a 1940’s movie set were constructed in the absolute middle of the jungle.
As people started to arrive at the docks, we found someone who could give us a ride to where we thought the church was being built. Since Fordlândia is all along one major road that stretches up and down the river, we had a pretty good shot at finding the boat. We knew it would at least be in the water! We found the boat and showed up right as breakfast was being served.
The team was happy and surprised to see us and hear our little adventure of arriving there. It was the team’s fourth day, and they were quite exhausted from all the hard work. We dove into the work with them, getting the church’s foundation all ready for the walls to go up. It was hard, hot work.
But it’s always amazing to see how villages open up to the Gospel when people come from so far away to do something as menial as work. Unfortunately, so many times when people come from far away, it’s to exploit the people or the land. So when a team of foreigners arrive, and they work and get dirty alongside the Brazilians, it feels quite strange to the locals — much like the buildings feel out of place in Fordlandia. It makes a positive impact, helping to change minds and open hearts to hear God’s Word. So when we held services for adults and children, many came out. The Word was sown and in some there was an immediate response! Imagine what will happen once the church is finished!
Moses prayed “Make permanent the work of our hands.” The most rewarding work is the work that lasts; work that means something. Such a huge investment was made in Fordlândia, but with no permanent fruit. Factories lay abandoned, assembly lines unused, and the water treatment facility is now a million dollar mansion for frogs. It made me think: What will my work look like 75 years from now? What will be my legacy?
How different it is to labor in the Kingdom of God, because our work is not done in vain. It is not measured by how many buildings we build or even how many are standing in 100 years. It is measured by each and every soul we win, because each one is worth more than the whole world to God. That in itself makes it invaluable to us as well.
I think about the legacy of Melvin and Catherine Huber, who left five children who all carried on their work, expanding on it much more than could have been imagined. Now their grandchildren and their families are busy passing it on to the next generation. They have thousands of living legacies across Brazil and the continents. Since one of our main focuses at PAZ is discipleship (establishing a legacy), you can be assured that this legacy will only grow with each generation, not diminish, because this is a work of the Holy Spirit, bound for success.
Every precious person we reach will walk with us on streets of gold that will not fall apart like the cobblestone streets of Fordlândia, but will shine forever in the Son! The churches we plant all over the Amazon are just a reflection of the greater work of salvation God is working throughout the world. These buildings we build are temporary houses of salvation, healing and liberation for the nations because someday they will be destroyed along with the earth, but the Church of God (it’s people) will live forever! Now that’s a legacy to get excited about.
Pray with us as we continue to put our lives before the Lord and wait for His confirmation about Japan. God bless!