The Gospel on the Amazon
‘We need to pick you up for breakfast at 6.30am and then on to the boat at 7.30’. This is how we learned that the next morning would be a very different Sunday for us. Along with Geoff King, chairman of Grace Baptist Mission, I was making my first visit to Jason and Andrea Murfitt, who are serving the Lord in Manacapuru, Brazil.
The Murfitts have gone to Brazil with the joint support of GBM and UFM Worldwide, and it is a blessing to be part of a co-operative project to spread the gospel in this area of Amazonas.
Manacapuru is about three hours from Manaus and the journey includes a ferry trip across the Rio Negro – one branch of the Amazon which at this point is five miles wide. The roads have suffered in the rainy season and we have to swerve constantly to avoid the large potholes that pock-mark the way ahead.
The city has a population of around 100,000 but no high-rise buildings at all, as far as one can see. The town stretches from the banks of the river Solimões back into the hinterland, which at one time must have been rain forest. It has a long and busy riverfront with boats of all shapes and sizes flitting busily around the river.
There are many churches, but sadly few of them preach the truth. The area is overrun with Romanism and Charismatic influences of the most extreme sort. It has been difficult for the Murfitts to find good ministry to attend, but in God’s providence a young pastor – Pastor Irauna – has come to the local Baptist church.
He is a man with reformed and evangelical convictions, which he is seeking to instil in his congregation. He faces an uphill battle but is pressing on faithfully and Jason wants to encourage him.
The pastor joined us on a river evangelistic trip, when we raced up the river in our motorboat Maranatha vem Senor Jesus. The boat was piloted by Picpoca, a believer and a man who understands the river.
He took us to a community which lives on several islands. Splitting into groups, we visited the timber houses and usually found a warm welcome and opportunity to read the Scriptures and share the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ.
Did the people really listen? Who can tell at this stage? It is early days and only the third time that Jason and Andie have visited. There are encouragements, however, especially when several people remark that they hear the gospel radio programmes that go out on Saturday and Sunday. Jason and Andie, supported by churches in the UK and Sao Paulo, have begun one-hour radio broadcasts which go out live twice each weekend.
In these broadcasts the gospel is clearly explained. The Saturday format is designed particularly for the family and includes a children’s Bible story. On Sunday it is a straightforward mix of gospel hymns, music, Bible reading and simple but pointed exposition.
Recently a tragedy on the river saw the death by drowning of 59 people. Jason used the programme to challenge people about their readiness to meet God. In the same context, speaking with a woman he visited with Andie, Geoff King also raised the issue of being ready to meet God. After a brief silence she said that she was not ready, and began to weep.
The gospel was presented gently and prayers offered. Will this lady be in heaven one day? We pray that she will.
And so the day goes on in the sticky heat and harsh landscape of lonely dwellings, as we move from island to island. Gifts are received (a bag of freshly caught and cleaned fish) and given (tracts and booklets for children, batteries for radios) until at last we arrive home, just before a deluge of rain.
We sit together and reflect on those we have met; and we pray for them, trusting they will hear and believe the gospel.
Back to where I began, with that first Sunday. Church is among the trees in a floating building – with a small congregation who all arrive in small canoes! Geoff King preaches and Jason translates, and so the gospel is spread again.
There is much to do in this part of God’s mission field. After Jason and Andie have met these people and shared the gospel with them, who is there to disciple them and help them to grow?
Jason and Andie can’t be everywhere and are not gifted for everything. Who will go and help with the next stage so that they can continue to do pioneer work? The life it involves is hard, but it is a time of great opportunity. We must pray that the Lord will raise up those who can take these opportunities.
Missions co-ordinator, Grace Baptist Mission