As guests of the Steidingers and Bluniers we were very much at ease in land that was entirely new to us. The four of us came to the same conclusion: we had fears about traveling to a totally unknown place but once we were there, we felt at home and at ease traveling to settlements along the river and small towns that were, to say the least, primitive by American standards. Yet, we always felt secure and we enjoyed the adventure of something new and felt the warmth of the folks who gathered in the house churches we visited. The four of us had some prior experience of traveling outside the U.S. but our apprehensions were soon overcome.
Our team from New Life Lutheran Church in Sterling, Illinois were led by Dan and Liz Koster who got our church involved in supporting “Salt and Light” through their friendship with Matt Steidinger. The rest of our group included Tammy who shared her ministry of “Mothers in Prayer” and me, Pastor Phil, the Teaching Pastor at New Life.
We had wondered what we could share that would be of help to the Christians in the Amazon. We came with prepared topics but were best guided by our missionary pilot, Marcio, who advised us to “tell a story. The folks will listen to a story, your story.” So, we Lutherans, unaccustomed to giving our testimony, changed our approach and in our presentations told these folks, we soon recognized as our fellow Christians, about those moments when Christ entered our lives with his grace. They wanted to hear our story.
The Amazon is a highway of rivers so that everything is done by boat. There seemed to be no roads through the jungle except for a single packed-dirt road leading from Humaita, our base, to the capital city, Manaus where our commercial flight landed. We didn’t take that road but were flown to Humaita by an experienced missionary pilot, Marcio, who’s been flying in the Amazon for 25 years. The rivers are the means of transportation and communication. As we traveled up and down the Madeira River we saw small groups of houses at the river’s edge and it is to these that missionaries carry the message about Jesus from one village to the next. Salt and Light has set a goal of developing 23 new house churches along the river.
Our travel on the river was piloted by Pastor Frank who oversees these small house churches that incubate the faith. We sped along the river’s edge to reach a collection of houses named Nova Israel and then we traveled in the opposite direction to Calama, a small town.
Frank not only is an excellent pilot but he is an even more excellent pastor. Like the Good Shepherd of Psalm 23, our Lord Jesus, Pastor Frank carefully and watchfully shepherds the life and growth of these small groups of Christians.
We operated out of a Guest House at Salt and Light’s “headquarters” in Humaita. We enjoyed comfortable quarters and were provided excellent meals by our hosts. They really made us feel at home. No matter where we stayed on our 9 days in the Amazon, we had air conditioning. That meant we got a good night’s sleep every night despite the heat and humidity of living near the equator.
To sum up our time with Salt and Light: we received more than we gave. We felt the power of the Holy Spirit binding us together with the Brazilians we met despite cultural, physical and language differences. Thank you for your care for us and God bless your witness among the river people.
Pr. Phil Gronbach
New Life Lutheran Church