Manaus Methodist Camp, the Hospital Boat, and the value of volunteers.

Manaus is the biggest city and the capital of the state of Amazonas with a population of 1.2, 2 or 3 million people, depending on who you ask! It is a vast, sprawling city very unlike the perfectly designed Boa Vista. As we drove from the airport to the Methodist Camp it was clear that in some areas roads and buildings are of good quality, but in many they are not. A car with 4 wheel drive seems a necessity! In Methodist geographical terms, Manaus is part of the REMA region – one of two ‘missionary regions’ in Brazil, which are given extra support from other regions and the national headquarters in recognition of their pioneering work. There are now six churches in Manaus – 2 of about 120 members, and 4 smaller church plants. One interesting historical point is that both the USA and Korea (not specified North or South!) did missionary work in this area, so buildings or projects can often be traced back to one or the other of them, including both of the larger churches.
The Methodist Camp was built by the Korean Methodist Church for Central Methodist Church Manaus. Central Methodist Church has two camps there per year and other groups also use the camp. It is directly next to one of the rivers and surrounded by beautiful rainforesty vegetation.
After a lifetime of camping with my family, girl guides, the Camping and Caravanning club, and various churches, it was cool to experience Camp Amazon-style! It chucked it down with rain and most of the electricity went out – leading to muddy campers eating dinner in the dark! Proper camping J This particular camp was one they have during Brazil’s annual ‘Carnaval’. Methodists (and I think Christians in general) in Brazil don’t tend to participate in Carnaval seeing it as a negative time of excessive drinking and unhealthy relationships. During our short time at the camp we had yummy dinner, watched a muddy game of football, saw a hilarious but very confusing (for me anyway) camp talent show, and joined with the church in a time of passionate prayer and worship. It was fab to see the (mostly young) people there really going for it, particularly when praying for their communities and country – it really challenged me about how seriously I take prayer and the effort that I put into praying for our world.
The next day, Tuesday, we visited the Hospital Boat. As the name suggests, it’s a boat which is a hospital. It was bought 10 years ago and paid for by the USA Methodist Church but now responsibility has passed over to the Brazilian Methodist Church. The boat is moored on the Taruma  river and travels down the rivers in the Amazon visiting tiny riverside communities which are pretty much cut off from the rest of the world. It administers vaccines, treats a variety of illnesses and health problems, and also has the facilities for dentistry. Volunteers come from Brazilian churches and overseas to spend a week on the boat; some medical professionals, others people who chat to the communities about God, play with the kids, etc.  Jan – March the boat goes out once a month and April – October it goes out 3 times a month. In 2011-2012 36 villages were visited with 17,000 people given medical treatment. The church has a good relationship with the government, which is necessary to do this work – they could easily tell them to stop. However the government appreciates the good work being done, and even sends a member of their health team on each trip.
After this we visited two Methodist Churches – one of the larger ones and one of the smaller ones. The smaller one is based in a deprived community rife with drugs and violence. We met with the Pastor, Katia who shared her heart with us, talking about her dreams for the church and the area, and also the struggles she is experiencing in this work. When Katia arrived 4 years ago the church was in a sorry state – there had been some issues with three consecutive church leaders and the church had been abandoned and had a very bad name in the neighbourhood, receiving regular threats. The church has grown but is still pretty small, with less than 30 members. However, Katia is running a successful and worthwhile ministry among children and young people, with 50-70 children enrolled in the ‘Shade and Fresh Water’ project which provides education and healthy food, and 150 teenagers attending a programme educating them about the dangers of drug abuse. I asked Katia who helps her run these programmes, and she introduced her to her one helper. That’s right, just one. I could hardly believe this, so I asked Flavia, who translates for me, about it. She explained that in Brazil they don’t have a culture of volunteering and social responsibility in the same way that we do in Great Britain – ‘in Great Britain children are brought up with a heart to help other people, but that doesn’t happen here’. Even in churches, volunteering is not a part of the everyday culture. It broke my heart to realise that Katia does so much good work with so little support from her congregation. We’re quick enough to moan that we work too hard, that we don’t have enough helpers, but really we are so blessed to have a culture of volunteering, and an understanding that using our time for the benefit of others is a part of our calling as Christians and a part of our discipleship. I thank God for every person who makes the snacks for the kids club , or hands out the hymn books, or does maintenance on the building. Thank God for all those who use their gifts for our church and our communities. Imagine working with 150 young people who are possibly involved in drug taking and violent behaviour, and having just one helper. We prayed for Katia and I assured her that people in the Great Britain (and around the world) would pray for her when I told them about her (I hope you will, now that I’ve said it!!).
Tuesday also involved a stop off at a road side stall selling gorgeous tropical fruit, most of which I’d never seen before, and barbequing a massive fish for lunch!!


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