By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
BRAZIL – Robert Spinks and his New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary mission team took a week-long boat trip down the Amazon in June, stopping along the way to share the Gospel message in homes and villages, reaping a harvest of 1,100 souls.
Spinks and his team of eight seminary students faced a range of spiritual obstacles, but relying on Christ, he said, helped them persevere amid distractions of crying babies and threats of roving animals.
“I had a front row seat to see God work among the people of the Amazon River,” Spinks said. “Had it not been for the prayers, support and obedience of many others, I am convinced I would have missed this blessing. My life was changed, and I know this sounds cliché, but I did not come back home the same way I left.”
The seminary team joined 21 others for the May 31-June 8 trip, working with an organization named Amazon Hope which owns a boat that stays on the Amazon River. During the trip, the group slept and ate most of their meals afloat.
During the day, they conducted eye clinics, distributed flip flops, led worship in churches and shared Christ in homes. Reaching some homes meant docking and then traveling by a smaller boat up to 15 minutes away to present the Good News, mostly via an interpreter.
STEPS OF FAITH
Among the more memorable encounters for Ken Taylor, NOBTS missions professor and pastor of Gentilly Baptist Church in New Orleans, was the conversion of several members of a family during the final day the team spent in the town of Novo Remanso.
Spinks and his crew entered the home to discover the wife was a Christian but her husband was not. Grateful for the visit, she welcomed them in with the hope that her spouse would ask Jesus’ forgiveness and commit his life to Christ.
Not only did the husband make a profession of faith, but their granddaughter did as well.
“When we were invited into the home I assumed that the 69-year-old husband was going to be satisfied with where he was in life,” Taylor said. “As (team member Yongseung Noh) shared the Gospel, this man was obviously moved. After he prayed to receive Christ he had a tear in his eye and gave a ‘thumbs up.’
“His wife expressed joy that she was now not the only believer in the house,” Taylor added.
Taylor said another special memory was witnessing a 92-year-old man accept Christ on the front porch.
His son, who already was a Christian and training for a career in ministry, requested the team visit his father.
“Not long after our walk across the boardwalk and into the home, we were introduced to the father,” Taylor said. “The family was showing us the piranhas that would come out of the water to fetch some food.
“However, there was nothing like catching someone for Christ,” Taylor emphasized.
The team saw many decisions during home visits, but the largest number of conversions took place during the eye clinics and flip-flop distributions. In one town 800 people accepted Christ, giving the local Baptist church –which had just 11 people in worship the Sunday before — hundreds of prospects for follow up in the weeks to come.
“This small church joined us fully in the work,” Taylor recalled. “Nine or 10 of the members joined us in going from house to house. One teenager not only accompanied us, but received an EvangeCube so that she could continue the work of evangelism in her community.”
UNITED IN CHRIST’S LOVE
Living in tight quarters aboard the boat was a unique experience not just for the NOBTS team but also for the entire Amazon Hope group, which included other Americans as well as Brazilians, Koreans and Taiwanese.
Robby Ridgeway said aside from seeing a harvest of souls, the Christian unity among everyone on the trip was his favorite part of the mission effort.
“We had some of the sweetest and purest times of worship that I have ever experienced in my life,” Ridgeway said. “One day during one of the times of worship, in which we were singing in Korean, English, and Portuguese, I realized what was so special about this time. We were able to experience a glimpse of what Heaven will be like; nations from around the world coming together to worship one Lord and Savior.
“We all experienced a new closeness with Jesus, because we were worshiping in a way that we seldom are able to,” he continued. “Though we are seldom able to worship in this way, we were all created to do so.”
Yongseung Noh, a student from Korea, said the mix of nationalities revealed God’s unique design for people of all cultures to come together and share the Gospel.
“Especially I am not that good at language except Korean,” Noh said in an e-mail to the Baptist Message. “Even my English was worse than the Brazilian interpreter of my team. I have never learned Portuguese, and, moreover, it’s hard to communicate with co-workers in English. It was amazing, however, that God made the weakness turned into the strength, and also He can use the broken vessels. We have watched God’s beautiful performance with the broken instruments through the mission trip.”
Furthermore, Noh learned that he is nothing, but Jesus is everything.
“The kingdom of God is building up by His hands because that is His mission,” he said. “But He works through the people who exhaustively obey Him. For when I am weak, then I am strong because mighty God is in me.”