Along the Brazilian Amazon floats a church made possible by your support of the first quarter 2016 Thirteenth Sabbath Offering.
Called The Hope of the Amazon, this 88-foot-long craft was specially designed to house several missionary couples and an auditorium for evangelistic meetings that seats 100 people.
I wanted to see the impact the floating church was making and was delighted when Brad Mills offered to take me to the town of Democracia where it was docked. Brad is the director of the Institute of Missions for the Northwest Brazil Union.
As our car ground through deep, claylike mud, he explained how the floating church is part of the union’s integrated approach to sharing Jesus with thousands of people living along the river.
The Institute of Missions hosts mission groups that provide villagers with medical and dental care. Then, when the people’s physical needs have been met and their hearts are open to being ministered to spiritually, church planters called Global Mission pioneers move into the settlements to share Jesus. Soon a new group of believers is worshiping together!
This is when the floating church team comes in. They host evangelistic meetings and baptize those who have accepted Christ. During their ministry, the local conference builds a church for the new members. When the floating church team leaves for their next desination, the pioneers stay on to disciple the church plant and train its new leaders.
When we reached the floating church, I met missionary couple Reno and Natalia Guerra. Reno is a nurse and pastor, and Natalia is a lawyer and Bible worker. Warm and enthusiastic, they opened up about the joys and struggles of their ministry.
“This boat is such an answer to prayer!” Reno exclaimed. “There are thousands here who have fallen through the cracks and have no one to care for their needs. There’s so much poverty and addiction, and the people have no hope.”
Reno believes that one of the villagers’ greatest needs is to be loved. “When we arrive in a community, we spend a lot of time listening to people, trying to understand what they’ve been through and the difficulties they face. We ask about their needs and how we can help.”
Reno and Natalia had been in Democracia for 10 days after helping to establish two churches in previous locations. “Those were such rewarding experiences,” Reno said. “We had 96 baptisms in one area and 140 in the other. It was beautiful because you could almost touch the transformation God was making in the people’s lives.”
The union’s plan was for the floating church to visit communities only after mission teams and pioneers had paved the way for their ministry. But difficulties during the boat’s construction significantly delayed its launch. By that time, the river was too low for them to get to the areas where preliminary work had been done. So they ended up coming to Democracia instead.
“We were afraid to come where no opening work had been done,” said Reno, “so we quickly organized a mission team to hold a two-day health clinic two weeks before we brought the boat. But even so, this has been our hardest challenge so far.”
The villagers gave the team a warm reception, but when Reno and Natalia arrived in the floating church, they felt the villagers’ hearts close.
“There was already a church in the community,” Natalia explained, “and the leaders felt that a church of a different faith would cause divisiveness. There’s been some hostility toward us, so we’ve been praying a lot.”
“When we knocked on the people’s doors, some of them didn’t want to let us in,” added Reno. “There’s a saying in this area, ‘If somebody is knocking at the door and it isn’t somebody selling something, it’s a missionary trying to convert you!’”
Reno and Natalia’s first breakthrough came the day before I arrived, when they had invited the community leaders to join them on the boat for lunch. They had an opportunity to explain who they were and how they could benefit the villagers, and the leaders told them they were welcome.
“When I saw how closed the people were,” Natalie confided, “I thought, This is impossible; they’ll never accept Jesus. One night, I was feeling very sad about this, and I told God, ‘This is so hard, and I’m so tired. I don’t want to stay here anymore.’ As I sat in the stillness, He gave me a special Bible text, the one in Galatians 6:9 that says, ‘Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.’ That text renewed my energy, my hope, and my sense of commitment. I thought, I can’t quit now; I have to receive the fruit God has promised!
“Two days later, a woman told me that she had been watching Hope Channel television for four years and considered it to be her church,” Natalia continued. “She shared that when she saw the Hope Channel logo on our invitations to the meetings, she thought, This is the church I want to go to because they will preach the very same message! This was the first encouragement we’d received, and we were overjoyed.”
Reno and Natalia realized that God’s Spirit had gone before them to prepare the way. “It was a strong reminder that this isn’t our work,” said Reno. “It’s God’s work, and He’s not limited by our limitations. We saw that it was His plan for us to come here all along!”
I asked Reno and Natalia if there was anything they would like the world church to pray for. “The union has a motto that says everything we do is for love, love, love,” said Reno. “Please ask them to join us in praying that the Holy Spirit will fill our lives and teach us to love like Jesus loves.”
“And please thank everyone who helped make the floating church possible,” Natalia added, “because the work here is happening! I’ve been giving to the Thirteenth Sabbath Offering for so long, and I’ve never actually seen what happens with it. But now I can see. You can tell them it’s a real boat that does real work and that there are very real results!”
Author's note: Since writing this story, I learned that 50 people in Democracia gave their hearts to Jesus and were baptized!