Fruit Along the River – The Story of the Ilha

Mark 1:35-39

Jane and I had been working at the Indian village called Milho for four years at the beginning of 1992. The Lord had blessed, many had been saved, a new bigger church building had been built and the church was about to be organized. By this time we had begun to think about future ministry and where it would be. I was having my devotions one morning and Mark 1:38 caught my attention.

“And he said unto them, Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also: for therefore came I forth.”

In the preceding verses Jesus had had a remarkable ministry in the home of Peter and then to all in the neighborhood round about. Jesus must have been tired but He rose up early in the morning to be alone and to pray. The next day, however, everyone in town was out looking for Him, anxious to see more miracles. When the disciples found Him they said, in my words, “Where have you been? Everybody is looking for you. Let’s get back to town!” Jesus knowing the motive of the multitude said, “Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also: for therefore came I forth.”

When I read this verse it confirmed in my heart that God had a special place for us to minister, somewhere close by the village of Milho. God’s Word spoke to me this way, “Let us go into the next Indian villages, that I may preach there also!” There were Indian villages up the road, down the road, across the river, all around, but where was the village that God was leading us to? We would soon see.

One Sunday in 1992 after preaching in Milho, Jane and I headed home to Boa Vista in our faithful D-20 Chev pickup. When we arrived at the Uraricoera River we stopped to wait for the little car ferry to take us across. Sometimes the ferry operator wouldn’t cross because there was only one car on the other side. Sometimes he didn’t cross because he and others were in the middle of a card game. Only when the game was over would he come to pick us up. Whatever it was, we waited on the other side of the river in the hot son for at least half an hour without any sign of smoke coming out of the exhaust pipe of the little ferry. While we were waiting, a man came staggering along, fairly evident that he had had too much to drink. He came right up to the truck and said, “Are you the missionary that works at Milho?” “I am”, I responded. “Well, I would like you to come to our village and have a service.” “Oh, and where do you live?” “Campo Alegre”, he responded. Campo Alegre (Happy Field), was close by, just a couple of kilometers back from the river crossing. Just then the ferry came to our side and I drove on and immediately forgot about the man. He was drunk and wouldn’t remember me again anyway, or so I thought.

About a month later we were returning to the city and found ourselves in the same situation again. After sitting in the hot sun for half an hour waiting for the ferry, here comes the same man and was under the influence again. He walks up to the truck and says, “Well, when are you coming to our village?” I’m thinking, “Hmm, he did remember me!” I said, “So where do you live?” “Well, you go down this road, then turn down this trail, the then take this other trail to a house with a mango tree in the yard.” “Hmm”, I thought. “There are trails everywhere in the savannas and every house has a mango tree in the yard, that doesn’t tell me much.” At that moment the ferry arrived and I drove on and was off again to Boa Vista again.  A few weeks later someone clapped out on the street in front of our house. It was David, a missionary with another mission in town. He said that he had crossed the ferry that day and the school teacher from Campo Alegre asked him to tell me to stop at her house next time we went to Milho. The next weekend we stopped at the home of Yara the school teacher and she told us that there were some Christians is the village and would we consider starting a church there? I then remembered the man at the river and wondered, “Do you suppose that this is where the Lord wants us to start a church?” I said, “We need to get permission from the chief to be able to have gospel services.” Yara said, “I’ll talk to him this week.” The next week we stopped at her home and got the news that we were denied permission. They had called a village meeting and the Catholic layman present had said, “We don’t want the Baptists here. Where there are Baptists there are problems. We have enough problems here without the Baptists!” “Ok…so Lord, where are we to start this new work?”

A couple of months later, Abel, the pastor at Milho said, “Pastor Terry, I heard that the village of Campo Alegre split. A group left and was founding a new village on the other side of the highway and they named it the Ilha (the Island).” A few weeks later we drove down to where the village was and found the new leader, Chief Alvino. Alvino looked to be quite young but very friendly and capable. He appeared to be quite excited to have us come and said for us to come the next Saturday evening at seven and he would tell the people to be there. His directions were precise, “Turn off of the highway at Camp Alegre to the left, go a for a kilometer then turn left onto another trail for another kilometer until you come to a house with a mango tree in the yard. Where had I heard that before?

Jane and I arrived at the ferry at four o’clock in the afternoon. There was a line of about twelve cars ahead of us. The ferry had been broken down the whole day and they were waiting for parts from the city. At about 5:30 a vehicle arrived with the long-awaited part. The mechanic in short order had it fixed and they started up the motor with a cloud of smoke as the sun was setting in the west. “Great, now we can cross!” The ferry operator called out, “It is late in the day and I am only going to make one trip. Only four cars can go. The rest of you will have to wait until tomorrow.”  There was groaning everywhere. I looked at Jane and she looked at me, “Shall we go home?” “Let’s just wait a moment and see what happens”, I said. Then something strange happened, people started talking among themselves, “We’re going to get over to the other side and it will be dark, let’s wait until tomorrow to cross.” Then to our amazement everyone in front of us got in their cars and drove away and we were the first ones in line to get loaded on the ferry! “Wow, that was an answer to prayer, God is so good!” I was the first one to board the ferry, the first one to get off and the first one to get stuck in the sand bar on the other side. Now what? It was darkening fast and what were we to do. With pots and pans the people from the cars stuck behind us started scooping out the sand and pushing the truck to no avail. Just then we heard the sound of a tractor coming and sure enough, whoever he was and however he knew we were stuck, I never did find out but in a minute we were on the way again! In another ten minutes we found the house with the mango tree and sure enough there was a crowd of people waiting for us.

This was our first service at the Indian village of the Ilha. There were very few houses on that side of the highway yet so most of the 25 people who came had walked a few kilometers by foot or had come by bicycle. What I remember the most about that first service was the dry season wind. It whipped down across the savannas and it was a constant fight to hold my hymn book and Bible up, the pages flapping in the wind. Chief Alvino said to come back again the next week and we could have another service. The next week two people made decisions for salvation and thus began the work at the Ilha.

Soon more people started attending and more decisions were made for salvation. After holding services under the mango tree for about two months the men decided to build a church building. The new building was made of burnt brick with a thatch roof from the nearby buriti palm trees. The people of the village built their new homes around the church building and it became the center of the village.

Over the next two years the church grew and prospered. One of the men of the village, Rangeldo, converted and later became the pastor of the church. He and his wife were the first to get married in our church building as well. About this time we started preparing the people of the church to take leadership positions. We marked a Sunday to put into practice what they had learned over the past year. One person would lead the service, another would do the Bible reading, another played the guitar, a group brought a special number, another would give a testimony and finally another would bring the message. We were excited to see how the Lord was working in lives and eager to see how they would do. The day came and everything went as planned. The big surprise came when one of the men gave his testimony. Dário and Lourdes lived at the house where we had the first service under the mango tree and they had made decisions a few months later. Dário went up to the pulpit to share his testimony and he began something like this, “I don’t know if Pastor Terry remembers this, but the first time I met the missionaries was down by the river. They were sitting in their truck waiting for the ferry and I invited them to come and preach in Campo Alegre.” I just about fell off of my chair. The inebriated man at the ferry crossing a couple of years back was Dário? It was, and that night I had a greater appreciation for God’s mercy and grace! Was it ever a blessing to know that that man on the river bank was now a brother beloved in the Lord!

Dário and Lourdes have been close friends to us over the years as well as all the people in the village. God has blessed with much fruit, the work continues, and the church has prospered. As a foot note, Dário went to be with the Lord about two weeks ago as a victim of Covid-19 that has ravished the villages where we worked years ago. One day we know that we will meet again in glory but in the meantime –

“Let us go into the next towns, that we may preach there also!”

Service Schedule

Morning Service at 10:30 am

Evening Service at 7:00 pm