Psalm 121:1-2 “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.”
They were exciting times. Jane and I had been in Brazil for six years and we were expecting our first child whose arrival was anticipated to be at the end of December of 1991. Being the first child, we had some concerns about being in Roraima state far from our other missionaries. When we first arrived in Boa Vista, the capital, in 1987, we were told by some locals that if you ever get really sick, the best doctor is the airplane – go somewhere else! We decided that Jane would travel at eight months to Manaus where Joy Spieth, our colleague and nurse who was also a midwife, would be close by. I would stay in Boa Vista and continue in the ministry. At the time I was planning to participate in the annual Christmas conference with our Indian churches in the village of Araçá. The day after the conference, the 26th, I would return to Boa Vista and catch the nine pm Varig Airlines flight to Manaus to be with Jane.
Things were going well in the ministry, the congregation at Milho had grown to about 90 people attending Sunday services and we were working towards organization. The village had built a new bigger church building and also added a room behind the first church building to be ours to stay in whenever we were there. The people in the Milho Baptist Church were excited about attending the Christmas conference at Araçá and I would take them and bring them back in the back of my D-20 Chev half ton truck.
Interior travels were exciting and sometimes a bit stressful, not something for the weak of heart. Where we ministered in the early years was in the interior of Roraima state. Northern Roraima is mostly savannas extending into neighbouring Guyana and into the Gran Savannas of Venezuela. A mountain range extends along the Brazilian, Venezuelan border all the way into Guyana. This savanna and mountainous region was where our Indian villages were located and where our first twenty years of ministry was spent.
In the early years there were no paved roads. In the dry season, clouds of dust would follow you on the rough dirt roads full of pot holes and rocks. In the rainy season there would be mud holes in places and sometimes the road was washed completely out. The farthest I ever traveled from Boa Vista by truck was to the village of Pacu, about 360 kilometers in distance. We had to be careful travelling to these distant places because there was very little means of communication in those days. We always took extra diesel oil along, two spare tires, five meters of heavy rope, tools and extra spare parts along with an inner tube cut into narrow strips. Inner tube strips could save the day if a tie rod end became loose. Just tie it up and knot it and the strips of rubber would hold things together until you got back to the city.
Jane by now had traveled to Manaus to wait for the safe arrival of Kelsey. Several weeks later I drove to the village of Milho and took a large group from the church to the Christmas conference in Araçá. It was a great conference with a lot of visitors from about seven different villages. At these conferences we had three services a day for three days. It was a great time of hearing God’s Word, a time of fellowship and sports for those who played soccer. All too soon the conference was over and it was time to get everyone back to their villages. Unexpectedly, the group from the Guariba church asked for a ride back to their village. Guariba, which means howler monkey, was a village about two hours from Araçá in the mountains close to Venezuela. I calculated that if I dropped them off then I would still have time to get back to Araçá, pick up the group from Milho and be home in time to pack and catch the nine pm flight to Manaus.
With the back of my D-20 filled up with baggage and the crowd from Guariba sitting on top we headed out as the sun was rising. A white cloud of dust, that we called talcum powder, filled the air as we left the village of Araçá. The road was rough but we made it to Guariba in good time. After unloading all the baggage and saying our good byes I began the trip back. Back on the highway there was a person hitchhiking, a garimpeiro (a miner), on the way to Boa Vista so I stopped and picked him up. We were driving along at a pretty good speed when all of a sudden the front driver’s side of the truck collapsed onto the road. We scraped to a stop, climbed out and looked in disbelief at the front wheel laying on the road beside the truck. The steel in the top ball joint had crystalized over the years and the constant hammering on the rough roads was just too much and it finally let go. You can imagine all the thoughts that crossed my mind at that moment. Here I was broken down, the truck stuck in the middle of the road over two hundred kilometers from Boa Vista, the front wheel had fallen off of my truck, the people from Milho were waiting for me to pick them up, I needed to get home to catch my flight to Manaus and I had no way of communicating with anyone. “Oh, Lord what do I do?”
The garimpeiro and I jacked the truck up, put the wheel back into its position and wondered how we could keep it there. He got the machete and cut down a nearby tree, shaped a piece of wood and placed it in the front end in such a way to see if it would hold somehow. It didn’t and as soon as we let down the jack the wheel flopped out. What now? We jacked the truck up again, we looked at each other and wondered out loud about possibilities. After awhile I began looking through what I had at hand in the truck and I spied the five meters of rope. “Hmm, I wonder if we can tie that top ball joint back together?” I pulled the rope out and the garimpeiro began to wrap the rope around the ball joint and upper control arm. He used up the whole five meters and the ball of rope looked like a wasp nest on a branch. We cautiously let down the jack and the wheel stayed in place! I soon discovered that with the ball of rope tied around the front-end parts that the truck could hardly steer. The only thing that I could do was put the truck in reverse and back the truck up about five kilometers to where there was a house along the highway. I was able to park the truck under a shady tree and then the garimpeiro and I waited for a vehicle to come along to catch a ride to the city. A couple of hours later a white D-20 appeared in the distance. I immediately knew that it was the priest. They all drove white D-20’s and weren’t too friendly towards the Christians in the area. Would he give us a ride? The garimpeiro waved him down and asked for a ride to the city. “Jump in the back”, he said without looking up. We scrambled into the back of his truck and off we went arriving in Boa Vista at about 6 pm that evening!
Back in those days the people who lived in the interior listened to their radios at seven o’clock at night for messages. I caught a taxi to the radio station and had a message broadcasted for the Milho crowd explaining what happened to me and that they would have to find their own way home. I then called my good friend and mechanic, Daniel Seabra and askedif he could fix the truck and bring it home. He then came by and took me to the airport and I was able to make it in time to catch the evening flight to Manaus to be with Jane.
All in all, it worked out. Through these experiences we learned to trust more in the Lord and were able to travel to remote places to preach the gospel. We always knew that the Lord was with us and would meet all our needs, whatever they were.
“…lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” Mathew 28:20