10. A WALK ALONG THE AMAZON RIVER
The Amazon River is one of the great wonders of the world. It is bigger than the next seven largest rivers of the world put together. The Mississippi, the Congo, the Nile, the Ganges, all could fit inside the Amazon. The volume of water is so much that 400 miles out into the Atlantic Ocean you can still drink the water.
The distance from Iquitos, Peru, to the mouth of the Amazon is almost 4,000 miles, yet the river drops only about 400 feet. It is nearly flat. Ocean-going ships can navigate the Amazon all the way to Iquitos, Peru, three-fourths of the way across the South American Continent. Most of the boats, however, are local. They are long and narrow. It is the transportation system in place of roads. The boats carry people, cows, pigs, coconuts, bananas, and everything imaginable.
There are thousands of birds of every kind, huge fish weighing up to 500 pounds, and villages dotting the banks here and there.
I felt led by the Lord to take the cross down the great flowing river. I flew into Iquitos with my daughter, Gina, and Mike Ooten. We bought a boat from some Indians for $1,000. The boat was 55 feet long and 12 feet wide and would carry 150 people. The registered name was “Recieo” but we called it “The Holy Floater.” The partners at TBN television had given us the money through the burden of Paul and Jan. We converted it inside so that four people could sleep. It was complete with mosquito netting, a stove, and two 12 horsepower motors that we purchased in Iquitos. We mounted the cross on the front. I would take the cross down and carry it around the river villages, give out gospel materials, preach, and then move on to the next village by way of the boat. I always had a local guide because the river is so huge with so many lakes that you could get lost for days. Also, you need someone who knew where the villages are located. The guide would also serve as our interpreter.
The following are a few excerpts about this trip from my diary.
“The power of God was so strong and the glory of God so great, you could feel the power of the Holy Spirit come like the rain.”
I lay on the bow of the ship. Oh, the glory of the Lord. What peace and joy on the Amazon. The sunset was awesome. It’s like a year’s weight was lifted from me. Into the night we ran with the drone of the motor mixing with the splashing water. In the clear night, with the full moon and stars, it is easy to see the river and dodge the floating trees.
Today a storm came so quickly. Dark, rolling clouds. Driving rains. Strong winds and huge waves. The boat, with its grass roof and wooden walls, is top heavy. The motor would rise completely out of the water and it was hard to get power. We almost sank, but finally made it to shore.
Today we stopped at a leper colony against the protest of our guide. Gina, Mike and I went ashore with the cross. There were about 5,000 people in the town. The colony was built on poles above the swamp. The residents were so excited to see us. We spent the day with these poor people, many with no hands or feet or eyes. The dying people were housed in a separate building. We visited each dying person and prayed for them. I preached several times in my poor Spanish. The Catholic nuns and priests that helped were gone for supplies, so we did not meet them.
It is so strange how the missionaries are often condemned in the West for exploitation. What is there to exploit here? Where are the leper colonies and jungle hospitals and schools that the atheists support with their donations? I read to the people from the Bible. In the book of Revelation, it says, “One day there will be no more death, sorrow, pain or tears.” How blessed are the healthy.
Leticia, Colombia – We got a hotel room overlooking the Amazon. As the sun sets over the river, it is of the most beautiful colors I have ever seen. Mike, Gina and I began to sing, “From the rising of the sun unto the going down, the Lord’s name is to be praised.” We began to dance in the spirit as David danced before the Lord. We were crying, laughing, dancing, singing and praying. It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life.
I returned to America to take Gina home and bring Joy and Joshua, two more of my children, with me. Joshua was eight and Joy was nine. Mike remained behind on the boat.
We had two five-gallon drums of gasoline for fuel on our boat, but we needed to get one more as we had almost run out of fuel on the way to Leticia. Mike had bought a third drum and they were all in the rear of the boat. When I returned, the smell of gasoline was very strong in the enclosed boat. We cooked supper over the open flame of the kerosene stove, and then went to sleep. But the next morning, I said, “Mike, gasoline is spilled in this boat. The smell is too strong.”
I went to the back where the drums were and tapped the sides of them and two of them sounded with a thud. They were full. The third one rang hollow. My heart almost stopped. “Where is the gasoline, Mike, this one is empty!”
I raised one of the boards that covered the floor and there, underneath us, inside the boat, under the open flame stove, were 55 gallons of sloshing explosive gasoline. I made Joy and Joshua go to the bank and Mike and I began pouring the gasoline into the Amazon River. Soon we were surrounded by a film of gasoline on the water.
As a boat came by we prayed, trusting that no one would throw a cigarette into the Amazon River, igniting a horrendous explosion. Only God had protected us! An explosion in that boat would have blown us to bits, killing us all. And Mike had cooked over it for three weeks.
Joshua wanted to bring his skateboard with him. I protested that there was no place to ride a skateboard along the Amazon River, but he insisted and finally I gave in, but considered it a worthless extra burden for us to bother with.
We had record players that are little cardboard folders with a needle that you fold three times and then stand up. You can take a pencil or a stick and turn the cardboard around and play the record. It doesn’t take batteries. A lot of the local people don’t have money for batteries and couldn’t buy them if they did, but they can play these records. All you have to do is have someone spin them around. We had records in different tribal languages, plus Spanish and Portuguese. Whenever we would go into a village we would leave a Bible, gospel materials in Spanish or Portuguese, then we’d leave Jesus stickers and records. Some records would preach the gospel about Jesus. Others would give basic doctrines so a person would have a fairly good understanding of what was going on just by listening. It didn’t matter if someone could read or not.
We arrived at a primitive village, tied up the boat and walked up. When we got there everybody ran. We couldn’t make contact with the people. Suddenly the Lord gave me an idea. There was a high bank like a hill and it went all the way down to the Amazon where we were parked the boat. The idea was for Joshua to get his skateboard and skateboard down that hill. He said, “No, daddy, you can’t skate down that.”
“Joshua,” I said. “Go get your skateboard. You brought it, so let’s put it to work.”
He got it and we stood on top of the hill. I said, “Joshua, skateboard.”
“Dad,” he said. “It’s too steep!” I can’t stop!”
I said, “Joshua, quit making excuses. Skateboard! I’ve got a feeling it’s going to draw a crowd.”
Joshua got on his skateboard and I said, “Get down the hill.”
He kind of stepped on it and it started gaining speed. Then I realized it was too steep. He couldn’t control the board. He couldn’t stop. There was nothing to stop it and I recall thinking he was going to crash.
As the people that were away from us along the edge saw a little boy riding a board down the steep bank, and they had never seen anything like it before in their lives, they forgot about Joshua and me being strangers. They came running out of the bushes from where they were hidden. They were hollering and hollering, just like at a football match. As Joshua was going down the hill he screamed, “Dad, I’ve got to jump!”
He was heading right into the boat. He jumped off and went rolling. His skateboard crashed into the boat just as he stopped at the water’s edge! People grabbed him. They were helping him up they were his friends, all around him! Joshua took the record player and began to play the record with a pin. The crowd listened and we were able to reach that village because Joshua brought his skateboard to the Amazon.
If God can use a skateboard, He can use anything!
Joy got sick, she was so hot. We prayed for her to be healed but the Lord didn’t heal her immediately, so we had to take that precious nine year-old girl, who became almost incoherent with fever, and dip her into the Amazon to cool her off.
Ordinarily we used just one motor going downstream, but we had to turn on both motors, for I thought she was going to die. It was a day and a half before we could get to a hospital. It was so sad. She just lay there moaning, and I would wet a cloth and put it on her. (She doesn’t even remember most of this.) We finally got to a place where there was a doctor. The office was dirty; there were syringes around everywhere, flies, mosquitoes and filth. This doctor gave her a shot and some pills, and after a little while she started getting better. She still had a fever, but was much better. A few days later it flared up again. We took her to another doctor.
When we went to Manaus, Brazil, which is a big city with over a million people and stayed there a few days and she got sick again, running an extremely high fever. That is when we left the Amazon.
When we arrived back in the United States we found out she had an infection in her kidneys that I guess she had gotten from drinking the water. It took several months for her to get well.
We gave the boat and all of the supplies to the poor in Manaus, Brazil. Hallelujah!