Alarms started going off at 4:15am, this was a bother because I had hoped to sleep until 4:45am. It was our second night in tents with an air pad to dull the cold hard concrete. We were to pack up and be out by 5:00 am to start loading the boat for our river trip to the upper Paranapura. Our next night would be in an indigenous Shawi village.
Our group consisted of five girls and one guy from our Bible school, Aaron and then Janel and I. We were joining another missionary, our guide, Josh Hire and his daughter who jumped in the boat last minute. It took three trips in a three wheeled pickup to get our luggage, supplies and students to the boat. After some last minute changes we were off, up the river with a loaded boat and 40hp pushing us into the current.
I asked multiple times how long we were expected to travel this day and received very vague answers. As it turned out, this is a very mysterious formula to figure, it depends on the boat, the load, the driver and the depth of the water. We immediately knew it would be a long day because of our heavy boat, it would not go up on plane, so we plowed thru the water. After getting 2/3 of the way there, 1 pm, we started to run out of water and were beaching the boat in various shallow spots. So we pushed and shoved to find the deeper water. As we were getting frustrated with this, the Shawi pastor showed up in his 10 meter dug out canoe with a 9hp peque-peque engine (modified lawnmower engine). We split the load and sent half of the group ahead, those who stayed fought the boat and luggage thru the shallows. Pretty soon the motor was hitting sunken logs and churning up the mud with the propellor. Then the motor gave out. Part of our drive shaft was busted and we were up a river with no motor – or paddle.
Our Shawi pastor, Alberto, showed up again wondering what was taking us so long as it was pushing 5 pm now. He had the foresight to bring an extra engine he had borrowed with only 9hp but the long shaft so that it did not drag in the dirt. We all arrived at Pucalpillo by 6:30, after dark, and the community was waiting for the special evening service.
This evening meeting, like the four meetings we attended was quite fascinating and at times a bit disturbing. Obviously we were in a different culture, denomination, language and many more differences. The meeting started off with a techno beat programed into the yamaha organ and an andean wynyo melody. As soon as they started the singing some dancers stepped out and formed up in six person rectangle and did a pattern dance. It was hard to decipher the melody or words partly because of the language. The only way we could tell the song changed was the dance steps changed. One of the disturbing parts in the meeting was when a couple of dancers went into a trance like state and did “crazy” dancing. Everyone ignored them and continued. After the dancing there was a message that was translated to Shawi or quickly summarized into Spanish when pastor Alberto spoke. To finish it off they prayed very earnestly in a weepy wailing and returned to the dancing and singing again. It was a big community event and really there was no other show in town to compete. Usually after we made it to our tents and to bed we could still hear the generator and music.
As soon as we arrived at Pucalpillo one of the leaders there informed me that “the bathroom was over there behind the blue tarp”. Sure enough they had a fresh hole dug with a couple of boards over it and a hole cut between the board. Baths were just a matter of going to the river, best after dark for privacy. Our sleeping quarters were a general wood floored room on stilts and everyone picked a corner for a tent. Eating meals was greatly improved by the dried goods we brought in our bins and a couple of pastor’s wives who put their time in to cook for us on the wood fires. We were a bit scarce on meat and only were provided two chickens as offerings by villagers.
On Wednesday we again got in two canoes, as our boat was out of commission, and went about an hour up river to the village of San Juan. The river got narrower and we found a few places to push and rock the canoes. Lots of sticks and logs in the river threatened to block our way. Again we arrived to our new quarters and to another hole in the ground bathroom which we were very grateful for. By this time Aaron was sick and later Janel got the stomach bug. This time we were in an upstairs apartment with a tin roof that made things either hot or loud when it rained. All day it seemed like we were walking in mud and had our feet oozing wet. In the evenings it turned rather cool.
Our Bible students did their children program as in the previous village. This village had better Spanish comprehension but still the lessons were done thru a translator. There were about one hundred children in each town. It was especially fun to see our students try to teach games thru a language barrier. For many of our Peruvian students this was the most foreign part of the country they had ever been in. Many of the indigenous girls would paint their hands and feet with a clear plant resin that turned black in a few hours and stayed on for a couple of weeks.
This town had only recently opened up to the gospel. One of the projects we planned was to deliver something like 40 water filtration systems. So on Thursday we set up the two bucket system with a filter and hose between. It was a big deal with teachers calling off school to teach some hygiene and the use of clean water. Our missionary guide, Josh was quite surprised to see how much progress the gospel made since his last visit a year or more ago. There is something of a revival going on in the Shawi villages along the upper Paranapura.
In one of the interesting conversations I had with pastor Alberto, we discussed healing and miracles. He had story after story to tell me about the medical situations that he had prayed over and seen healing power displayed. Prayer is quite an art form here, not just your regular talking to God, more of a crying out to God with some very hyped up emotions involved. When done at the end of the service, it was accompanied with music and various ones wailing as the pastor prayed. Some of it felt a bit fake so I wanted to hear Alberto out on this. As we talked I was shown the desperate need for healing that they had, especially with few and poor medical choices. The witch doctor is a real option for them because of their desperation. So with a spiritual revival afoot in the village it was reasonable for people to cry out to God in their health needs. I was quite impressed but also had to point out the greater miracle I had seen over and over. I have seen God gets a hold of a life and really transform it. People who are at the end of their rope with ruined families, bad finances, addictions and trashed reputations, upon whom God infuses a new nature thru the Holy Spirit, then the changes come and they are good for eternity. Healing is good until the next illness, but eternal life can start now and last forever.
Our return trip started again with alarm clocks at 4:45 am Friday and the expert folding and rolling up of tents. On Thursday afternoon our boat had magically come up river sporting a replacement 15hp outboard, towed by a canoe. We packed our baggage and tents down the slope and across the beach, to the boat. We decided to get a couple of canoes to lighten the boat and get us down river a couple of hours to deeper water. About 9:30 we were finally on our own and chugging down river all in our original boat. We did the math and calculated the hours our trip would take with the smaller engine. Finally we were within cellphone coverage and called ahead asking for a vehicle to meet us at a wayside village with road access in order to shorten our boat ride. So at 5:00 pm we were unloading the boat and climbing the slippery port stairs out of the river and up to the waiting vehicle. One of the items to get out of the boat was the broken down 40hp outboard, boy that was a chore. It took us about an hour to get in to Yurimaguas and it saved us about 3 hours on the boat with little chance of navigation at night. Josh’s wife Jeniffer was waiting for us with a true hot meal when we arrived. We were almost home, all we had to do was load into a couple of vehicles and travel back to the Bible institute arriving after 10pm on Friday.