I have returned from my adventure with Justice & Mercy International into the Amazon Jungle! I did not lose a finger to a piranha, and I survived sleeping in a hammock on the deck of a boat for five nights. I got to swim with a pink dolphin, feed a wild monkey, explore the jungle, and ride a boat through some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world.
The trip was not just for exploring the beauty of Brazil, however. Our group of thirty-five women from all over the country bonded through times of Bible study with Kelly Minter and Angela Pharr, worshipped with a sweet group of Brazilian musicians, and had opportunities to serve the people living in the remote villages along the river.
God’s presence was all around, as near as the breezes off the water. I was lifted along by the prayers that I knew were being prayed for me and my fellow travelers from Dalton, Lisa and Suzanne. With time away from the distractions of television, internet, and iPhone, I could hear God’s voice more clearly.
On our second night, Angela Pharr put our group of over forty women and staff into a big circle on the top deck of our boat and asked us to share what we needed on the day before we left for the trip. The responses were heartfelt as people poured out their pain and prayers.
I pondered and decided that what I needed was more of the Holy Spirit.
Frankly, the thought of having more Holy Spirit in my life was frightening. Would I start speaking in tongues and rolling on the floor? Would I become one of those people who are so spiritual that they are of no earthly good? Would I become weird??
I grew up in the traditional church and was there every time the doors were open. I have a seminary degree, have participated in countless women’s groups and Sunday School classes, and have spent many hours poring over the Scriptures on my own. I know the Bible pretty well and love to study and teach it.
But in the last months, I felt I was missing an important piece, the promised Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 1:13)
So, I stepped out on that limb in the weeks before this momentous trip and asked God to fill me. And He didn’t disappoint.
I’m still unpacking the experience, but in the coming weeks I want to share more of what the Holy Spirit taught me on the quiet of the river. Today I’m sharing what I needed, and in the next few weeks we will look at what I found and what I left behind.
The jungle hides its secrets. When we took an early morning walk through a path in the brush, we saw fascinating trees, huge termite mounds, and vines and bushes living in a complex pattern of interrelatedness, but the only sounds we heard were the shrill call of the screaming pihi birds somewhere in the canopy above us. Compared to my Southern woods full of birds and squirrels, the jungle was downright quiet. The animals there have developed camouflage that makes them invisible to the untrained eye. I was hoping for a glimpse of a parrot or toucan in the wild, but no luck.
The Negro River, which we were on for most of the trip, is dark and black, and I could not see even a few inches below the surface. After each meal on the boat, we were instructed to throw our food scraps into the water and I always looked to see if a fish would jump up to grab something, but the leftovers floated gently to the shore.
These animals do not want to be seen.
To the experienced men who served as our jungle guides for the week, the river and forest look very different. One night we took off in our smaller boats (think Disney Jungle Cruise) in search of caimans, a variety of alligator that we were told can grow up to twenty feet.
Our guide stood on the prow of the boat with a large flashlight, as gleeful as a boy. He directed the driver to pull slowly along the side of the tributary and as the boat idled, he suddenly thrust his hand into the water and came out holding a baby caiman around the neck!
He carefully passed it around to our group of delighted women and we each had our pictures taken with the scary looking little guy.
Although this caiman was small, he did have sharp teeth. Through the translator, I asked our guide, “How do you know how to put your hand in so that you are not getting its teeth?”
“I look for the eyes,” he replied, “and grab behind them.”
Our guide knew how to pull that caiman out of the water because he was experienced — he has probably been doing it since he was paddling around on a canoe as a boy, He has trained himself to know the sounds, smells, and imperceptible movements of the jungle, which are unseen to me.
Often my interactions with God seem as impenetrable as the dense rainforest foliage. I can read the Bible, scan commentaries, follow Christian podcasts, be vigilant with my devotionals, and talk to friends and it skims off me as it I was Teflon. None of it penetrates the distractions and walls I let in.
God showed me on the river that I need to have clear and focused eyes to see the working of the Holy Spirit in and around my life. This verse from Ephesians has struck me:
“I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do..”Ephesians 1:18, The Message
As I gazed at the clear blue sky on the top deck of the Splendor, my prayer was for the Holy Spirit to give me discernment and to open my heart to what He wanted me to take away from that place. I prayed for clear and focused eyes so that I would be aware of the power that comes from the Holy Spirit working within me.
The result has been a peace of knowing, of feeling sure of my faith and of the presence of the Holy Spirit within me.
I encourage you to read Ephesians 1:17-19 and insert me and I each time Paul uses you. I was surprised at the power of these verses when I applied them to myself on that personal level. God promises in these verses to let us in on His magnificent mysteries and to know what he would have us to do.