Our trip to Africa a couple of years ago was amazing, fun and inspiring; however, Africa itself was far different than I had ever imagined in my mind. There were no giraffes. No elephants, although Andy claims he has seen some. No monkeys, rhinoceros, etc, etc, etc. The landscape was vast and beautiful but it was dry and somewhat barren. Little did I know that my mental pictures of Africa were of East Africa. We visited West Africa during the end of the dry season. Anyway, I love West Africa now – even the “barren” landscape – but I definitely had my expectations/preconceptions smashed whenever we visited. The Amazon, however, met more of what I expected. It was overwhelming and seemingly endless.
As Monday morning bore on, James and I waited expectantly for our plane trip into the “infamous” Amazon Jungle. Rick and Sharon’s yard was populated with “Guava” trees, green lemon trees, large flowering plants and some birds the likes of which I had never seen before. The lemons in Ecuador are green on the outside, orange on the inside and lemon in taste. It really blows your mind. They look like huge lime-oranges but taste exactly like lemons. And, of course, that is because they ARE lemons. We finished our coffee with Sharon, Rick and Rick and headed for the little 4 seater plane.
It’s interesting, the flight in and out never evoked fear in me. For some reason small planes have never bothered me. I guess I always figured that you were safer in a small plane since you were closer to the ground. (I know that is stupid.) The ground in the Amazon is covered for as far as the eye can see with huge trees and lush greenery. We loaded the little plane with 100 pounds more than we were supposed to bring and literally taxied out of Rick’s backyard, through his fence, onto the runway. He piloted us down the runway, turned the nose into the wind and put the hammer down. Rick Nanez and I sat crammed into the small back seat with the end of a guitar case sticking out between our heads. James had his knees tucked up under his chin in the copilot seat desperately hoping to avoid inadvertently manipulating any of the controls. It was not an easy task in the midget sized cabin. As the little plane sped down the asphalt airstrip, lifted us into the Ecuadorian air and banked back toward the largest ocean of trees I had ever seen in my life, my heart was soaring. As far as I was concerned, to be in the cabin of a plane piloted by a strong Christ follower like Rick LeBouef, sitting beside my dear, dear friend from Iowa Park High School, Rick Nanez, with my good brother Santiago “manning” the co-pilot controls was better than riding first class in an Air Bus headed to the Bahamas. My heart overflowed and my eyes filled with tears. The engine noise was deafening but the music in my soul filled my whole being. The opportunities I have been granted to witness God at work in incredible places is simply overwhelming. Who am I to have enjoyed such privilege and adventure? The incredible nature of the grace of God is sometimes almost unbearable.
The phrase “God’s Green Earth” took on new meaning for James and I that day. My friends, I have never witnessed anything like it. As far as the eye could see, there was green. It was much like the feeling of being on an overseas trip except for the fact that you are surrounded by green and not blue. It was mind-boggling. And just about the time I had envisioned how we would crash land the plane into the tops of trees, if necessary, a spot of little houses would appear typically beside a long, thin green “runway”. I put that word in quotes because, well, it worked as a runway but left a lot to be desired. All throughout the trip at different intervals little Ecuadorian villages would appear out of nowhere in the jungle. I could see the houses and the runway but not much else. Trees, trees, trees, villages and rivers. Winding like huge brown snakes throughout the trip to Kusutka were the rivers that feed the massive Amazon River. We never actually saw the Amazon River but I kept thinking that we were seeing it each time we passed over one of these long, wide rivers. They moved through the jungle like serpents winding their way to the amazing Amazon River. The beauty was truly indescribable. Interestingly enough, my Blackberry had service for about the first 20 minutes of the trip so I had the wonderful privilege of shooting pictures from the plane and emailing them right from my seat high above the Amazon back to my friends at work. What a strange combination: Digital Pictures flying out the window of a little four seater plane while it cuts through the atmosphere above the Amazon Jungle. Go figure.
Finally, Rick circled and below we could see the village of Kusutka. Lush green plants were everywhere surrounding wooden structures and some pop up tents that were occupied by a visiting missionary team that was building some structures for the Schuar Indians in Kusutka. Scraped out of the middle of all of this was a long narrow strip of light green that would serve as our runway. The villagers keep it accessible by chopping back the vegetation using machetes in order to make it easy for visitors to “drop in”. We began our descent and soon were bouncing along the “tarmac” surrounded by the thickest, greenest vegetation I had ever witnessed. Rick LeBouef popped open the pilot’s side window and the thick, warm jungle air rushed into the back seat. Soon we were turning into the village airport “terminal”. Wow. Kusutka.
As Rick turned the little plane into the airplane “parking” area; i.e. a large piece of cleared land covered with grass, about a dozen kids came running directly at the plane. It was a bit disconcerting as it didn’t seem too unlikely that one of them might end up in the propeller; however, they were wise enough to stay at “wings” length. They jumped up and down with joy at the sight of visitors. They were nothing short of beautiful. Little brown children with broad white smiles. Just the sight of these little ones brought great joy to my heart. Everywhere God has graciously sent me has always been populated with wonderful little smiling people. Rick shooed them back from the plane for fear that someone might get hurt and then he killed the engine. We could see the little village, hear the sound of its residents and over it all the sound of power saws and gasoline powered generators pierced the air. The missionary team that was already there was hard at work.
I’ll leave this segment with this thought. There was a powerful sense of isolation as I contemplated where we were and what it would take to get out. Literally, the only way out of the jungle other than by air is a 9 hour walk down a “trail” that crosses rivers via logs and winds its way through thick, thick jungle ending in the one village that has a true road. Here we were, out in the middle of the Amazon jungle surrounded by thick vegetation and a people who were nothing like us in any way. They didn’t look like us. They didn’t speak our language. They didn’t live like us. Nothing about the surroundings were familiar. Everything was strange. Yet, there was a deep sense of God’s presence in my soul and in the “air”. To step out in faith definitely evokes fear; however, I believe that is often the sign that indicates you are truly stepping out in faith. Even with that in mind as I recall that visit, I can honestly say that my Father was so very near to us and that His presence was clearly evidenced in the Schuar people of Kusutka and the missionaries who were serving them. It was truly amazing…
May the powerful presence of God be made known to you in tangible ways. Step out in faith today trusting the only One who is eternally trustworthy.