As Monday morning dawned, it hit me that this was the day we would head for the infamous “Amazon Jungle”. Yikes! I had been so courageous from a million miles away but now, only a 5 hour drive and a 45 minute flight out, fear showed up. Gulp. I thought about the trip ahead of us and simply tried to give my “scaredness” to God. He had always been faithful to hold my hand, even my whole being, in other times of fear. On that Monday, I was fully in His hands. “Hold me Jesus, ’cause I’m shaking like a leaf. You have been my King of Glory. Won’t You be my Prince of Peace?” (Rich Mullins)
Rick gathered all of the stuff we would need for the jungle and we loaded up in the Jeep Cherokee for a long, frightening 5 hour drive. (Did I say frightening? I really meant harrowing, horrifying and terrifying.) Rick is an excellent driver and I am convinced that his skillful driving kept us safe on more than one occasion. He has very quickly acquired Ecuadorian driving skills; however, safe driving in Ecuador means, well, aggressive driving. Nothing is off limits when driving. The shoulder, when there is one. The dotted highway line. The double yellow line. Curbs. The oncoming lane. The oncoming shoulder. I’ve never seen more strangers more clearly through a car window than on this trip. Often, we were so close to adjacent vehicles that I could clearly see up the nostrils of the person in the other car. Nostril gazing has never been a favorite pastime of mine and it certainly was not one of the reasons I had come to Ecuador. I won’t drag out the details of the drive as this email would quickly become quite lengthy but I will say that, at one point, we all three saw our lives pass before our very eyes. I think I actually saw James’ and Rick’s life pass before my eyes as well. You see, the great Pan American Freeway is only two lanes most of the time and even degrades to dirt in some places. As we cruised along at about 100km/h in our Cherokee, a huge, army green dump truck in the oncoming lane turned across our lane in a split second. I think he was making an emergency restroom stop which, of course, almost prompted the same in me the minute I saw him careening across our lane. My assumption is that he did not think we would see him in his camouflage vehicle. Old Ricardo; aka Rick, slammed on the brakes while simultaneously honking the horn and turning the Jeep into the oncoming lane. (It is a requirement in Ecuador to be able to operate the horn in any situation and to be open to the use of any and all lanes. I concluded that there must be an entire unit in driver’s training devoted to these skills.) We barely missed the huge truck as we swerved back into our lane and continued our journey. Eventually, the color came back into my face and my gut receded back down my throat to it’s normal position. James regained consciousness in the back seat and Ricardo whistled as he transported us along to our jungle destiny, honking at all the friendly La Policia (police) along the way. God’s protective hand upon us was evident. I was really glad that I neither vomited nor, well, other things that aren’t fit to mention in an email to friends.
We were back on track, flying on four wheels through the most overwhelmingly beautiful country I’ve ever experienced. Huge, huge mountains covered in green farmland. There were farms all the way up the side of beautiful, lush green mountains. Some farms were so high up on the mountainsides they appeared to be at a 45 degree angle. James and I could not figure out how you would even stand on such a piece of land let alone farm it. Ecuador is also the worlds leading producer of roses, so greenhouses were spread throughout the mountainous landscape. Imagining working in many of these precariously placed greenhouses reminded me something of what it was like in Casa Magnetica at Six Flags, the crooked house. How does one tend to roses standing on a 45 degree incline? I am assuming that anything not tacked to the table soon ended up on the far wall. The scenery was breathtaking.
At the completion of the first mountain tunnel, Rick swerved to the right, exhibiting his typical missionary humor, and told us to look out our windows. Nausea quickly overcame me as I could not see the bottom of the gorge over the cliff we were driving beside. James estimated that is was a 1500 foot drop, I think. I estimated that if Rick had been 4 inches closer to the edge, which had no rail, we would have become the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang of Ecuador meeting Jesus with a bang at the bottom of the canyon. But, once again Rick’s skillful driving kept us on track and on schedule and his missionary humor kept us nauseous, but happy.
Finally, after many adventures including fresh cut sugar cane, beautiful rivers, harrowing mountain passes, in transit car washes and a fuming volcano, we arrived in Shell, Ecuador. Shell Ecuador was the headquarters of the missionaries who began ministry to the natives of the Amazon jungle. Many of you may be familiar with the missionaries Jim Elliott and Nick Saint. These two men, along with three others, flew a yellow prop plane into the Amazon to take the gospel to the Auca Indians. Sadly, because of an issue that was brewing in the village, these missionary men were met with spears and literally gave their lives for the gospel. A two week canoe trip back into the jungle was necessary to retrieve their bodies. Their wives and families later returned to go back into the jungle and preach the gospel to these natives. Elizabeth Elliott stayed two years and Nick Saint’s sister, Rachel, stayed 35 years. They were successful in reaching the Auca’s for Christ and by the power of God, ending their age old custom of vengeful spearing. It is an amazing story that has been depicted in two recent movies: The End of the Spear and Out of the Gates of Splendor. After returning, Laura and I watched both of these movies back to back in their entirety. They are very, very inspiring and interesting. (Yes, Rick, I stayed completely awake through both. It was a modern day miracle.) We had the privilege of touring the old bunkhouse where the mission was born and where the wives received the news of their husbands’ death. It was powerfully sobering. Such courage and faith in the name of Christ. Their deaths literally paved the way for the advancing of the gospel into the Amazon jungle.
Here, in Shell, we met Rick and Sharon LeBeuf. Rick is a pilot who had just recently began flying folks back into the jungle again in his little 4 seater, single gasoline engine powered plane. Rick and Sharon are wonderful, godly people who greeted us with love and grace. James instantly connected with Sharon as she greeted him with, “Would you like a cup of coffee?” Ah, those magic words – the sign of true Christian fellowship. James was tickled and readily agreed, as did I. We sat and visited with Rick and Sharon for quite a while before we set out for the adventure of our lifetime. The wonderful, godly people that God has placed along my path never ceases to amaze me. Sharon blessed us with her hospitality and then Rick prepared to fly us to our jungle destination, the Schuar village of Kusutka.
I’ll stop here hoping that at least one of you might read this lengthy treatise and be inspired to read the sequel.
Recently, a dear brother in Christ encouraged me to name my “newsletter”. He is a gifted writer and informed me that all good newsletters have a title. So, I’ve dubbed these rantings, “Windows”. While in Ecuador many of the people who understood a small amount of English often thought my name was Window. Wendell sounded much like the English word for ventana, window. As it stands, I would be very grateful to be a window to the love and grace of Christ, so, I named the newsletter Windows. If you ever tire of receiving these or simply do not want them, all you have to do is reply and and ask me to remove you. My feelings will not be hurt. I hate inbox clutter and don’t want to add to yours.
May the awesome grace of the Eternal, Holy God, Jehovah, fill you today.