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Riverboat Ministry Engages Unreached People Group in Peruvian Amazon

November 10, 2017

Riverboat Ministry Engages Unreached People Group in Peruvian Amazon

November 10, 2017
(Nov. 10, 2017 - by Theresa With)  In the Peruvian Amazon, the Shipibo people group expectantly awaited a special visit. They lined the banks of the Ucayali River, eager to greet the visitors with song and dance.

Participants in Mision a Bordo on the riverboat El Evangelista.In late September the 98-foot long riverboat El Evangelista (The Evangelist) once again carried outreach teams from Misión a Bordo (Mission Aboard) to those people. The visitors brought much-needed healthcare to the villagers in addition to providing children’s activities and evangelistic outreaches.

This marked the 12th year of the annual outreach, this year involving 53 team members and mission participants. Their mission, according to organizer Américo Saavedra, is “to demonstrate God’s heart for people through simple acts of love and service.” That goal has been the vision of Misión a Bordo from its founding.

The indigenous Shipibo people living in river communities are still considered an unreached people group, according to Joshua Project. Not only do residents welcome the medical assistance, they also anticipate the interaction, support and encouragement from the mission teams.

Team members lead a game with children in one of the villages.Disembarking from the vessel to do ministry in the villages daily, team members treat patients, share Bible stories and engage with children and families. They also invite the villagers to attend evangelistic services each evening.

This year’s medical team saw almost 600 patients, and mission participants ministered to dozens of children in five river communities. The large river vessel serves as a floating missions conference in tandem with the outreach work during the five-day excursion. The triple-decker boat is an impressive sight for the villagers who are accustomed to navigating this large tributary of the Amazon with narrow dugout canoes.

Departing from the port city of Pucallpa, Peru, the riverboat made stops in the villages of Santa Isabel, Nuevo Paraíso, Santa Marta, Vista Alegre and Dinamarca. Team members were primarily Peruvian, although they also included several Venezuelans, Brazilians and U.S. missionaries. Staff members provided logistics and program direction while serving as boat crew and volunteers. All 32 mission participants came to learn and experience foreign missions firsthand, some for the first time.
Rebeca MamaniOne 2016 Misión a Bordo participant, Rebeca Mamani, a nurse from Arequipa, Peru, encouraged six Brazilian friends to attend this year, and they did. She now attends Reach Beyond’s Corrientes (Currents) program in Quito, Ecuador. Corrientes trains, mentors and equips Latin Americans for missionary service.

The theme for this year’s venture was “Hacer Misión Es Nuestra Pasión” (Doing Missions Is Our Passion). Classroom subjects and speakers’ messages aboard the ship revolved around God’s passion for His mission, reiterating the theme.

According to Pastor Eliezer González (one of the speakers), Saavedra “brought a powerful message about the missionary call and Barnabas,” and anthropologist Dr. Jim Yost “spoke to us about cultures and worldview.” Another speaker, Irma Espinoza, reminded participants “to use sensitivity in dealing with the indigenous brothers.”

Three services were held in local churches in the river communities. González recalled that after preaching one night, two women went to the altar and waited for him to pray with them to receive the Lord.

“How much joy we find in these forgotten peoples, especially in the lives of those who already know the Lord,” González remarked. He observed that even though many live in small open huts and have limited varieties of food, they have the joy of the Lord.
Gathering for a time of prayer.
The teaching and ministry that takes place during the Misión a Bordo experience impacts not only the Shipibo people in the communities, but also the young recruits who travel on board. Some of the reactions and testimonies shared from this year’s participants were, “I will never be the same again—I have seen ‘real people’ and real needs,” and “My church needs to get out—there are people out there that need to hear about Jesus.” One other made a statement of commitment, saying, “Lord, here I am … it’s me—send me!”

Misión a Bordo also exists to serve the Latin American church community, providing an opportunity for young believers to engage in training and get a firsthand look at missions. The connection of the ministry with hundreds of Peruvian and Latin American churches has opened opportunities to raise awareness of the need to reach beyond the walls of the church and become involved with missions.

The outreach is a partnership involving Reach Beyond and local believers. Saavedra, associate director of Apoyo (Support), Reach Beyond’s pastoral/leadership development program for Latin American leaders, has helped coordinate the river trip since its inception.

Worship time aboard El Evangelista.Conditions on the riverboat are often uncomfortable for visitors with hot, humid temperatures, cramped quarters and a multitude of insects. González, however, was impressed with how participants and team members maintained upbeat attitudes, remembering the discomforts that missionaries often endure.

One noticeable difference in this year’s trip was that the Ucayali River water level was significantly lower than usual, making navigation difficult. Typically held in late September, Saavedra observed, “In the last couple of years we’ve noticed a shift in the weather pattern, causing the river to be exceptionally low. So we decided to hold next year’s trip in late March when the river is higher and access to the villages is easier.”

Villagers who received the healthcare and gospel message from the Misión a Bordo teams were excited and grateful as always. González stated, “Every year my heart is inflamed to see the special welcome of the communities upon our arrival and our mission. Almost the whole community walks to the riverbank to sing, dance and tell us that we are welcome.”

Equally heartwarming is the departure of the teams. At the end of the visit, one villager stated, “Please stay.... We need you!” Another commented, “Our community thanks you … our children will miss you … you will come back, won’t you?”

Yes, Lord willing, a team will be back, helping carry out the Great Commission to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).

Sources: Reach Beyond, Joshua Project