Baptized in the Waters of the Amazon - Justice & Mercy International

Baptized in the Waters of the Amazon

Written by Jayden Stidham, Belmont University student

When the chance to go on a week-long trip to the Amazon came up during my human anatomy class, I wasn’t sure what to think. It seemed like a wild idea, but I signed up anyway because, hey, it sounded like a cool adventure for spring break. At the first meeting, though, I started feeling doubtful about my spiritual readiness for the trip. I’ve always been curious about faith-based stuff, but I’ve never been very committed. Still, I was over the moon when they said I could go! As we had more meetings, I started worrying that I wouldn’t have much to offer the families we would meet. I didn’t grow up in a super religious home, so I felt like I was missing something compared to the other students who seemed really connected to their faith.

On the first day in the village, I was assigned to work the VBS alongside other students. I felt incredibly small when I realized I didn’t even know the Bible story we were teaching the children. While I knew some common children’s Bible stories, I was more interested in just spending time with the kids, helping them with crafts, rather than spreading the word of Jesus. Each morning after breakfast, we gathered for our daily devotional, where we sang worship songs, and one student shared a message. I didn’t know many of the songs and felt hesitant to sing along, even though the lyrics were right in front of me. Seeing other students singing confidently with their hands raised made me feel intimidated. I started to wonder if I had bitten off more than I could chew and if others would impact the village communities more than I could.

However, my roommate, who was also on the trip, encouraged me to connect with the other nursing students so we could hang out together more the next day. They welcomed us into their group, unknowingly becoming a significant influence on my trip experience. For the rest of the week, I rotated through clinic duties, VBS, and home visits.

For the first time in a long while, I felt the presence of the Lord strongly during our visit to a particular home. It belonged to a pastor and his wife who had left the comforts of a big city to answer what they believed was God’s call to serve in this small village. They shared how they felt compelled by God to speak His word to the people here and had left everything behind to follow this path. Their story hit home because my own family had made a similar move when I was 15, though I hadn’t recognized it as God’s work back then. I had carried some resentment about leaving everything familiar behind. Their courage and faith stirred something within me, and I felt God softening my heart. Throughout the week, I sensed a shift happening within me, as if God was opening up a new chapter I hadn’t anticipated.

Upon returning from the trip, I discovered new ways to nurture my faith. I began praying more regularly and started journaling, using a gift—a one-year Bible. The first entry in my journal, made shortly after my return from the Amazon, concluded with the line, “I need to turn my head to God and ask for His leading hand.” Looking back on it now, I cannot even fathom how the Lord knew exactly where I was going before I did.  One of the Belmont professors who organized and joined us on the trip, Dr. Chris Barton, had shared a scripture from Luke. It spoke about how Jesus walked alongside his disciples, yet they didn’t recognize him until it was too late, and he had vanished. This resonated deeply with me, helping me grasp the miraculous ways the Lord has worked in my life over the years.

My friends and I were already planning to sign up for the trip again next year as soon as we landed. Six out of the eight of us decided to return for year two. Around December 2023, I felt ready to take the next step in my spiritual journey. I reached out to Dr. Barton, expressing my desire to be baptized if the opportunity arose during our return to the Amazon, in the very place where I rediscovered my faith. One morning, after breakfast and devotional, he took us all off the boat to a small beach where we were docked and baptized me in the river alongside all the people I love so dearly.

The second trip to the Amazon surpassed even the first in its impact. Returning to a village I’d visited before and seeing familiar faces that had stayed with me since the previous year moved me deeply. This time around, I opened myself up to a broader faith experience, letting God show me His presence and the ways He works in these communities. Unlike last year, I prayed openly in the homes we visited, and I even shared my personal testimony. Walking alongside God throughout that week reinforced for me that I’m never alone.

A trip to the Amazon with JMI is an unforgettable adventure. Learn more at

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