When dreaming about where I’d hoped my life would take me I never imagined that being part of Justice & Mercy International’s Annual Jungle Pastor’s Conference, in the middle of the Amazon, would be one of my life’s greatest joys. It just never crossed my mind. I suppose I had grander aspirations, you know, like glamorous travel, or tagging along with the wealthy and influential. Spending a week in smothering heat while being among the largely uneducated, in obscurity, had never elicited the response, how fast can I get there? I’m more grateful than ever that the Lord actually gives us the desires of our heart instead of granting us the objects of what we think are our desires. Because if I’d followed what I thought would fulfill my desires I would have never made it to the Jungle Pastor’s Conference.
Reason #1: God’s Power Rests on the “Simple”
At our very first conference I met a Pastor named Naum. I asked him a few questions about his ministry to which he replied by sharing a great blessing the Lord had recently provided: a job in the city cleaning toilets for 20 reais a day (approx. $5). This meant by week’s end he had 100 reais with which to fuel his canoe. He would then ride three hours to the village he ministered in and preach the weekend services while he and his wife and daughter slept in hammocks in the backside of the church. He was ecstatic with this setup.
As pastor Naum was speaking, my interpreter discreetly mentioned, “this is a very simple man.” She wasn’t being unkind, she was simply letting me know that his grammar among other things belied his lack of education and the fact that he’d grown up a product of the jungle. Five years later I’d nearly forgotten her words until sitting through a series of conversations with several jungle pastors and their wives who kept mentioning the name, Pastor Naum. Two jungle pastors credited Naum with leading them to the Lord, and one was discipled by him in ministry. Another couple testified of his providing a field for them to minister in, along with a house. As these men and women heralded Naum’s influence on their lives, those words sprung into my consciousness: a simple man. And I remembered Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1:27, “God chose the weak things of this world to shame the strong.” Pastor Naum is one of the weakest strongest men I know, and it took the Lord bringing me all the way to Naum’s feet to remind me that true greatness in the Kingdom sometimes means what the world would consider simple. If simple means great, Pastor Naum is the simplest man I know.
Reason #2: We Really Do Live by Faith
Pastor Diago told me the story of not having the money to purchase the five-day boat fare required to get the conference. He decided he’d take his canoe out to fish for the fare. After a few days he’d caught and sold enough fish to cover a one-way ticket to the conference.
As he told me this story his smile was practically splitting his face in two he was so happy to be there. But it occurred to me that a one-way ticket wouldn’t return him home. Because I’m smart like this. “Pastor Diago”, I inserted. “I love the faith it took you to get here, but how are you getting the money for the fare to return home?” He looked at me with these perplexed eyes, “Oh, I have no idea how I’m getting home. I’m just glad I’m here!” He didn’t even need to tell me that God would provide for him—this was understood. Because the jungle pastors and their wives don’t merely talk about faith, they actually live by it, and remind me I must too.
Reason #3: The Joy of Fellowship is Worth Canoeing for
Several of the pastors and their wives travel several days, mostly by boat, to attend the pastor’s conference. Yes, they are there for the teaching, training, worship and food. But as much as anything, they’re there for the fellowship. And so am I. I don’t know that a greater joy exists on earth than this particular joy. Gathering around the shared life of Jesus, exchanging stories of triumph and prayers answered, and ones of heart-wrenching sadness, like the couple who lost their eight year-old boy in a flood only nine months prior. I sense the presence of Jesus in every shared story, moment of prayer, banter over the dinner table, embrace and laughter. Every year this remarkable week in the jungle reminds me to slow down and drink deeply of this unique gift to believers: the gift of fellowship. And it reminds me that it’s one of the only prizes in the world worth jumping in a canoe for, rowing days and days to experience its joy.
The Jungle Pastors’ Conference is the centerpiece of JMI’s work in the Amazon. All of our other programs flow out of it and support the work of these pastors in their villages. Our dream is to one day host 5 jungle pastor conferences annually–one on each major river in the Amazon region of Brazil. Help us make that dream come true by giving today!