Leading students to learn in the jungle - Justice & Mercy International

Leading students to learn in the jungle

Written by Dr. Chris Barton, Belmont University Professor and JMI Board Member

Years ago, I remember receiving an email from Jason Hale at Rolling Hills Church asking me to join his team headed to the Amazon. I wish I could say I went and had an amazing experience, but I can’t. I immediately thought of all the reasons why I couldn’t go. I also hadn’t been on a mission trip since my teenage years, so boats, hammocks, and the Amazon River seemed a bit much. 

It turns out that Jason planted a seed that wouldn’t grow until years later when Nic Allen, another pastor at Rolling Hills, asked me to join his team. God gave me a nudge that said, “Let’s go.”  So I nervously…and hesitantly…agreed.

I traveled to the Amazon, stepped onto the boat, and tried to get comfortable in my hammock. But I soon realized that I’d brought a stomach bug shared with me by my oldest son two days prior. I’ve learned so many things about life during my time in Brazil – one of the truest being that a hammock on a moving boat in the heat of the Amazon jungle is easily the worst place to have a stomach bug.  Convince me otherwise!

Despite that (thankfully) very short-lived illness, the truth is that even before arriving in Manaus, God knew I was about to fall in love with that boat, the jungle, Justice & Mercy International, the Amazon team, and the amazing pastors and people in the villages along the river.  The Amazon is one of my favorite places in the world – not just because of the beauty of the river and the jungle – but because of the people. 

People like Sarah, Camila, Priscila, Lucas, and the rest of the Justice & Mercy Amazon team have an inspiring faith and love for ministry in that region. Pastor Josias (whom I’ve had the honor of serving with on my past two trips) has committed his life to serving those in need along the riverbanks and telling people about Jesus. 

There’s just something about being on that boat and in those villages that is life-giving.  I’ve often heard that “mission trips impact those serving more than the ones being served,” and that statement describes every trip I’ve taken to the Amazon.

I’ll forever be thankful for my job as faculty at Belmont University. The privilege of teaching and mentoring college students is one I’ll never take lightly. When I was hired twelve years ago, I never imagined that teaching and mentoring in the classroom would not be the most important thing I’d get to do with my students. God was weaving together a plan that started long before I arrived in the Amazon. 

Last March, I returned from my third trip to the Amazon, this time with 24 Belmont students (it was my second trip leading a student team).  While my first trip will always be memorable, there’s something extra special in watching college students pour into village children and families.  I see these students gain perspectives on life that they didn’t previously have. Witnessing students impacted by God, realizing their faith, and choosing to give their lives to Jesus is an amazing experience.  After twelve years of being on faculty at Belmont, taking students to Brazil and watching them minister to children and families in different villages is easily the most impactful thing I get to do in my job. (Pictured below: Dr. Barton baptizes a student in the Amazon River 2024.)

If you haven’t been to the Amazon with JMI…GO!  You may find that the trip presents you with opportunities you never knew existed. If you’ve been previously, find someone and ask them to go with you again!  They may first say “no,” but that’s where my story started, too, and I’m so glad I got asked again. By asking someone else to go, you may be planting a seed for missions that won’t take root for years. It’s totally worth getting involved and getting others involved in the work of Justice & Mercy International.

A trip to the Amazon with JMI is an unforgettable adventure. Learn more at justiceandmercy.org/amazon-trip.

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