It’s 7 p.m. in Beni, Bolivia and I have about three more hours before Captain Manuel shuts off the generator and I have to write by flashlight. I’m not sure if the humming I hear is the engine, the fan whirring in the corner, or the insects buzzing outside my window.
Like the rest of the crew and passengers, I am staying in an 8 feet by 12 feet bedroom where there is a bunk bed, a 4-shelf bookcase, and a very tiny chair and desk. White mosquito nets are hanging around our beds so that we don’t end up sleeping with more roommates than we had planned.
The shipmate sharing a bunk with me for the week is RN Sandy DeWitt from Fountain Inn, South Carolina. She served with us in Haiti during the height of the cholera epidemic. Right now she is taking a bucket shower downstairs. You have to give up just a few comforts of home when you are in the middle of the Amazon Basin.
From the moment I “walked the plank” onto the Ruth Bell River Boat, my experience has been both magical and morose. Magical because of the incredible beauty of the Mamore’ River. Morose because of the suffering we are seeing amongst the people who live there.
The communities along the Mamore’ River in Bolivia are completely isolated. Because of the fragile nature of the land, they do not have a permanent dwelling place. Many of them have multiple homes, but unlike us in the United States who do it for a pleasant vacation during the winter months, these families have no choice. Half of the year their homes are completely under water due to the rainy season.
In honor of Ruth Graham and her passion for missions, Samaritan’s Purse has built the Ruth Bell to reach the unreachable. Most of the people we are meeting have never seen a doctor or have never held a copy of their own Bible in their hands.
Every morning, before the five World Medical Mission doctors and nurses start meeting with patients, we have devotions in the “comadore” on the first floor of the boat. Yesterday morning, Sergio, the Bolivian doctor from La Paz who is stationed on the Ruth Bell, taught from John 5 on the lame man at the Pool of Bethesda.
“Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for 38 years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
One particular part of the passage stood out to me after we read and discussed it. The lame man had been waiting at the pool for 38 years. No one was willing to reach out to him and put him into the water to be healed. He felt forgotten, neglected, unloved.
But Jesus saw him. He picked him out of the crowd and healed him physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
God has given us the incredible opportunity, through the Ruth Bell, to show God’s love to people like ones at the pool of Bethesda. They are desperate for healing and thirsty for the living water that only Jesus can give.
When I look out onto the river and see glimmers of gold rippling off the waves under the sunset, when I look into the feverish eyes of children, when I shake muddy hands that have been fishing for a catch all day, I know God’s love will never end.
It goes deep into the Amazon jungles, it hovers over the waters of the Mamore’, it washes brazenly onto muddy shores where worried mothers, distant fathers, and crying children have never seen or heard of the love of Jesus.