In part 1, I can’t do everything, but I’ll do everything I can, I told you about our favorite charity organization to share our tithe with, Amazon Relief, and showed you a movie on the work they do to help the poor.
Next in part 2, you heard from my friend, David, who went on a trip with Jim Flickinger a few years ago to see firsthand how Amazon Relief is helping those in need.
Today in part 3, my friend Amy shares her story…
- Tell us how you first met Jim and Lois Flickinger and what led to your trip to the Amazon?
I first met Jim and Lois serving lunch for the homeless and those in need at the ‘Tuesday lunch’ in downtown Grand Rapids. I had begun a Saturday lunch program, ‘Jesus on the streets’. We joined forces under their non-profit. Shortly after, my husband and I started formation for Third Order Franciscans in the same fraternity they are in.
- Where exactly did you go in the Amazon and what was your main purpose for going there?
We flew to Manaus, Brazil, a city of around two million people at the mouth of the Amazon River and stayed with a beautiful couple, Josue and Raimunda, who have been hosting Jim and Lois for 15 years.
We also journeyed by plane deep into the Amazon jungle to spend time with the Munduruku Indians. We stayed overnight at a Franciscan mission established almost 100 years ago to help the Munduruku.
My main purpose for going on this mission trip was to see Amazon Relief in action, to meet Jesus Christ in the people of Brazil and to see how we could further help them and also learn from them.
Our trip was eight days. We visited schools funded by Amazon Relief, playing with the kids and sitting in on some of their classes. We walked along broken streets visiting the homes of school children built on the edge of raw sewage. The homes, built out of scrap materials, were about 12’ x 12’. By our standards they would be seen as dirty and small, but the mothers kept their homes very neat and tidy and warmly welcomed us in. We took the families of school children out for dinner; spent time learning and playing with children at the home run by the Sisters of Charity. They take care of children age birth through five years who would otherwise be on the streets or home alone all day; we visited the leper colony where we sang songs, listened and shared hugs and smiles with “Jesus in disguise.” We served lunch in various parks, very similar to our ministry with the poor here, except that this would be the only meal the people would eat for 1-2 days. We also spent much of our time with various Franciscan priests and sisters, witnessing them live out the gospel in their ministry to the people of Manaus and in the Indian villages along the various rivers in the jungle.
There were many profound memories from my trip, it’s difficult to choose just one! They all center around the people – the lepers and especially the children. Everyone in Brazil invites you in with their beautiful dark eyes and huge smiles. Upon entering the walls of the first school we visited, I was surrounded by a sea of smiling children. They showered me with hugs and greetings like I was a dear friend. The only way to describe the scene is that my soul was so overwhelmed with joy I thought this must be what heaven is like – unharnessed love! They quickly swept me away with them to the playground. Yes, there is much material poverty, yet the children have an inner joy we don’t normally see here in the states.
My most cherished memories are the times we spent with two boys, Willame and Gabriel.
Jim and Lois met them two-three years ago, and these boys immediately captured my heart with their warm smiles and gentle, courteous ways. We spent time with the boys every day we were in Manaus.
First some background on the boys:
Willame is 15 years old, lives with his grandparents and nine other children in a two room tin-roofed wooden shack. His grandfather is the only one working a job – selling popsicles! This provides very little income for the twelve people living there. Willame sleeps on the bare floor with no pillow or blanket with two other children in a room about 8’ x 8’.
Gabriel, 11, lives nearby with his older brothers. Like Willame, he never knew his father, and his mother deserted him a few years earlier. He is a shy, but caring young boy.
Seeing pictures of where these boys live doesn’t give the full picture. Food is scarce, dogs bark constantly day and night, along with other noises like the deafening rain on the tin roof. The air is hot and humid with a stench of raw sewage, and there is little to no privacy in which the kids can study for school.
With all these circumstances, the boys were kind, eager to spend time with me playing games, talking or studying for school at the home where we stayed. They held my hand whenever we crossed the very busy streets and made sure I didn’t step in any holes or on trash.
One night we took them out for pizza. The two boys and I played foosball in the back room of the restaurant. None of us wanted the night to end. On the drive back to their neighborhood, they leaned their heads on my shoulder and just smiled. The day before we left for home, Gabriel asked if we could take him with us in our suitcase! Willame and I hugged and cried at the airport at our departure. I would adopt them in a moment, but what’s really needed is to see that they are provided for in a safe, loving environment, and that they get a good education so they can thrive in their own country, give back, and make a better world for everyone else there also. Through Amazon Relief, Willame and Gabriel and other children like them are not without hope. Every day I pray for the children’s’ spiritual and physical safety.
There is much suffering – physical, spiritual, emotional, financial – among those afflicted with leprosy. What shines above all this is the peace that permeates the atmosphere in the hospital. It’s hard to describe how suffering and peace can co-exist in one place, but the people I met showed me great strength and hope that only comes from deep faith in God.
As we were visiting with people at the leper hospital, a gentleman walked by us a few times. The third time he passed by, he just stopped right in front of me. We looked deep into each others eyes for what seemed an eternity, but was really about 15 seconds. He then gently took my hand, smiled, nodded and quietly walked away. Mother Teresa always said she saw Christ in the poor. That day, in that moment, Jesus was there in that man.
God did show me Christ in the people of Brazil. Around every turn, in various people and circumstances, Jesus was present teaching me and calling for help from His brothers and sisters around the world.
- What specifically is Amazon Relief able to do with donations?
Donations provide financial support for six schools for young children (4-14 years of age). Currently the schools serve over 1,000 children, teaching them reading, writing, arithmetic, gardening and hygiene — and feeding them a meal each day.
Working with “graduates” of our schools (children who have gone through our schools) as they continue their education. We have established an accelerated learning/tutoring program designed to help high school children prepare for college; we have hired a professor to give computer instruction; we have begun to provide computers and textbooks to some of our graduates; and we are giving some tuition funds for further educational opportunities.
Donations fund two vocational schools in remote areas of the jungle wherein over 200 high school age students learn skills which are useful and will provide them with jobs in the community (woodworking, motor repair, cooking, sewing, etc.).
They offer adult education courses to parents of our students.
They fund eight soup kitchens which provide over 3,000 weekly meals, provide food, medicine and clothing for the poor.
They provide education and spiritual support within the leper colony. Also, special carts are provided for those with leprosy which allows them greater mobility.
Please pray for the people of the Amazon!