With increasing excitement, I looked out of the windows of the small plane as we flew through the dramatic snow-topped mountains of the Andes on my way to the Amazon
area in Bolivia.
As I got out of the plane I was hit by high temperatures, brightness and humidity. We then drove along muddy, gutted tracks and across rivers and finally arrived in the Amazon rainforest ready to meet people and to understand more about their lives and to see how Christian Aid
is making a difference through the partner groups it helps.
The first community we came to was Bermeo
and we were welcomed by the leaders of the community. They struck a long piece of metal hanging from a pole to call the whole community to meet us. We heard about the story of the community - a story of challenges, hope, hospitality and miracles.
Then we were taken to view the part of the rainforest around the community. Within minutes we had seen and tasted all sorts of fruit, vegetables and medicinal plants. Just like we might walk round a supermarket, so people here can walk round the forest and in a few minutes pick up grapefruit, oranges, herbal teas, coca, medicines, hunt for meat etc. And yet forests the size of Norfolk are being cut down every two years by companies and ranchers. Imagine if all of our shops, chemists and builders merchants vanished.
One of the Bolivian groups that supporters of Christian Aid help to make a difference is called CIPCA.
Sometimes it is tempting to make heroes of people from the UK who visit these kind of areas but when I met the people who work for CIPCA, and other partners, I was humbled and inspired. These people, full of character, determination and often fun, sometimes walk alone through the rainforest taking days to reach communities to help – hoping they don’t come face-to-face with jaguars or accidently stand on tarantulas or snakes. They are skilled, knowledgeable and have expertise in development and are also courageous. These are the sort of people supporters in the UK help – people with expertise who live in the areas where help is provided.
The work they undertake in these communities lasts. CIPCA gave the community of Bermeo 20 sheep a few years ago and taught them how to care for and breed the flock. When the flock reached 200, the deal was that the community gave another community 20 sheep, which it did. When that next community has 200 sheep, it gives 20 sheep to another community and so it continues. By giving something small, bigger things happen and it overflows.
, the community leader, said: “CIPCA have been here for 15 years alongside us. We trust them, they enthuse use and give us moral support, material support and respect our way of life and our way of working.”
As I ate my piranha fish soup and saw its head on my spoon I thought how God can take a situation that seems so hard or threatening and overcome it through our small contributions. It reminds me in a way of the feeding of the 5,000 or the whole idea we see in the Bible of seeing how God can multiply our offerings.
As we were leaving the village, Enrique
, the unpaid church leader, took us to see the church. It had been built using bricks a long time ago by a missionary and there were cracks in the walls. He told us recently there had been an earthquake. In the UK we would have told everyone to get away from the building. The people in this community didn’t run away from the church as the earthquake happened. They ran to the church and put their hands onto it seeking to strengthen the building so that it did not fall down. I wonder what we could do to help people to strengthen the walls of their communities?
Of course there are many more stories which I have heard and could share. There were also mini adventures like being in a leaking canoe in a river which contained piranha fish or being stuck 20 miles from the nearest town when our transport broke down.
The key learning for me, however, was not so much in what I did but what I found in the compassion, faith and sacrifices our partners make to bring change to isolated and vulnerable communities in their country. That is Christ-like. And also the fact that God calls us to share what we have with those people who can make a big difference in an open-handed and empowering way.
I remember the words of Luis, the community leader: “As you come here today you have become part of our extended community. You are part of our family.”
Families should stick together – no matter the distance.
Pictured above is Julian Bryant with Bolivian community leader Luis and scenes from his trip.
Please contact me firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like me to speak at your church, school or group. I am very happy to share more stories of change and faith that are happening in Bolivia and the Amazonian rainforest or in other parts of the world.