Hey, this is Haven, Julie's oldest son. I've hijacked my mom's blog to share with you this awesome experience I had over the summer during my Mission Trip to Brazil. Enjoy!
I started to attend the high school meetings for the Brazil Mission Trip, so I began to get really interested and excited for the trip. I wrote a letter asking for support and/or prayers and sent it to a bunch of people. I got a lot of donations because so many people wanted me to go and have the time of my life. I raised all the money I needed and then it was time for me to get all of the supplies for the trip. The most important items I needed to get were: shoes that could survive a rainforest, bug spray and 100SPF sunscreen since I burn really easily.
My parents dropped me off at LAX at 5:30am. I was so tired. At the airport it was a lot of paperwork and checking to make sure we had everything. Very stressful. It was the first time I had ever gotten to use my passport, which was cool. Everybody helped me out which I'm very grateful for.
First we flew to Miami. Not my favorite airport. Right when we got outside the plane it was so humid. My mom is from Florida so she grew up with humidity but I'm from L.A. so it was new to me. I'm not a fan of humidity. The flight was delayed two hours and we had to play games to keep us busy while we waited. My favorite card game we played is called Mafia. Tom was leading it and it was so funny. All those lumps. (Tom calls everyone who's dead a "lump")
The flight to Brazil was very long. I didn't sleep much and was very tired when we landed. We landed in Manaus and their airport was very different than ours. Getting out of the plane, I had my first encounter with a local Brazilian. She kept asking me what "pai" (sounded like pie) was. I answered, "3.14??" She rolled her eyes and let me pass. I still don't know what pai is.
sidenote: After I wrote this, Tia (pronounced Chia), which means "aunt" in Portuguese, talked to my mom on the phone and told us that "pai" meant the lady at the airport was asking me where my parents were. Pai = father/parents. Tia and my mom have been very close friends since they were 16, after she moved to America from Brazil, and she has been my "Tia" since I was born. She is the reason my mom was able to teach me some Portuguese phrases before the trip, which I completely forgot the minute I arrived.
At the pick-up lobby, there was a line of Brazilians waiting to greet us and congratulate us for arriving into their country. It was mind blowing because everyone was so nice. And when we walked outside, it was even MORE humid than it was in Miami, which I couldn't believe. It also smelled weird. Then we got onto a bus for about 30 minutes and we went to the docks where our boat was. It looked small at first glance but when it became our home for the next six days, it seemed plenty big. It had more than enough room for everyone. Our group was made up of high schoolers, leaders, a doctor, a dentist, cooks, the captain, five translators and crew members. There was a lot of us.
On the boat our room smelled odd but we got used to it. We settled in for the night and slept. We had to get up at 7am, which was 5am L.A. time. I'm used to getting up at 9:30am so that was rough. When we would wake up in the morning, the boat was still moving on the Amazon River. Breakfast was at 8am. They gave us loaves of bread, fruit, yogurt and other breakfast stuff to eat. That first day was mostly about getting ready for the next day so I got to meet a lot of the the other high schoolers. It was the summer after my 8th grade year so I didn't yet know anybody. I was still kind of shy. We sang songs with everyone else on the boat. There was a lot of exotic food for lunch and dinner. Well, exotic for me. I'm not usually adventurous with food. Midday we could see the first village so we docked in the marsh for the night. There are a LOT of bugs in the marsh.
The next morning it was time to get to work. Before the trip, at one of the meetings, RO (one of our leaders) assigned each of us to a "pod". Pods consist of 6-7 people and we had 5 pods. I was in RO's pod which was really cool and I got to bond with everyone in it. Each one of our pods would have a different job to do in the villages. There were: VBS (Vacation Bible School type activities with the children), painting houses, and evangelism. With evangelism, we would go to people's houses and pray for them and share our testimonies. Being that there were 5 pods and only 3 jobs, meant that 2 pods would work with the children, 2 pods would paint the houses and the last pod would do evangelism.
(here's me and my pod)
In the villages it was very hot and surprising to me on how much the villagers had technology-wise. Before the trip, I pictured the villagers as maybe wearing clothes, maybe not and definitely no TVs or phones. But these villagers had TVs, phones, and some even had satellite dishes for their TVs. I don't know how they got that in the middle of the rainforest, on the Amazon River. And yes, everyone was wearing clothes. As you can see in these pictures, the villages were kind of flooded.
We had to walk on these thin planks over the water. Luckily I didn't fall in, because I have watched the show "River Monsters" and I did NOT want to swim in the Amazon River. The other high schoolers were more brave than I was because by the end of the trip most of them had gone swimming. It was so hot I kind of wanted to swim but didn't because I was sure I'd get eaten by piranhas, even if they weren't eating anyone else. It would be just my luck for piranhas to have a taste for redheaded boys.
These boys enjoyed climbing up this tree, just to jump into the river again and again.
When it was time for our pod to paint houses, which I did two different days, I learned that I suck at painting. I kept rolling the paint roller in the same spot saying to myself, "This isn't working! This isn't working!" And I got more paint on myself than I did on the house, but I did have a lot of fun with everyone and that's what matters. The boy who lived there fixed my spot and I think he was only about 6 years old. He also drew lines on our faces and arms with paint. One of the girls painted a heart on my shirt. Next to one of the houses we were painting, there was a mud trench filled with fire ants. We had to stomp our feet constantly, like we were marching in place, to keep the fire ants from getting on us. There was also a bunch of mosquitos and other flying, stinging bugs we had to watch out for.
(that's me in the red shirt)
In the middle of the painting session, my friend Kate had a great idea. She wanted to go to the boat to get yarn to make friendship bracelets. Since I suck at painting, I offered to go with her. It sounded exciting since I had never made friendships bracelets and Kate showed me how to make one. She's really good at it and me... not so much. My friendship bracelet didn't look as good as hers, but I did give it to a villager boy who liked it. At least I think he liked it. Maybe he was just being polite.
When it was our turn for evangelism, we would go with the boat captain/preacher. He would tell them about Jesus and the translator would tell us what he was saying so we could keep up. Then at the end we would all pray for that family. That day we visited four separate houses. The first one had a family in it and we were praying for their newly born son. He was so cute! The second house we went to, the guy was building his house. We prayed that he would have the strength to complete it. It was amazing to see how well he did with no power tools. The third house we went to had a couple with a new baby and we prayed for the mother and child to have a good life. The last house was the most moving of all. There was an old couple with a disabled child that was blind, and had difficulty speaking and walking. We prayed for them and her as well and it brought everyone to tears. We hugged the people and it was very moving to have been a part of that.
When it was our turn to do VBS, where we worked with the children, we were in the gymnasium.
It was fun and exhausting. That was the most I've ever sweat in my life. I feel sorry for the people around me because my deodorant wasn't "Rainforest Rated". We played musical chairs, the hot/cold game (which we had to memorize the Portuguese words for "hot" and "cold"), soccer... lots of soccer, Shark Attack (a running/tagging game), and many other games I can't remember. It was so hot, I think it affected my memory. It was fun playing with the kids and fun to learn from their culture. It was cool that we could play the same game and understand each other even though we spoke different languages. One of the older kids was out hunting/fishing for food for his family. That blew my mind. Where we live, all we have to do is go to the grocery store and pick out what we want, pay for it and eat it later. If we hunt or fish, it's for fun because you get the joy out of hunting or fishing, though I don't really see how you get any joy from fishing. It's just waiting and waiting all day long. Sounds pretty boring to me.
This is one of the boats the villagers used for fishing.
After we were finished visiting all three villages, our boat headed back to Manaus. On the way there, there was a lot of fascinating things. It was dark so you could see more stars than I had ever seen in my life. Also, every couple of seconds you could see red lightning. It was jaw-dropping awesomeness. Before I went to sleep that night, I lay awake as long as I could just watching the lightning in awe. It was majestic.
The next morning we had to pack up all of our stuff and take it to the bus. The bus took us to the hotel in Manaus. During the bus ride, it was cool to see what it was like in the city vs. how it had been on the Amazon River. We got settled in our hotel rooms, and I took a shower for the first time since we arrived in Brazil. We were able to take showers on the boat but I didn't because the water was all rusty looking. I don't think anyone noticed I hadn't showered on the boat since we all smelled bad. The shower in the hotel was glorious. After that we went to the city center to watch the World Cup. That was the day the Brazil team was playing in Manaus. The streets were full of people and what looked like the National Guard, complete with automatic weapons, watch towers and armored trucks.
It was really cool to be in a crowd that big and have everyone gasping or cheering when a player would miss or score. I'm so glad Brazil won that game. We couldn't stay for the whole game because we had to get back to the hotel, but we watched the rest of the game on the TVs in our rooms. When Brazil won, everyone in the hotel ran out of their rooms cheering and there were fireworks going on outside. It was really cool to be a part of that because that kind of thing wouldn't happen in America. Americans don't cheer in unison as an entire country with the enthusiasm that the Brazilians have. There really is no comparison to how Brazilians feel about soccer/fútbol.
The next day we were had to go to the airport but we didn't have to be there until midnight, so we got to do a lot of stuff that day. I shared my testimony at the Manaus Presbyterian Church, which was very nerve wracking. I'm glad no one could see me shaking. A "testimony" means the story of how you became close to God or a hard time in your life that God has helped you get through. It was hard for me to share about my personal life with everyone on the high school trip, let alone the people at Manaus Presbyterian. We've had a really hard year as a family and I shared about that in my testimony. Thank you to everyone who supported me in that, including Matt Jones.
Later that night we went to a large gathering of about 500 people at a warehouse. We sang on stage and one kid in our group shared his testimony in front of the entire audience. I'm so glad I wasn't him!
After that we went to the airport. Everyone was so tired. The flight to Miami wasn't that bad and most of us slept during the 7 hour layover in Miami.
Thanks to everyone that came on this Brazil Mission Trip and thank you to everyone who helped me by donating money and/or committing to pray for me so that I was able to go. I am so grateful that I have such a great family, church and friends.
Thank you to all the high schoolers and leaders that welcomed me into the group and helped me through this experience. This trip changed my life. I feel like I've changed a lot in a good way and I have bonded with most of the high schoolers and leaders. I'm much more outgoing and excitable after this trip. This Brazil trip happens every two years. I'm already planning to go on the next Brazil trip in 2016 and I highly encourage everyone that can make the trip, to go with me.
*Special thanks to Matt Pickart, and RO and Mindy Smith for all the pictures they let me use for this post.