By Grace Thornton
The Alabama Baptist
When Alabama Baptist Ty Harris went on a missions trip to the Amazon River Basin several years ago, one thing quickly became clear to him. People there were hungry for Jesus.
And the more people who could go share with them, the more people who could hear.
“When I went the first time to the Amazon River, I just fell in love with the people of Brazil,” said Harris, a member of Sardis Baptist Church, Boaz. “I just wanted to keep going back.”
But the cost of a trip like Harris’ was high and he knew he wouldn’t be able to go as often as he wanted with a price tag like that. He figured there might be others in the same boat.
“So God put it on my heart to start an organization,” Harris said.
His solution? To get everybody in a different boat.
“We bought our own boat so that way we wouldn’t have to rent one every time,” he said. “That’s really kept our costs down.”
And as a nonprofit organization — Amazon Hope — Harris and others have employed a group of Brazilian men to serve as boat captains, river guides, cooks and missionaries.
“During the year they travel and scout out the people along the river and then in the summer we go back and follow up with those people and take teams to evangelize them,” Harris said. “We don’t just go in and leave — it’s a long-term effort and we partner with Brazilian pastors who go back in and do discipleship after we’re gone.”
Four million people live in as many as 33,000 unreached villages along the Amazon River and its tributaries. A number of those villages are indigenous people totally isolated from human contact, nestled deep in the jungle.
But others are reachable by several days on the boat and open their arms to welcome teams from Amazon Hope.
The boat can sleep 30 people in cabins and an additional 20 people in hammocks. Groups sail down the Amazon on six- to nine-day trips, stopping along the way and investing in villages, doing door-to-door evangelism and showing the “JESUS” film.
“So many times when people come on trips, they want to come back and bring more people with them,” Harris said. “It’s so contagious on the river.”
That’s what happened to Harris — and what happened to Zac Goforth, who led Harris on that first trip several years ago.
‘People of my heart’
“It just kind of caught my heart,” said Goforth, associate pastor of students and family life at Sardis Baptist.
“I’d been on trips before but this one was just different.”
Harris agreed. “They became the people of my heart.”
The villages are right along the river and they live “very poor subsistence lifestyles,” Goforth said.
But, he said, they’re wealthy by their standards — they have food and they have a roof over their heads.
Harris agreed. “They think they are the richest people in the world,” he said. “The only thing they hunger for is the gospel.”
Churches interested in bringing teams on a trip with Amazon Hope can book the entire boat with 15 or more people or they can combine smaller groups with other churches.
“Individuals are welcome too,” Harris said. “You don’t have to have a church group to come on a trip.”
In addition to door-to-door evangelism, opportunities for ministry on the trips range from peacock bass fishing to medical work to construction.
“It’s a huge blessing every time,” Harris said. “God pours into us so much on each and every trip.”
For more information, call Harris at 256-458-4427 or visit www.amazonhope.org.