Here in central Florida if you go anywhere the road will take you by or over ponds, lakes, canals, rivers, anything that holds water. And seeing water almost always takes my mind on an inside the head journey back to the jungle where the river itself is the road. Here the roads look pretty much the same whether it’s January or July. There in the jungle the river is one thing in January and a very different thing in July.
In July on the bigger rivers you can pretty much drive your boat wherever you want, left side, right side, the middle, it really doesn’t much matter. Of course reason dictates you’ll drive where it’ll do you the most good- such as keeping in the current going downstream and out of the main current as much as possible going upstream. The point is in July the river is full and deep and you can go more or less where you choose.
January is however a very different story. Now you are forced to look for and follow the channel where the water is deepest. You’ll find yourself crossing and recrossing the now very much reduced river. You will find yourself inching your way up through a minefield of rocks only to sharply turn and go back downstream a few feet from where you you just came up only to take another 180% turn and proceed gingerly back upstream.
The boat driver is always thinking about what is up ahead. The driver has to know if there will be enough water to keep the rig moving safely whether he’s headed upriver or downriver. Navigating downstream is most critically difficult because in a river that has any current at all you really can’t stop. The bigger your boat the more you ‘really can’t stop’! Whether it’s around the next bend, the next island, the next sand bar or the next pile of rocks you’d better know what’s there waiting for you. If you should choose the wrong side of an island to go down your error won’t be apparent till till you run up on a sand bar just under the surface, that is if some rocks haven’t snagged you first. Now you are in trouble and the bigger your boat the bigger your trouble.
Somehow you’ve got to get your boat unstuck and turned around. If your boat is big and heavily loaded it might take you several days of hard work to get the thing free of the sand bar. You may nave ended up transporting your entire cargo little by little to the nearest shore in your dugout or runabout. Once all the cargo is out it should be a simple matter to get the big boat back upstream into deeper water. But alas, ‘not so fast’. You see, the current wants to keep your boat right where it is, pushed right up on that sand bar. Eventually you’ll win the battle with the current and walk your boat back up to deeper water where you’ll load your cargo and go down the other side of the Island. We shouldn’t be too hard on the boat pilot because anyone who has piloted boats on the jungle rivers has made a mistake like this. Mostly it’s a case of the pilot knowing which side of the island the channel is on but he miscalculated just how low the river really was.
Navigating upstream is more forgiving because if the surface of the water is telling you it’s shallow ahead you can actually stop before you run aground. Sometimes if the river is really low and there is no channel the only option you have is to transport your cargo to shore and load it back on again after your walk the boat over the shallow place. Notable bonuses for the harried boatmen in these scenarios are (a) beastly hot sun to keep frying you (it’s dry season) (b) plenty of gnats and no-see-ums to make sure your blood gets properly drained (c) sting rays to keep you on your toes as you wade through the water (d) and sometimes the best of all are the horse flies. Anywhere water is splashing these guys are right there and will faithfully nail you time after time.
Let’s suppose it’s early January and circumstances have mandated a supply run when a supply run should not be happening. You’ve got two boats tied together with poles as described in earlier posts with a runabout dugout tied along side. You’ve been slowly making your way upriver for days. Now you’ve come to a wide stretch of river where there is no channel deep enough to get the rig through. You are camped at the lower end (deep end) of a sand bar that’s several feet out of the water up river from where you had to unload your boats. You’ve transported your cargo and loaded everything back on board and now it’s evening. Now it’s time to take a real bath even though you’ve been in and out of the water all day.
The mariners and their passengers are looking forward to a good night’s rest. If there are places to hang hammocks on board most will sleep there. If not some will sleep on the sand and if there happens to be a big flat rock (relatively speaking flat) on the river bank nearby some will sleep there. It’s amazing how good it can feel to stretch out on a hard rock. The advantage of sleeping on a rock over against sleeping on the sand is twofold. (a) you don’t get full of sand, and (b) toward morning the rock is still giving off heat. I know it sounds crazy but though you may have been roastingly hot when you bedded down, by morning it can feel chilly even though the equator is only a few degrees South. As the night wears on the sand cools off and feels damp while the rock will feel warm and dry in the morning. Those who aren’t too tired might try their hand at spearing fish or fishing for catfish on a hand line before turning in.
Towards morning on shore, before dawn the white and brown turkeys will begin ‘humming’ or ‘singing’, whichever you prefer. The louder the hum the closer to the riverbank the turkey will be. A couple of the crew will sip off in the runabout and paddle in the direction of the closest sounding turkey. If all goes well the hunters will ever so quietly tie their canoe at the river’s edge and even more quietly make their way (in the dark) to the tree the turkey is roosting in. Oh yes, and often as not the bank right where you want to go ashore is 8 or 10 feet straight up and the hunter has to climb vines (in the dark) hoping he’s not grabbing a snake’s tail or stirring up a nest of 24 hour ants. A flashlight or headlamp helps but too bright a light might spook your turkey above or attract a swarm of night wasps from below as you clamber up the bank. Now the hunter must wait for enough daylight to spot his turkey in the branches above before the turkey spots the hunter on the ground below. It’s always a little nerve wracking for the hunter because turkeys tend to be suspicious creatures and at the slightest movement will sense something is wrong and be off. Assuming events are going the hunters way, there will be turkey and rice and maybe even fried fish for dinner today. Everybody prefers fresh fish or turkey to canned sardines or canned corn beef.
Soon the runabout with the hunters and turkey will rendezvous with the big boats and the rig will continue making it’s way slowly up river. The crew will be wondering what they’ll find at the devil’s pass and the shallows at humming bird island.
We’re all familiar with understanding that Biblical history is really His Story. Recently an event happened in the jungles of these posts that reminded me of HIS on-going story there in the rain forrest.
The story began in a small village nestled on the bank where three rivers converge when Don Jose heard the good news of Jesus Christ and as far as we know became the first believer in that vast expanse of jungle. It was the late 1940s and though from time to to time for many years adventurers, explorers, scientists and slave traders had made sporadic contact with a few of the jungle peoples, the gospel had never been known up to that time.
The amazing story of how the Gospel became known along the rivers and inland reaches of the vast canopy of green is truly His Story as played out in the lives of the missionaries and the jungle people waiting to hear God’s Good News. The place was so isolated few people in the cities knew much about the folks living there. One famous explorer-scientist of around 1800 wrote of cannibalism still being practiced. A few years prier to the missionaries arrival the area had been ruled by a rubber baron whose reign has been described as “the longest and bloodiest dictatorship known in Amazonas”.
So when the missionaries began living among the tribal villagers, treating the people with love and kindness, word spread like wildfire on the jungle grapevine that something very good had come to the jungle. Instead of taking advantage of them the missionaries taught the people literacy and math, brought much needed medical help and made their lives better in countless ways. Eventually many of the tribes people came to Christ and dozens of churches were planted on the banks of the rivers and inland areas.
From the very beginning it was evident the tribal churches would need to connect with those national churches which could help them as they would inevitably move toward more direct involvement with their national culture and society. As the tribal young people would go to town for further education or work they would face a minefield of danger where they could be figuratively chewed up and spit out by the world before they knew what had hit them.
The importance of the involvement of the national churches became even more urgently evident when the missionaries were told to leave the jungle around seven years ago. Not even national pastors or missionaries were permitted to visit most of the area.
So when in answer to much prayer just a couple of weeks ago a small group of people including two national pastors was able to visit two ethnic groups there was cause for great rejoicing! One of the visitors had grown up among these very jungle folks and they were overjoyed to see him. They were much encouraged they had not been forgotten. Life had become increasingly more difficult for these believers and the thought that the national pastors had them in mind and were actively seeking to be there for them meant much to them.
Praise God that HIS amazing story beginning with Don Jose continues to this day in the jungles of these posts.
And just one more thing. There are still several tribal groups out there living without the Light of the gospel. The difficulty in reaching them is compounded by their ethnic hostilities, the remoteness and uncertainty of their location but most of all because the authorities have denied access to their area of the jungle. Recent events in the country seem to indicate the restrictions aren’t likely to be lifted anytime soon. But God is a God of miracles. Would you pray that these jungle peoples still living in darkness would soon see the Light of God’s Son.
It was a milestone in the missionary endeavor among the rain forrest peoples when one member of the jungle team began hauling the supplies for all of the missionaries out in the villages. It was much more efficient for one man to be responsible for getting the supplies out to the upper reaches of the rivers. Of equal blessing was having a permanent supply buyer living out in town. Even at that, both the supply boat man and the supply buyer always wore multiple hats and were chronically overworked. I’ve touched on the work of the “supply boat man” in earlier posts and now want to speak of the “supply buyer”.
Nothing I will note here can express the degree to which the work seemed overwhelming most of the time. The year or so Diana and I worked in this capacity gave us a great appreciation for the buyers and their families. As the work among the tribes gained momentum and more tribal works were opened it literally became impossible for one family to cover all the bases. But for many years one family (not the same family all the time) handled the following.
One of the tasks of the supply buyer would obviously be that of purchasing and packing supplies for shipment to the up river villages. The missionaries along the rivers and later those who lived in villages way up in the headwaters accessible only by plane, would send their individual family orders out to the buyer in town. Before beginning to purchase any individual item the buyer would compile a master order. If for instance the sum total of rice all the missionaries ordered came to 500 lbs, that would go on the master order. The same for soap toothpaste and on and on and on! It usually took several days to compile the master order. Then it all was purchased and transported to a warehouse where the individual orders would be packed. This part of the process took days as well. It was a huge undertaking! There would be food items for several months for each family, any kind of hardware such as nails for use on your jungle home, medical supplies of all kinds, way way beyond what we think of needing here because remember the missionary was the doctor, nurse, and pharmacist. And then there were the trade good items , machetes, axes, cooking pots, bolts of red cloth for making loin cloths, rolls of fish line, fish hooks by the hundreds and that’s just getting started.
Now the individual family or single missionary orders would be filled. This sounds simple and straight forward. Not so much so! The missionary out in the village didn’t see an updated account of his finances very often. His funds would come to the mission office where the supply buyer took care of the necessary book work for all the missionaries. Because of the remoteness of the villages and the difficulties in communication it could be months before a missionary got an updated account of his finances. All that to say that it was not uncommon for someone out in the tribe to miscalculate the amount available for purchasing the order. So it fell to the supply buyer to pare the order back to fit the budget. This was not a happy part of the job. No supply man wanted to eliminate any part of a missionary’s order and would only do so as a last resort. Knowing the next supply run would be months down the road or rather down the river, the most non essential items would get scratched first. I should add that food items and urgent medical supplies were always sent no matter what.
Most medical problems were treated out in the jungle by the missionaries but at any given time there was a missionary or tribal person out in town being treated at the hospital. Usually, because he lived in town and knew what to do, the supply man would accompany the patient to the hospital. Coming to town for medical treatment usually meant urgency and and so the buyer would have left what he was doing to get the patient to the doctor asap. It seemed that these medical emergencies inevitably would show up just when the buyer was the busiest and working under some kind of deadline. So now, in order to get the supplies packed and ready for shipment up river, the buyer had to work half or all night to make up for the hours or days he’d spent at the hospital.
More often than not there would be a missionary family in town updating their national ID cards or some other paper work. And again, because the buyer knew what to do, he’d accompany the folks to the office. Just like the hospital visit could not be hurried, the staff at the ID office had their own rhythm and pace. It was not fast!
Keeping the financial books up to date for all the missionaries sometimes was done by the buyer’s wife and sometimes by the buyer himself. All the banking was done by the buyer and there was always another ream of paper work involved there too. The buyer would take the mission check (everybody’s funds would be sent in one check) to the bank (only bank in town) cash it and walk the entire amount back to the office in a brief case.
Another important work that fell on the buyer’s shoulders was dealing with the never ending stream of individuals and organizations that challenged the legality of the missionaries presence in the jungle areas. Many, many official commissions came out to inspect the missionary work in the villages and most of the time they’d stop by the mission office in town either coming or going to the jungle. We were there legally but it seemed the personnel in every official office of the capital city had to make sure for themselves. This work was emotionally draining for the buyer and required investing a lot of time. The positive social contacts with merchants and many of the townspeople were very good but still required much time.
I remember with chagrin one incident when Diana and I were doing the buying that year. Air service had already come to the jungle in the form of the dedicated pilot of a sister mission along with his little 185 Cessna airplane. There were a dozen and one things happening and when the flight to a remote village was dispatched that particular morning I had forgotten to include the mail bag. Flights were few and far between in those days and forgetting the mail bag was not something any buyer wanted to do. In fact unless it would have been some medical supply item the mail bag was the most important thing on the flight. Well the missionaries were very gracious and resigned themselves to getting their mail on the next flight which was to happen in several weeks time. Would you believe I forgot the mail bag for the next flight too! Talk about feeling like crawling into a hole.
The good thing is that in the end those missionaries did get their mail and over the years most of the supplies did get sent out to the missionaries, the paper work got done, most people did get help at the hospital, the books did get balanced and most of all the work of the Gospel among the jungle peoples went forward!
Most people probably understand the importance of teamwork from the perspective of their job or possibly a family project. Missionaries however live everyday with the upfront reality that teamwork is not only crucial to the success of their work output but they realize they couldn’t even be out there in those isolated villages without the help of the entire missionary team.
The reference here is to missionaries who live in the far reaches of the jungle accessible only by hiking weeks or months over difficult and dangerous trails, days or weeks of river travel in class ‘F’ accommodations or in later years minutes or hours in an airplane. In the early days of travel in the rain forrest most of the missionaries in the country of these posts had only one option for travel to the general area of their work and that was by river. Once in the general area of a tribal group travel to the inland villages was over in many cases very difficult trails. It wasn’t till after several decades had come and gone that air travel became available. Note- the Stinson airplane my Father flew in the jungle in 1950 was flyable for only a short time.
So how did teamwork figure into the equation, well even the single missionaries living the most simple lifestyle and who were transported from village to village in dugout canoes by jungle paddlers needed a place to go for the most basic supplies, literacy materials and what have you. They needed someone with the capability to make copies of the scripture portions they were translating and they needed a secure place their mail could be sent that was close enough they could pick it up every couple of months and not have to spend three weeks coming and going. And yes they needed somewhere they could get a break from living 100% jungle style.
In the very beginning days infrastructure such a guest home in town, supply buyers, river boat operators for transporting people and supplies, mk schools, and a mission office was not in place. These essential services were added as personnel became available. Later came the air service and later still came the important contribution of consultants to help the new missionaries with their language and culture learning along with church planting and Bible translation. Once this infrastructure and these helps were in place missionaries could dedicate more time to their work and spend less time on just survival. Don’t misunderstand, life and work in the jungle villages was still very much a challenge but the challenge was whittled a little more down to size.
When we final got consistent air support in about 1965 things changed dramatically for the missionaries and the tribal folks especially in the most remote locations. It may have taken a year or two but eventually all the villages where the missionaries were semi permanently located came to have airstrips and plane service. Some village leaders even in places where there was no missionary presence got their people together and cleared airstrips to be used especially in medical emergencies.
It now became more realistic to place missionary families in tribal locations far from navigable rivers. Now, in the case of a medical emergency a plane could get a sick missionary family member or tribal person out to town in half a day over against days or even weeks when air service wasn’t in place. With the airplane you could get mail at least once a month and often more frequently. You could get supplies of all kinds and medications before you actually ran out. And blessings of all blessings the supply buyers out in town could send you vegetables, cheese and other fresh foods (when they were available in town) to you about once a month. Travel for the missionary became so much more doable, less traumatic and less exhausting.
In an earlier post I wrote of “The Crew” telling about the men and boys that worked so hard and diligently in the transporting of people and cargo by river boat. The same can be said for the men who flew and maintained those little airplanes as they served us so faithfully out there in the jungle. To hear the stories told about jungle pilots you might be tempted to attach a good portion of glamour to their work. From having worked closely with many of these men I know their work is much of the time physically exhausting and dangerous. That reminds me I should do a post sometime on the life of a pilot as I saw it. To all of us out in the jungle these men and the wives of those who were married became essential members of our team. These people were and are around the world, servants in the truest sense of the word.
We are now back to where we began these posts, “The Beginning”. The more challenging, the more difficult, the harder life was, the greater the feeling and sense of community. Whether it was the tribal guy helping us build a jungle house or us helping his little child through some serious medical issue we became a community of people that depended on one another. Missionary kids in our generation grew up with that reality being reenforced day after day all through our childhood and growing up years. For some missionary kids the transition to further schooling and even missionary training in the U. S. became a painful experience. There were trainers and leaders who though with good intentions in their interactions with their missionary kid students, did not understand the extent of how the thinking and personalities of these kids had been shaped and formed within an isolated community of missionaries and their tribal friends and neighbors. Not being able to understand these missionary kids led to some very poor judgement calls as to who these kids really were on the part of some leaders.
Well, it’s about time to end but I wanted to throw this out there before I leave. I know that only a very few folk read these posts but I’m wondering if any of you few have something in mind you’d me to do a post on? If so let me know and I’ll try.
About the middle of August those winds from the East begin to blow. The river is still very deep and full. Much of the jungle covered river flood plain is still under water, flora and fauna still march to the beat of the rainy season but change is in the air. The first thing you notice is that refreshing breeze. You notice it because all through most of rainy season it’s not often you feel a breeze of any kind.
So when around the middle of August the wind kicks in every morning and blows for several hours a day you know the transition from rainy season to dry season has begun. Months will go by before the look and feel of dry season takes over the jungle but the rain forrest which doesn’t need a calendar knows change is coming.
The fish that have been feasting back in the flooded jungle know it’s time to be getting out to the river before they get stranded as the waters recede back into their channels. Every year some fish try to make a good thing last too long and end up as buzzard bait when the ponds they are crowded into dry up completely.
Already by the end of August the larger river boats follow the basic dry season channel as they make their way up stream. Smaller craft still follow the high water channel. From now on until December when the river level is totally settled into the dry season mode the river boat captains and pilots will be asking themselves; should I or shouldn’t I? This is because along some stretches of any given river by, following the high water channel instead of the low water channel you can save you hours of travel time. If however you commit your boat to the deep water channel and you have miscalculated the water’s depth you may have to backtrack and lose many hours of travel time or worse yet get stuck or possible hit a rock and loose you entire rig. Captains and pilots have to be thinking ahead every minute as they steer their cargos up the river but the really tricky part comes as they navigate with the current heading downstream. One slight miscalculation and your boat will smash into the river bank or crash onto a rock with devastating results. As he heads downstream with the current into rapids or sharp turns the pilot must know where each rock is located and which way he’s going to steer his rig long before he gets there and sometimes before he can actually see the rocks or the bend up ahead
For example let’s say you are piloting your rig moving with the current downstream and you know you are coming up on a dangerous stretch of river with rocks some of which are visible, others are just under the surface, and plenty of others which may or may not be deep enough for you to pass safely over. To follow the deep water channel through this maze of rock and small islands will save you a lot of travel time but you have to be absolutely sure the channel is deep enough because you won’t have the opportunity to turn around before the current smashes your rig onto the rocks. If you’ve been running the river for any length of time you’ll make the decision to be safe and follow the dry season channel. The risk of losing the boats, the cargo and even possibly the lives of your passengers isn’t worth the time you may save.
Last year we were in Memphis at the time Dale was getting his donor liver
We had opportunity to visit Mud Island River Park and from there watch the ( compared to our rigs on the jungle rivers) gargantuan barges traveling up and down the Mississippi. It was fun to be an “armchair pilot” and guess about where the real onboard pilot would start his turn to steer his rig safely under the bridges and around the bends. On a related note I noticed on my news source that just a little over a year later the Mississippi is extremely low which is very detrimental to shipping. I can easily believe it having experienced the same river conditions albeit it with boats much smaller out there in the jungle.
We’ve come full circle in our consideration of the months of the year. It’s been fascinating to revisit in my mind the happenings, the experiences, the jungle, the river, the weather, the people and the feelings that made life in the rain forrest what it was over the course of an entire year. I’ve also come to realize in a deeper way how that life in the jungle so far away will always be the defining ingredient in the the lives of all those of us who grew up in and lived most of our lives in that very special and unique blend of diverse cultures that on the one hand are so different and yet at the same time so alike in their expression of basic humanity and human need.
The jungle rivers crest in June and maintain their high water levels through July but will begin to diminish in August. August will follow July which begins the several months transition to dry season, just as March followed February which began the several months transition to where we are now, that is, rainy season.
After an all night rain, a July jungle morning can be breathtakingly clear with the intense colors, of sky blue, jungle green and river brown, combining to make a sight you can never get enough of. Get a good look because late morning will bring the clouds and more rain and it could be days before you’ll see another spectacular morning like this one. If you, like most river people have a dugout with an outboard motor attached to the backboard, in your port, you will have left the comfort of your favorite hammock several times during the night to bail the dugout. Or maybe you had removed the outboard and just let the dugout fill with rainwater.
The lagoons are all full of water with no land visible anywhere. Actually the lagoons are islands of water with face open to the sky in the midst of an ocean of flooded jungle hidden under the treetops. If you took time to slowly paddle a small dugout among the treetops skirting the edges of any lagoon your eye will be drawn to the beautiful flowers on the branches of these treetops. For some reason God made those flowers with the sweetest and most pleasant smell I’ve come across anywhere. When I began thinking about writing a post for July, that incredibly sweet aroma is one of the very first things my mind went to. It’s an experience unique to the rainy season. At no other time of the year do you come across those particular smells.
In July, if you happen to be traveling downstream you can take the shortest route which is down the middle of the river and from corner to corner. There are no sand bars to dodge. If you are traveling upstream you will hug the bank on the inside of the river bends. The current is usually less swift there which with a heavily loaded boat is to your advantage.
In July the combination of the permanently soaked soil and the swift current undercutting the trees perched on the river’s banks conspire to topple many jungle giants into the water. On one occasion there were seven of us traveling down stream in a very small boat. The straightest route in this particular stretch of river took us very close to the right hand bank. Suddenly without warning and directly in our path a monster of a tree fell into the river with a tremendous splash. If that tree had waited a few seconds more to go over we would have been directly underneath, our boat would have been smashed and we all would likely have drowned. As it was we were almost capsized by the waves generated when the giant hit the water.
One unpleasant reality of rainy season are the clouds of bloodsucking gnats that hound you wherever you go outside your home. The dry season’s worst plague tends to be the clouds of no- see- ums, where as the rainy season tends to throw clouds of the regular gnats at any warm body. Both drain your blood and both will about drive you crazy. Here’s how bad these little pests can be. Decades ago, everyone living along the rivers used porcelain covered plates and cups for eating and drinking. Mostly the plates were of a light color. I’ve seen folks apply a lather of the famous “blue soap” to both sides of one of these white plates and wave it back and forth around themselves and within seconds the plates will be black with the gnats trapped in the soap. Yes clouds of gnats means, clouds of gnats. Back to the blue soap for a moment, it’s the same blue soap that you can use to stop leaks on a fuel drum. And speaking of fuel, many times, officials would leave drums of fuel in our care as they traveled up or down the river so they’d have a supply for the next trip. Sometimes the next group coming through would be totally unprepared for the onslaught of the little bloodsuckers. As these guys transferred fuel from the drums to their outboard tanks I’ve seen them literally immerse their arms and hands in gasoline trying to get a little relief. Yes it’s that bad. I’m guessing that it was largely because of these obnoxious little insects so few “outsiders” had settled along the river banks before the missionaries came. In 1799 the German explorer Alexander von Humboldt travelled through this same area in the rainy season. His comments on the insects, the flooded river banks, the Jaguars eating the expedition’s dog are very interesting.
As you may have noted in the posts on the months of the year, the change of seasons follow a general pattern true to each month. From year to year the changes that occur within any given month, relative to the month before and after it, can slide to either side. Only once in a great while will you have the seasons totally backwards. And even then the case will be more of an entire year without a dry season to speak of or an entire year without a wet season to speak of.
So, to end; this is July and if the year is a normal one, from now on out the rains will begin to back off and the rivers will slowly begin dropping till the end of January when the dry season peaks out and the jungle starts gearing up for July once more. Personally I prefer the dry season for many reasons but the rainy season is necessary for the cycle of life for as long as the rain forrest shall endure and I’m thankful for it.
When the weather cycle is within normal limits June is always 100% a rainy season month. The reality being however that there are exceptions to many rules it must be noted that occasionally there will be a year when even the wet season months tend to act like dry season and vice versa. Since we’re assuming the full calendar of months in these posts falls within the normal cycle, June is 100% a rainy season month.
Generally speaking the further downstream you are, the later in the season the rivers will crest. Our school was located toward the upper reaches of the navigable section of the river so the river crested in June. Downstream, toward the river’s mouth, the river crested in July or August. June is usually when the last of the several species of fish make their run up the river. The fishermen are out paddling their little dugouts around in the backwashes where the migrating fish congregate before they hit the main current again on their way upstream to branch off in the smaller tributaries. These fishermen are angling for bocon, which eaten fresh cooked or slow smoked is right up there with the best tasting fish the river has to offer. Their gear consists of a strong yet bendable sapling with a stout line and medium hook baited with a big grasshopper. 18 inches would be an average size fish. Sometimes the fishermen will follow the migrating bocon all the way up the smaller streams where the fish congregate in the deeper pools where they catch them by the dozens if not hundreds. When that happens the fishermen will build a small shelter and smoke rack right there on site and smoke their catch. They have no other way to preserve the fish. Getting the catch back to the hungry folks in the village can be tricky however. More than one canoe load has been lost because either the boat was overloaded or the paddlers failed to negotiate the rapids properly on the way downstream. They would sink or capsize and lose the the entire catch.
June is also the month when those who live on the banks of the larger rivers set out balsa wood floats fitted with short, very strong lines and big hooks to catch catfish some of which can grow to a pretty significant size. The biggest I ever caught weighed (we estimated) over one hundred pounds. These catfish of which there are a couple of different species are about the best tasting fish in the river even better than bocon. Of course that’s a matter of opinion. To get your floats in place you steer your boat in as straight a line as possible for the opposite shore and toss the floats with their baited hooks at spaced intervals across the entire river. Now you motor or paddle to a spot above the floats and let the current sweep the floats and your boat (with you in it presumably) along downstream. When a float suddenly disappears you know you’ve got got what you came after and the longer it stays under before surfacing the bigger it is! If on the other hand you see a float bobbing around on the surface you know a piranha is stripping the bait off the hook which is what you didn’t want to see happening.
The sand bars and many of the rocks are under water and the river bed can no longer contain the surging volume of water. As the river banks disappear the flood spills over into the jungle. During most rainy seasons there remain small islands of land scattered throughout the flooded jungle where the land animals take refuge and manage to survive till the flood waters again drain out of the jungle and the dry season comes back.
For the next couple of months the rivers will be at their deepest and those who transport big heavy loads on these waterways will take advantage of running their boats while there is plenty of water between their keels along with their propellors and the bottom whether it may be sand bars or rocks. During the years when the missionaries operated their own supply boats, June, July and August were by far the preferred months to haul supplies. In August, toward the upper reaches of the rivers you may have to follow the dry season channel but there usually was enough water to get you through without connecting with the bottom.
The active, useful lifespan of the little Stinson airplane my father flew out there in the jungle was not very long. The fabric skin it was covered with, succumbed to the brutal heat and humidity typical to the rain forrest. God, however, used the little plane to do some important work before the elements took it out. One such occasion was the part the duo of plane and pilot played in locating the wreckage of a DC3 near the coast of the country of these posts.
Some background would be useful to the reader at this point. It was June 9, 1950 between 7:00 and 7:30 pm. The DC3 with a number of missionaries on board was due to land at a large city in the Northwest part of the country within the half hour. It was dark and the terrain was mountainous. For, to this day, unexplained reasons, the radio communication from their last point of departure had shut down. Also for unexplained reasons, the airport radio and landing lights at their destination airport had shut down. Apparently the airport from which they had last departed figured the plane was as good as already on the ground so shut down without bothering to confirm whether or not radio contact had been established at the destination airport. The flight was on time as per the unclosed fight plan later discovered by those officials investigating the tragedy.
It seems likely the strong wind, as experienced and noted by others in the area at that time, had blown the plane off course and as the pilots began their descent they hit some tall trees on the highest mountain in the area, the wings were ripped off, the plane hit the mountain, the missionaries were ushered into the presence of the Lord, and the plane burned.
By the time my father and his little Stinson arrived from the South of the country dozens of aircraft had been searching for almost a whole month for the mission DC3. Several missionaries from another organization in that area helped my father and his missionary companion (this missionary’s wife and children were on board the missing plane) get to some of the villages along the DC3′s route to determine if anyone had seen or heard anything the night of June 9th. In each village the information was the same; between 7:00 and 7:30 pm a plane with lights on had passed over, there was a loud crash after which there was nothing but silence.
So it was that on the morning of July 6, 1950 the little Stinson lifted off the runway and headed to the mountains to begin the lonely search for any sign of the missing DC3. My father was flying while his missionary companion diligently looked for any evidence of a downed airplane. The weather was very bad and clouds covered the mountains but just as they were about to turn back and wait for another day with better weather they spotted something through a little hole in the clouds. Sure enough it was the missing DC3 and though there is a lot more to the story of the search by air I want to move on to the effort to reach the crash scene on foot.
Several attempts had been made but in the end my father and a few officials were the only ones who reached the crash site on foot. The climbing conditions were so bad that most men in the search party were forced to turn back. The climbers hands and feet were skinned and swollen. In some cases the only way for the men to climb was by clinging to vines and pulling themselves up hand over hand, over and around and between huge boulders. The supplies had to be passed up person to person by ropes. At night they were cold and often as not soaking wet. When they reached the crash site they found the plane and everything in it had been almost totally consumed by fire. They were able to confirm the wreckage was indeed the missing DC3 by some of the tail section and pieces that had broken off as it had smashed down the mountain side.
In describing the scene my father wrote, “it was like a holy place clean and far above the filth of the world- a garden of beautiful green foliage, chosen by God Himself as a place where He wanted to meet those in the plane face to face”. Exhausted physically and coming down with typhoid fever he said it would have been the most natural thing to bow his head and meet his Saviour right there as well but there was still much work to do.
These were the early days of missionary work in the jungles of the country of these posts. The missionaries on board the DC3 were to have joined the effort in the Southern part of the country. It was bitter sweet news to the little band of missionaries waiting for much needed reinforcements out there in the jungle to hear that their potential coworkers had been called home to heaven. The reality seemed to be that often the first efforts made in the taking of the Gospel into the unreached people groups were met with fierce resistance by Satan himself. And yes those first years were very difficult. But by God’s grace those early pioneers persevered and today there are dozens of churches and hundreds if not thousands of jungle peoples who have been delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son. Amen!
Ready or not the rains are here! In May you may have rain and drizzle for days on end with no break in the clouds. Imagine what it feels like when the hot tropical sun finally blazes full strength onto the steaming landscape while the humidity is pushing 100%. Yes that’s exactly the feeling!
As the rains come down the feeder streams are all pouring into the bigger rivers and the bigger rivers are flowing faster and fuller by the day. Dead trees some them huge ride the roiling current creating a serious hazard for navigation Once the river crests for the first time most of the floating debris will be gone but as long as the water remains high the danger will always be there. Sometimes animals are swept away by the rising waters. On more than one occasion we have found a sloth clinging on for dear life to the tip top branches of a bush in the middle of some backwash.
Almost without fail during the first serious rain in May (not counting thunderstorms which usually don’t happen in May) the termites fly. You may have thought your house was termite free but during that first rain you’ll find out otherwise. Out there in the jungle it is literally almost impossible to make your house termite proof. On a side note I’ve noticed that in May termites sprout wings here in Florida as well.
The tribal folks know the rains in May will bring a bountiful harvest of protein. Hundreds, thousands, probably hundreds of thousands or millions of tree frogs come down to the swamps and backwaters to lay their their eggs. Each species has a very distinctive croak but it’s all sweet music to the jungle folk. They catch them by the hundreds to cook in leaves on their fires. As is the case with so many good things there is a deadly downside to frog catching. Snakes also love frogs and where people and snakes hunt frogs together you can guess what happens. Death by snakebite is an ever present danger and catching frogs is a particularly dangerous time. I remember an incident very clearly when a frog hunter’s life was spared by the antivenin we were able to administer. Tragically others died because there was no help available.
May is when the season changes for good that is rain, rain and more rain till those rains slacken off in August. Rainy season may be a little cooler in general than the dry season but a ‘little cooler’ still means very hot. It feels just like what you’d expect in a rain forrest a few degrees off the Equator a few hundred feet above sea level.
Not quite two years after my parents came to live in the jungle town in the country of these posts, my brother Joel joined our family. My Mother had chosen not to make the trip down river to where there was a doctor and at least a semblance of a hospital. There were midwives in town and there were other missionary wives on hand to help. The birth went well and now we were a family of six. Bob, Peg and we four boys Dan, Mike, John and Joel. Philip and Sara wouldn’t join the family till later.
Fast forward to the summer of 1958. My Father had just moved his family several days travel further up river deeper into the jungle nearer to where most of the missionaries were working. As field director he wanted to be closer to their tribal locations so as to be of more direct help to them. A small school for missionaries children had been established out there as well as a fuel depot of sorts for the tribal workers. It was near the end of July just weeks after our move when my Father left on a supply run to another jungle location hundreds of river miles away. He was to be gone for several weeks. It was a difficult time for my Mother. We were by now six kids, the youngest Sara only three months old, all crowded into a very small jungle home that had been built to house a single lady missionary. The area was new to Mother and she was barely oriented to her new surroundings and the potential dangers.
That day July 25, 1958 I was gone on an overnight with the handful of high schoolers at a neighboring Indian village. My brothers Mike and John were down at the river fishing. The river was still pretty much at maximum height and was very swift. There was a kind of backwash at the spot where they were fishing and the water literally boiled up from below before swirling off downstream. The bank at that place was rock and dropped off immediately to a great depth. Joel had slipped out of the house unnoticed and made his way down the narrow path to the river in order to watch his brothers fish. Somehow he lost his footing and slipped into the swift moving water. He had not yet learned to swim and Mike and John knew they couldn’t help him. They shouted for my Mother who came running down the path and without hesitation jumped in. The current had pulled Joel away from the shore and by the time my Mother jumped in he had come to the surface and gone back under for the third and final time. She tried to dive down to find him but between the swift current and the river being at least 30 feet deep finding him was an impossibility.
As Mother in her own pain and sorrow comforted Mike, John and Philip (Sara was only three months) word was sent to the Indian village where I was and another missionary took word to my Father. I was able to get home the next day but it would be several days before my Father made it back.
It was times like this that built and reinforced the sense of community we came to feel out there in the jungle. I referred to that reality in my first post “The Beginning”. Everyone came together and rallied around anyone who was in need or hurting. One of our jungle neighbors, a man who lived downriver a few hours found Joel’s body caught in some brush. He without hesitation used some of his precious gasoline to bring him back to our family. The Piranha’s had been at his face and it was not a pretty sight. In fact the tribal neighbors and missionaries who made his little coffin didn’t even want the family members to see his face. Several of us dug the grave and the simple service was the model for others both tribal folks and missionaries who would be buried there. Joel was the first of the many who will rise together at the rapture of the saints from that little jungle village.
Why didn’t God spare my Mother and Father the loss of their child when they had already given Him everything including their own lives? Only God Himself knows the complete and full answer but I’m convinced part of the answer lies in the help and comfort they were able to give others who passed through similar difficult times. Indeed within a little over a decade my father succumbed to hepatitis and lies buried beside Joel. Before the Lord called my Mother home she buried Philip and Sara, both deaths being tied directly or indirectly to their having lived in the jungle.
Mother has been with the Lord for five years now and wherever she has lived, folks still speak of the encouragement and blessing her life was to them. Her life was a living example of 11 Cor. 1:3,4. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God”.