Any reference to Assembly work in the Santarem/Amazon area of Brazil must begin by paying tribute to a dear Brazilian believer called Jose Penna, who laboured tirelessly for many years travelling up tributaries of the mighty Amazon seeking to win lost souls for Christ.
In 1947 Jose and his wife Almerinda were exercised to move to the town of Santarem which is situated where the river Tapajos meets the Amazon, a journey by canoe which took them five days. They commenced a childrens work in Avenida Mendonca Furtado which led to adults being invited along to hear the gospel being preached, and this in turn led to a small group of believers meeting together. There followed visits to the area by brethren already serving the Lord in Brazil, George Orr and Ken Jones being among them, these visits proving to be a source of help and encouragement to brother Penna.
It was not until 1976 that we came into contact with Sr. Jose now in his 80s and discovered that the work had developed with four assemblies having been established: one in Santarem itself and three in the interior. Sr. Jose had consistently worked over the years in the area, using his small boat Nissiel, and the Lord had blessed his efforts in the gospel.
It was a great encouragement to us to see the enthusiasm and the vision of our brother, making us aware of the great need existing in the region for helpers, called and fitted of the Lord to come over to "Amazonia" and help. By now, because of his age, Jose felt that his active contribution to the work was coming to a close, but he maintained a deep concern for the continuation and development of the Lords work in the region.
After furlough in 1979 Jean and I were exercised about moving from Descalvado to Santarem to join with Sr. Jose, now on his own after the homecall of his wife. The move was made and it was a real joy to work alongside our brother, learning from his experiences and observing his deep spirituality.
Mention must be made of our Brazilian believers Eurico and Marileia Kohls who came north and worked in the town of Alenquer, about a six hour boat trip across the Amazon from Santarem. A severe illness caused our brother to return south accompanied by his wife. Many who are privileged to work on the mission field are reminded of what the Lord said to His disciples in John 4.38: "Other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours".
Each year in the interior of the region the level of the river Amazon rises and floods thousands of acres of land forcing the people to make necessary changes to protect and preserve their cattle and other kinds of livestock. Some years the floods and strong currents are such that houses are destroyed, adding to the poverty and suffering of the people, and also considerably affecting assembly life. One district, Igarape do Costa, which we visited in 1980, was affected in this way, with much of their cultivated land covered with flood water for a period of the year. This led to opportunities to preach the gospel. During that year the Lord was pleased to come in and bless the preaching, and quite a number were gloriously saved and an assembly formed in spite of hostile opposition encountered in the early stages of establishing the work. Since then, many of these believers have moved to various locations where other assemblies have been established.
It was a real joy in 1982 to have Samuel and Ann Davidson join us, and they have been much engaged in the work in the Santarem region. They had an exercise to establish a Bible and Book store in the town which has proved to be a real blessing to many, and often serves as a meeting place for believers who come in from the interior looking for Bible courses and gospel tracts. Soon after their arrival, Samuel acquired a boat and was soon involved in pioneering along some of the many tributaries of the Amazon. One area named Piracaoera experienced much of the Lords blessing; souls were saved, and a nice assembly was formed which continues faithfully to serve the Lord in that region.
There is a great deal for which to thank the Lord as His hand has been open in blessing, and there are some fourteen assemblies now functioning in the area and many further preaching points currently established. There is a great need amongst these small assemblies for strong believers to be raised up, able to shepherd the flock, and who will have definite leadership qualities enabling them to discern between the false and the true thus having a preservative and strengthening influence on the Lords people. There is also a great need for sound consecutive teaching especially on the subject of New Testament principles and on the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
While much blessing has been experienced and doors have been opened, as in many other places there are many adversaries who would seek to infiltrate and destroy the testimonies which have been established for the Lords honour and glory.
We do value very much the prayers of the Lords people that the work will make steady progress, and that what the Lord has established will continue faithfully until His soon return.