Amazon Missionaries Wanted to Quit
But a Bible promise provided hope — and then the miracles began.
The hot Amazon sun made their work exhausting.
Pastor Reno Aguiar Guerra and his wife, Natalia, docked their boat at the remote Brazilian village of Democracia and knocked on the doors of every home to distribute invitation cards to evangelistic meetings.
Then the missionaries walked 45 minutes along a muddy road to another village, where they also visited every home. At the same time, three Bible workers stopped at every home in two neighboring villages, also inviting people to the meetings in an open-air community center in Democracia.
The missionaries did this every day during the month-long evangelistic series.
People flocked to the meetings, many riding in the back of three rented and battered pickup trucks secured by the missionaries. Other people walked. But few Democracia villagers joined the daily gathering of 150 people.
As the meetings entered their second week, Reno and Natalia grew weary. The long morning walks and the villagers’ apparent indifference discouraged them.
Some people grumbled that the couple resembled door-to-door salespeople with their daily visits.
Others looked suspiciously at a rising Adventist church building that Reno had hired workers to construct. The villagers belonged to a single Sunday denomination, and they spoke with worry about how families had been split in a neighboring village when another Sunday denomination had entered that community. They didn’t want division in Democracia.
After one particularly tiring day, Reno and Natalia collapsed on their boat.
“Why are we here?” Reno said. “The field doesn’t appear to be ripe. It seems like no one will accept the Bible.”
“I don’t want to do this work anymore,” Natalia said. “I love this work, but they aren’t accepting the truth.”
In despair, Natalia opened the Bible app on her cell phone and pressed a button to randomly choose a verse. “Please, God, show us why we are here,” she prayed.
Galatians 6:9 stared back at her, reading, “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (NKJV).
“That’s our answer!” Natalia exclaimed, reading the verse to Reno.
Story continues below
Reno Aguiar Guerra and his wife, Natalia, recalling the day that they were sad. Filmed at church headquarters in Manaus, Brazil. (Andrew McChesney / Adventist Mission)
The Miracles Begin
The next day, a middle-aged woman cried out with joy when Reno and Natalia stopped by her home with an invitation card to the evangelistic meetings.
“That’s my church!” she said, pointing to the Adventist Church’s Hope Channel logo on the card. “This has been my church for four years, and I want to be baptized.”
For four years, the woman had watched Novo Tempo television, the Brazilian affiliate of Hope Channel, and prayed for a preacher like those on the channel to come to her village.
The woman was among 50 people baptized when the meetings ended in December 2017.
Also baptized were two sisters, Franciene, 19, and Delciene, 16, who began attending after Natalia found the biblical advice to never grow weary. The sisters’ parents forbade them from going to the meetings, but they went anyway.
“Our father doesn’t accept our faith, and he didn’t want us to be baptized today, so we came by ourselves,” Franciene said in a video recording that Reno made on the day of the baptism. “Grandmother came to our home last night to talk with him. He said that if we got baptized, he would beat us. But even if our family doesn’t accept our faith, we still want to be with Jesus.”
Listening to the sisters speak about their faith, Reno remembered his discouragement just a few weeks earlier.
“I thought about how I said no one would accept the Bible,” he said in an interview. “But God was working on their hearts.”
The villagers, who worried that a new church might create a rift, changed their minds.
“Wow, this is a different kind of church,” said one.
“You care for us and don’t want to divide the community,” said another.
Baptismal candidates posing with Reno Aguiar Guerra, front, on the boat church. (Reno Aguiar Guerra)
Two sisters, Franciene, 19, and Delciene, 16, in baptismal gowns. They went to the meetings even through their parents forbade them. (Reno Aguiar Guerra)
286 Baptisms in One Year
Democracia was the last of three evangelistic series organized in 2017 by Reno, pastor of the Amazonia de Esperanca (Amazon of Hope) boat church, a 2016 Thirteenth Sabbath project. That year, the boat church’s first full 12 months in operation, Reno baptized 286 people and planted three churches.
The boat — which has a meeting hall with air conditioning, a projector and sound system, and seats for 150 people — travels to remote villages along the Amazon River. While an especially muddy shoreline made it impossible to use the boat for the Democracia meetings, the boat was used for the other evangelistic series.
Reno, 32, who also is a nurse, and his 32-year-old wife seek to meet the physical and psychological needs of villagers as they share the gospel message. They have no home other than the living quarters on the boat.
After Democracia, Reno and Natalia are convinced that discouragement has no place in the Adventist work.
“It isn’t us who are doing the work. It is God, who is preparing people before we arrive,” Reno said. “We have nothing to be worried about because God is preparing people in the Amazon jungle through television and other means.”
“The Lord does everything, and we are only the tools to guide people to Him,” said Natalia, who quit her job as a lawyer to become a missionary. “I thank the Lord every day for our work.”
The couple expressed gratitude to church members around the world for contributing to the purchase of the boat church through the Thirteenth Sabbath Offering in fourth quarter 2016.
“The boat church is God’s way of saving people who have been forgotten by political, economic, and health systems,” Reno said. “But these people have not been forgotten by God.”
“Villagers are waiting for missionaries and waiting to know Jesus,” Natalia said. “Jesus only needs one person who is willing to say, ‘Here I am, send me!”