Passengers spend 18 hours on a boat floating down Brazil’s Rio Negro and Amazon rivers to travel from Manaus to Parintins, a town situated in the far east of Amazonas state. Traveling in the other direction, against the current, takes 24 hours.
On this journey, people endure 90-percent humidity and 90-degree heat (on average). Most sleep in hammocks stretched above the boat’s deck. Need emergency medical attention? If you’re lucky.
Max, a Brazilian chemist from Parintins, knows this trip well. He traveled up and down the rivers multiple times a year, for about eight years. These exhausting journeys were the price he paid to earn his doctoral degree in southern Brazil while maintaining contact with his wife, children, and extended family in Parintins.
These sacrifices also led him to God’s grace. In 2010, when he started his doctoral degree, he linked up with a few Brazilian Navigators in the city of Campinas, home to his university. They connected him with João Augusto Libardi and his wife, Elaine, who serve on a team of Navigator leaders in Brazil.
João met Max for the first time at a padaria (bakery) in Campinas. After a good conversation over strong coffee, Max said he would enjoy reading the New Testament with João, after he returned from a visit with his family. João offered to take him to the airport and pick him up upon his return. That small act of service marked Max’s heart. He wondered, What kind of person offers to take a near-stranger to the airport?
When Max returned from Parintins, João invited him to a churrasco (Brazilian barbeque) organized by the Navigator community in Campinas. As smoke rose from the BBQ pit, Max encountered a multigenerational group of friends who followed Jesus. Babies, kids, teenagers, parents, and grandparents mingled and ate. Then they studied what the Bible said about prayer.
A week later, Max told João that he had been deeply impacted by the people he met at the churrasco. He had never seen a such a wholesome, fun, family-oriented, and spiritually substantive network of friends. He could tell that God’s Spirit was among them, in their relationships. Max later called his wife, Eliziane, in Parintins. “I want that type of life for our family.”
“At that point,” said João, “Max was eager to read the Bible with me and other friends. Everything we invited him to, he wanted to participate. He was always reading the Scriptures, learning, and growing in Christ.”
Months later, Max told João that he wanted to share all that he had been learning about God with his family. Before another of Max’s trips, João printed out a couple of short studies on the Gospel of John. When Max arrived in Parintins, he set up meetings with his entire extended family to share the Scriptures and his story. More than 25 people showed up at each of his gatherings. Today, almost everyone in his family network is following Christ.
Back at the university in Campinas, Max also invited his fellow students from Amazonas to read the Bible. Almost all of them accepted the invitation. João and Elaine, and many other Navigators in Campinas, supported Max in that effort through hospitality, friendship, and Bible discussions.
When Max finished his doctoral degree, he faced a tough decision. Professionally, it would have been better to stay in southern Brazil. But he also wanted to help people in his home city to learn more about Christ. He decided to move permanently to Parintins.
“I understood my responsibility to my family. . . I didn’t want to leave the care of my parents to my siblings,” Max said. “Also . . . the people in Parintins that God had given to me [to disciple] were my responsibility. Despite the financial and professional difficulties, I believed that God would take care of me if I followed him.”
Even though he has a doctoral degree, he has struggled to find permanent work. The pandemic has not helped, limiting his ability to teach. But in the midst of these hardships, with the support of friends like João and Elaine, Max continues to help his friends and relatives in Parintins grow in Christ. And the other students from Amazonas have the potential to carry the Gospel all over Brazil.
By God’s power, the Gospel is flowing up and down the Amazon River.