Spring vacation can be a much-needed rest for Pacific Union College students who have just completed final exams after a tough ten weeks of winter quarter. Yet, each year groups of students give up their opportunity to spend time with family and take a break. These students, motivated by the desire to give back and serve God, spend their time away from school having a mission-oriented adventure in places far and wide.
From March 20-30, a group of 15 PUC students, joined by PUC service and missions coordinator Fabio Maia and professor of biology Floyd Hayes, flew to Manaus, Brazil to work in Rosa de Sáron, found in the interior of Manaus Amazonas. The group traveled to this exotic location to build a health clinic, provide water filters and water education, and teach English classes. Some of the students also participated in a tropical biology course led by Dr. Hayes, giving them the opportunity to experience the wildlife of the Amazon first-hand on morning trips along the river and through the jungle.
PUC partnered with the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) for the service element of the trip. ADRA supports several projects in Rosa de Sáron—including a school, furniture business, church, and a metal and dental clinic run out of a boat by an ADRA-employed nurse, Thianne de Oliveira. Dr. Oliveira, who also teaches at the school, works with short-term mission teams who come to work in the area, including the PUC group.
The health clinic built by PUC will be used to benefit 32 communities in the area and will create a centralized location for emergency medical cases. Students made hundreds of wheelbarrow-trips with full loads of dirt, mud, and clay as they built a foundation and raised the level of the floor in order to protect the new clinic from annual flooding. Maia joined local villagers braving the teetering heights of the loose frame to lay down roofing so that the structure would be protected from the incessant rain. With temperatures in the high 80s and humidity reaching up to 77 percent, dehydration was a serious concern; the daily siesta following lunch was a much-needed blessing and reprieve.
PUC also brought 30 water filters to Rosa de Sáron in partnership with one of PUC’s neighboring churches, St. Helena, Calif., Calvary Christian Church. Maia taught both the students and the community leaders how the filters are assembled and used. Using just gravity and a clean bucket, the filters are able to process 1,800 gallons of water in a day, turning the cloudy river into safe and potable drinking water. “PUC is committed to making a difference in the Amazon by bringing clean water to the communities in partnership with ADRA, Amazon,” Maia shared.
Each evening, Maia, a native of Brazil, led English-Portuguese classes as PUC students were given the opportunity learn some of the Brazilian national language alongside the people they had come to serve. Several times throughout the process, Maia would laugh, “English is so much easier to learn – there are only two forms for the verb ‘to swim’: ‘swim’ and ‘swims’. Portuguese has six,” one for each form. Children and elders alike came together to laugh at poor pronunciation and enjoy the prospects of learning a new skill. Bianca Tolan, a junior at PUC, says, “The incredible thing was that even though there was a language barrier, we were all working on a project together and found ways to communicate.” The English-Portuguese classes allowed for a third way for the group to bond with the community, as well as better communication with the community when working on the projects.
The trip had a profound effect on several students and only increased their desire to serve overseas. “I know I felt God and the joy that comes with experiencing Him. That was for sure a spiritual high that we were able to share together,” shared PUC junior Moises Ramirez. After the trip, five of the students have decided to spend a year as a student missionary through PUC’s student missions program, and two want to dedicate their lives to working abroad.