he mystique of the Amazon region has inspired countless books and movies, most of them peddling fictional tales. The true stories are the best ones, however. They flow into the larger story of redemption the way thousands of jungle streams flow into the Amazon River. The ministry of Amazon Lifesavers is one of those lifesaving streams.
Amazon Lifesavers has its roots in the Luzeiro (Light Bearer) medical missionary boat launch program begun in 1931 by Leo and Jessie Halliwell.* The Halliwells served in the Amazon for 38 years, and their ministry continued under the church’s supervision for almost 60 years. The ministry closed down for a variety of reasons in the mid-1990s.
The Brazilian Adventist doctors, nurses, dentists, and teachers who had participated in the Luzeiro program were thrilled when in 2007 a group of Seventh-day Adventist lay members established a nonprofit organization to continue the work of the original Luzeiro program in the Amazon. Today those needs are as great as ever.
Brad and Lina Mills have been involved with the program nearly from the start. He was a nurse practitioner, and she had taken nursing and dental hygiene. They both felt the Lord calling them to help with the Amazon boat launch program, even though they knew no details about the project, except that it had closed down.
Their arrival in Brazil coincided with the establishment of the nonprofit organization, and they have been working with Amazon Lifesavers ever since. Brad is now president of the ministry, which has its base on the Amazon River, 30 kilometers from Manaus, the capital city of the Brazilian state of Amazonas.
In 2010 Amazon Lifesavers joined forces with the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA). Together they organize groups of doctors, dentists, and nurses to provide medical care to the thousands of people living in primitive Amazon villages, some with populations of 5,000 or more. A Brazilian Bible worker remains behind to live in the village for six months or more, providing compassionate support to the villagers and laying the groundwork for a church.
“We have a wonderful working relationship with ADRA and the union and conference offices,” Brad says. “Our specific mission is 100 percent medical evangelism.”
Amazon Lifesavers is opening a school to train incoming volunteers and Bible workers, as well as local church leaders and head elders already serving in the Amazon. The Bible workers must learn how to deal with primitive conditions—including endemic diseases and subsistence challenges—in the jungle where they will serve alone for six months or more.
Several years ago Brad developed typhoid and dengue fever from drinking water on one of the regional boats that operate much like American buses. He had forgotten to bring water, and nearly died from his double illness.
“I had access to health care in the city,” he says. “But the river people have no access to health care. No medicines or means of diagnosis. No clean water to drink or take a shower with. No cool water to ease their fever. No Tylenol or ibuprofen. My experience gave me a more compassionate understanding of what people go through in the jungle.”
“The biggest thing I want to share is God’s faithfulness,” Brad shares. “It’s definitely not us. God has done so much in pulling this thing together—people, timing—there’s just so much that God has done. You don’t have to be anyone special. You just have to be called and willing, and God will use you. I wouldn’t trade anything for the reward and satisfaction of doing something for God—of really reaching people. It’s so worth it.”
Amazon Lifesavers is an Outpost Centers International ministry and a member of ASI. Visit the Amazon Lifesavers Web site: www.amazonlifesavers.org.
* www.adventistworld.org/article/582/resources/english/issue-2009-1007/the-little-boat-that-could. This article was published August 8, 2013.