Jungle love (oh-wee-oh-wee-oh)

Well. I have returned from the Amazon jungle, mis amigos. And am simultaneously relieved and yet strangely disappointed to report I did not see a single monkey or a snake. However, I do think I heard a band of monkeys off in the distance while I was trying to sleep last night.

When Shaun Groves and Patricia Jones first began to share the details of this trip, I was a little intimidated by the part about the Amazon and the canoe and pretty much Ecuador in general. But the detail that struck the most fear in my heart was the part about a “six hour drive down to the Amazon.”

Because I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned it, but I sometimes struggle with the carsickness. (Anyone who has ever ridden in a car with me is nodding their head right now. I am a little – how you say? – high maintenance when it comes to automobile travel.) I felt fairly certain that the six hour drive wouldn’t be like driving on I-35 to Dallas or something. And I don’t even do that well on good old American interstate.

But then we arrived in Quito and spent two days traveling around in our very nice Ecuadorian Good Times Family Bus and I began to relax and feel like I was going to be just fine. The windows opened and allowed me to feel a cool breeze, I was able to have a seat to myself and the roads were much better than I expected. So I quit worrying about the six hour drive and allowed myself to worry about other things, like monkeys and snakes.

That was a big mistake.

Because I am sad to report I experienced a day of NO GOOD TIMES on the Ecuadorian Good Times Family Bus. Let’s just say that I have left more than a piece of my heart in Ecuador.

Fortunately, Keely looked back at me just in time to see me go green as I put my hand over my mouth and I have never seen someone produce a plastic bag so fast. She ripped open a bag holding a bunch of chips, dumped them out and handed me the empty bag not a moment too soon. Keely is my hero. And also the hero of my fellow travelers. And the hero of the people who own the bus company.

Oh the Lord does keep me humble. Like it says in Micah, we are called to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God and our carsickness.

The really unfortunate thing is this turn of events happened when we were only about thirty minutes into our six hour journey and so I spent the next five and a half hours popping Dramamine like candy and praying that God would either make me feel better or just go ahead and take me on home. The journey was very twisty and turny combined with a bus driver who doesn’t like to miss an opportunity to use the brakes. At one point Sophie said it kind of reminded her of being on a roller coaster and asked aloud what we would compare it to. I raised my head for just a moment to whisper, “HELL”.

So you can imagine my delight when we arrived at our first Child Development Center and were greeted with an authentic jungle meal for lunch. This is what sat on a plate right in front of me.

Is it just me or is he staring at me?

And the fish with the head and the eyeball was served with some kind of smoked grub worm on a bed of rice in a small Tupperware container.


No, gracias.

Sometimes there just isn’t enough anti-nausea medication.

Especially after I’d spent a good portion of Wednesday afternoon serving hot chicken parts with the skin still on to the children. I think we all know I have long-standing poultry issues. And I’m pretty sure chicken is now officially dead to me unless it comes in a Chick-Fil-A bag.

What I’m saying is God has tested me in the culinary arena this week.

But enough about that because, y’all, THE AMAZON.

I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything like it. It is truly amazing. A level of beauty that I still can’t comprehend even after seeing it with my own eyes. How anyone could see it and doubt that there is a God in heaven is beyond me. It takes your breath away.

We were greeted by some precious girls dressed in beaded outfits and they hung necklaces made of banana leaves around our necks. We visited their classrooms and served them lunch then spent some time playing with them and painting the girls’ fingernails because everyone likes a manicure.

After we left that Child Development Center we drove another forty-five minutes (OH THE HUMANITY) until we arrived at the canoe-on-the-Amazon portion of our trip. And all I could think was I AM IN A CANOE IN THE AMAZON. I also said a prayer that the sea wouldn’t be angry that day because I wasn’t sure about the integrity of our watercraft.

About fifteen minutes later we docked on the banks outside the place we were staying for the night. It was incredible. I’ve never felt more like a member of the Swiss Family Robinson. I’ve also never been more hot. You know how people sometimes say something is “Africa hot”? Well, I’m here to tell you that the Amazon would give it a run for its money. AND OH THE HUMIDITY.

Which is why Sophie and I went into a slight state of depression when we realized there was no air-conditioner in our jungle lodge room. Just a fan. And windows with nothing but screens on them. It frightened me a little because I’ve always heard monkeys are a very industrious animal and I felt certain it wouldn’t take much time for them to get a screen off a window.

The irony is it ended up being the best night of sleep I’ve had on the entire trip. Maybe it was the Dramamine. Or the heat exhaustion. Or the jungle sounds that didn’t come from a sound machine plugged into the wall. Or the fact that I spent the last few minutes before bed sitting in a chair watching lightning ripple across the sky over the Amazon. Not a bad way to spend an evening.

We woke up this morning and traveled to an area down the river to visit the homes of two Compassion children and then went a little further to see the Child Development Center. As the canoe made its way around a bend in the river we could see the children up ahead holding palm branches in an arch for us to walk through after we docked the canoe. And I began to cry. Because that’s one of the things that has moved me the most this week, the way the people at the various Compassion Centers we’ve visited are so incredibly gracious and generous with the little they have to give. We’ve been given handmade necklaces, beautifully crafted nativities, handknit scarves, and more hugs than I can recall. They thank us over and over again for visiting and I want to tell them that they are the gift.

I see them hold their very minimal worldly possessions with an open-hand and it’s a reminder of how tightly I sometimes hold onto mine. They trust fully in God’s provision because He is all they have while I sometimes fall into the trap of believing it’s up to me to make sure I have enough of all sorts of things that quite honestly fall a lot more into the WANT category than the NEED category.

I’ve been humbled by the love and service of the Compassion staff. The teachers, the pastors and the kitchen staff at each Child Development Center work tirelessly for the kids. They don’t do it for the money because there isn’t much money. They don’t do it for the glory because there isn’t any glory. No one is going to offer them a book deal to tell their story of incredible service. Their stories will mostly go untold. The sacrifices they make, the lives they touch, the tears they dry. They do it because they understand what it means to be the hands and feet of Christ on Earth in a way that often eludes me.

They do it out of love. And mercy. And grace.

They do it even when they get nothing in return.

They love because He first loved us.

It makes me think of the lyrics to one of my favorite songs, “The Purest Place” by Watermark.

Paint me with Your purity
That I’d attract Your majesty
When others boast in fame and gold
The purest place is where I’ll go

The purest place I will draw near
Do what it takes to keep me here
In the center of Your heart
The purest place is where You are

It’s not with masses, not with kings
Not in these songs, or offerings
Not in this life, or what it brings
The purest place is You my King

As we were leaving the last Center today we had to walk on a vast expanse of rocks to get back to our canoes. We were all given rubber rainboots to wear for the day and had to walk very carefully from rock to rock so that we wouldn’t lose our footing. Not to mention that rubber boots don’t offer a lot of comfort against the rocks. Some of them were slippery from being in the water and I’d feel myself start to stumble and have to walk even slower.

But as we pulled away in our canoe, I noticed the children RUNNING across that same treacherous rocky terrain effortlessly. They didn’t seem to notice that the rocks hurt their feet or that the path was sometimes unsteady or that they might trip and fall. They just ran. They ran with joy.

I turned to Sophie and remarked, “Look at them running on those rocks when we were barely able to walk.”

And that’s when it dawned on me.

How incredible it is that I’m barely able to walk on those rocks, but they are able to run on them. With joy and freedom. They run.

It hit me that they have a faith in The Rock and a trust in Him that allows them to run. They run with abandon. They run with joy. They follow Him because He is all they have and they get that He is all they need.

Yet sometimes we can barely walk.

Sometimes I hold onto my life and my dreams and my possessions with such ferocity that I can barely walk with Him. I worry about the journey and I worry that it looks scary and I worry that I might stumble and fall.

But He’s called me to run with Him.

He’s called you to run with Him.

I don’t want to spend my life just trying to walk. I want to love Him more, serve Him better, and know Him more. I want to follow Christ with abandon.

I want to run.

This week Compassion in Ecuador has shown me what that means.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:1-3

If you’d like to be a part of what Compassion is doing all over the world, you can visit the sponsorship page and release a child from poverty for only $38 a month.

(All photos by Keely Scott. I’m forever indebted.)

To read the rest of the blog posts from Ann, Amanda, Kelly and Sophie you can visit the Compassion Bloggers page.

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  1. Leigh says

    Thankful you are safely back from the Amazon and thankful for your precious perspective on what you have seen and experienced. Praying for your safe return to Texas!

  2. says

    This is oh so beautiful! So perfect and inspired.

    I’m so sorry about your car sickness! I feel for you. You’ve endured a lot but God has used you mightily. Thank you!

  3. Steve Jones says

    Absolutely beautiful! Oh Lord how I want to run like those children. Why do I spend so much time stumbling around? Thank you. And I can’t tell you how proud I am of you that you were the only one wearing camo. Seriously LOVE that!!!

  4. says

    What a beautiful post! I am sorry that you had to deal with such carsickness amid all the other things. Thank you for sharing your heart with us.

  5. says

    Ms. Melanie,

    Thank you, thank you for going this trip. It has been such a *blessing* to me. The pictures, the stories…. seeing God at work. It has impacted me, and I simply *thank you.*

    Much love,

  6. says

    Oh my sister…oh you run well. Amazing insight, dear Melanie. I love how your heart exposes Him. Love you!! Love Jesus in You.

    Oh and Chris mentioned that the band of monkeys were singing Hey Hey, we’re the Monkees…. :)

    We are praying for you.

  7. says

    Stunning beauty. Love your spirit — and the way you proclaim His truth with such love and faith and encouragement. I have been following your trip through the team’s blogs. Thank you!

  8. Amanda says

    Thank you for sharing your insight. That passage in Hebrews has always challenged me,but now even more so. The image of the children running on the slippery rocks will stay with me a long time. Well done!

  9. says

    I’m so sorry you had all those issues with motion sickness and foreign food. I am a pretty adventurous eater, but those pictures took even my appetite away 😉

    I am so glad you were able to experience this trip, the pictures are breathtaking…what an amazing God we serve! And I started crying (tears of joy) when I read how the people in Ecuador blessed you with gifts even though they have so little. The same thing happened to our group when I went on a missions trip to Panama. They had so little themselves, yet they willingly gave us what they had, one of a kind, handmade items.

    I am sure the people of Ecuador were blessed by you coming to meet them. The smiles in those pictures speak a thousand words!

  10. says

    I can’t think of a better way to start my day than reading this, and being reminded of my desperate need to run with Him always. What a powerful visual reminder.

    Thank you so much for sharing this trip.

  11. AnnaM says

    So glad that you recovered from the motion sickness. Don’t anyone judge unless you’ve experienced it. Yuk!

    God bless you gals down there opening your hearts and God bless those dear children. We need that open love and trust those children have. Thank you for reminders of that.

  12. says

    Oh, Melanie.

    I’m reading your post with smiles, then lumps in my throat and dampened eyes, nodding in understanding, imagining all you describe, high fiving your epiphanous moment…and then I stop in my tracks.

    The very scripture you quoted is one I just shared with my daughter (in a text), who is running her last collegiate cross country race in a few hours. The season has been an emotional and physical challenge, yet she is **this close** to the finish.

    To see the same Ancient Words used to encourage and challenge in a totally different context…well…I’m just going to have to ponder the a little longer.

    Peace and joy, friend. Grace and love.

  13. Sheaffer says

    Love the post! God is so mighty. I was totally struck by the single picture of that precious little girl. Does anybody else think she could be Caroline’s Ecuadorian twin? :)

  14. lorie says

    Yes, that precious little one reminds me of Caroline. How awesome is that. So touched by what God is revealing for all and agree they have the beautiful desperation and hunger for God that is so pure.

  15. says

    This post is anointed, friend. The palm branches, the rocks, you’ve got me in tears. Thank you, sweet Jesus. I want to run after you.

    Thank you for braving such awful sickness to follow him and share with us. Love you!

  16. says

    Thank you so much for sharing your journey this week. What a blessing you all have been to those children, families, & Compassion center staff! Praising God for your impact there and here.

  17. says

    Thank you for sharing your insights, time, talents and photos! While I don’t yet have the funds to sponsor another child at this time, I’m praying over my finances to open an opportunity. Meanwhile, I’ll keep these precious children in prayer.

  18. KC says

    Thanks for your post and sharing your experience and thoughts. You have my empathy. I too have battled motion sickness in the midst of trying to enjoy an adventure…though my adventure was not quite like yours. :) It looks like you used the same strategy as I did…throw up and keep on going. I admire you for your attitude and willingness to go outside your comfort zone. I hope the rest of your trip goes well.

  19. LeAnna says

    What a beautiful post and picture to remind you what God showed you on this trip!

    I am curious if ya’ll were required to wear solid color shirts or just compared notes beforehand because I find it amazing that five women would coordinate so well….shirts, hats, and sunglasses! :)

  20. says

    Loved this so much. The last part about Running reminded me of Chris Tomlin’s song “Chosen Generation.”

    “We run with passion for Your name, we run
    Freedom, You’ve broken every chain, we run
    Our God will not be moved
    Our God will never be shaken
    We run to You, we run…”

  21. says

    What a wonderful way to look at it and so true.. let me be a child that runs to God with joy and freedom. Praying for your safe return!

  22. says

    I don’t know if it’s the spirited smile or what, but the precious girl in the heads looks like Caroline’s Amazon twin to me! Both beauties.

    What a great experience y’all have had this week!

  23. meredith says

    Love these posts! i had a similar experience in 2004 when I threw up all over some of my travel companions on a service trip in peru. I am sure I made an indelible impression and I am humiliated to this day to remember it. But it happens. Kudos to you for not letting it drag you down on the rest of the trip. Because really, once you have done that, it really can’t get any worse.

  24. Cyndi says

    Beautifully written and very touching. I almost needed a plastic bag myself upon seeing the photos of your “food.” I’m so grateful that you all are taking us along with you on this amazing experience.

  25. says

    Love reading your updates and I feel for you on the nausea. Just looking at that fish makes me want to throw up and I haven’t even been on a rocky six hour ride through the jungle!

    I would like to add that we sponsor three children through another agency. We sponsored the first two ( a boy and a girl roughly my kids ages) and realized that we didn’t even miss the money every month. I prayed about it for a while and asked if we could sponsor their older sister. And we don’t miss that money either. And it’s not because we have so much money, I think it’s because once you commit to help out, God makes sure you can.

    Thanks for your journey! It was through another blogger Compassion journey almost 2 years ago (I think!) that we decided to start sponsoring our children!

  26. says

    Though I’ve not been commenting (before now), I’ve been eating up every word you & Sophie have written this week, both laughing & crying with every post I read. I seriously plan to talk to my husband about sponsoring a child. On our very limited retiree fixed income, it would be a struggle, but one I’d gladly make now (praying for God to speak it to my husband as well).

    The reason I just had to take time to comment now, though is that I had to ask, who else finds it amazing that the little girl in the first picture in this post bears an AMAZING RESEMBLANCE TO CAROLINE??? Seriously, it almost looks like you photoshopped her face into a picture of a jungle attire adorned little Equadorian girl!

  27. says

    So sorry about the carsickness. :( Beautiful about walking on the rocks vs. running an analogy. Needed to hear that. Those picsture of Amazon are amazing. Glad you could go on this trip.

  28. Shelley in Cali says

    I’ve been reading your blog for awhile now and it always blesses me with giggles and ‘ahh’s’. But I’ve never, ever been moved like I have with this one. What a mighty, mighty work God is accomplishing in and through you in this time of service to and communion with Him. Your thoughts and prayers and desires are so powerful and so timely in my little world.

    Your comments about the children running where you and the others were struggling to stay upright were especially powerful. I recently received your buddy Travis’ new cd…A.Ma.Zing. by the way, and with it came a tshirt with the words “I’m Runnin'” on it and a verse from Hebrews that says: ‘Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.’
    The moment I read your words, my mind jumped to that verse and the fact that those precious ones are running…to the Grace that helps in their need.

    Blessings on you all.

  29. says

    I’m so sorry you got carsick. Both my mom and I do and now my 4 year old son has shown “symptoms” of being in the same boat.

    Thank you for sharing in the most honest and refreshing way. I am enjoying spending my mornings reading through the teams posts and then thinking about them all day long.

  30. Paige says

    Your words are so powerful. It is so powerful how you see Jesus in it all and remind us to run. I want to run and be closer to him and trust him in everything!

    This song popped in my head after reading your post. http://youtu.be/mTNjM3UnX3I

  31. says

    That first picture of the little girl looks like Caroline playing dress up! So cute.

    This is a beautiful post. Thank you for writing it in a way that makes me feel like I’m there too.

    • Patti says

      I totally agree! When I scrolled down and saw that picture I thought Big Mama was playing a trick on us and slipping a picture of Caroline in there! The resemblance is remarkable.

  32. says

    Sweet Melanie….Your words are absolutely beautiful. Your reminders and realizations are straight from God. Thank you for taking us with you. Thank you for making an eternal difference in the life of a child.


  33. says

    Look at that little Amazon (why do I want to add “dot com” after that word?) girl with the yellow feather. That is the Amazon version of Caroline! I saw the resemblance immediately!

  34. Pam says

    This trip has been so much fun to follow! And it has changed me. After reading your post after your first visit to a Compassion Center, I sponsored Evelin. Can’t wait to encourage her, pray for her, and follow her life! And it’s all because you all took this trip.

    Clearwater, Florida

  35. Christy says

    Beautiful post. So convicting. I love how God has used so many different voices this week. So thankful for all of you and your willingness to go.

  36. says

    First, I am so sorry about your car sickness. Bless your heart. I’m glad you are with such a great group of folks to help take care of your during that trying time.

    Your words are so on the mark. We are all wrapped up in our lives and our needs that it weighs us down when we need to be unincumbered so we can run with Him. It is amazing how the Lord can use folks in different ways. I’m sure you and the folks on your trip are blessing those around you. And some in ways you might not even know.

    Keeping you in daily prayer!

  37. says

    What a beautiful post, Melanie. I’m so sorry you got sick though! And what a beautiful, humbling palm frond welcome from those precious children!

    Did you see any crocodiles in the river? That would scare me.

    Did ANYONE eat that lunch? I don’t think I could bare to take a bite yet I’d be concerned about offending my hosts. Did they care that ya’ll didn’t want the food they’d served you?

  38. says

    Wow! Sounds like a fabulous adventure! And I remember looking at food like that in the Philippines and thinking, “How offended would they be if I didn’t eat this???”

  39. says

    I’m a new blogger, and discovered your blog via the Compassion website. What an amazing trip! I went from laughter to tears just reading through your Ecuador posts. And the pictures were just incredible. The intense beauty and poverty in this land really struck me as I looked over the pictures(and the sweetness in the faces of the children), and I imagine this will be one of those trips that you all think about for a long time after you return home. I’m so thankful to be able to read about what God is doing in this part of the world!

  40. pettsallowed says

    so the little girl, and thought you stuck a pic of Caroline on the blog! WoWdid you realize the resemblence when you were with her? You are making great memories, and will have many private jokes with your travel buddies, i’m sure!

  41. says

    This is pretty fantastic. I’m looking at the Compassion site now and how amazing for each of you to be able to journey with them and then blog about that. Life changing. Awesome!

  42. says

    Well thank you very much… I have always wondered how I could ever do missions or what have you… And your little puke a pa looza just provess how…. You just do.
    No spiritual perfection falls down and everything is right with our insides… But you just get yourself a chip bag and deal.
    Lol… I feel like I have a game plan now.
    So seriously thank you for going through the puke fest… It has really given me perspective.

  43. Denice says

    So sorry you got sick! :( but thanks for the beautiful post. “I want to love Him more, serve Him better, and know Him more.” Me, too.

  44. Big Mama's Mama says

    This was an awesome post. Thank you so much for sharing in such an effective way. It truly was anointed. And, the little girl in the pic does favor Caroline.

  45. says

    I’m so sorry about the carsickness thing. I hate having stomach issues so much, that alone would have ruined the whole trip for me. I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate the beauty of the Amazon or the lesson you learned from the running children. All I’d be thinking about is never eating or throwing up again! Okay, maybe wondering when I might be able to eat again, but definitely never throwing up again, and I never would have touched that food you were offered!

    I’m glad you got something out of it, though. Here’s to me never going to the Amazon!

  46. says

    Following your journey has been amazing. Melanie, is it just me or does that little girl in this post make you think of Caroline?

    Well… we prayed fervently about the snakes and monkeys and God was faithful. I suppose we’ll be adding carsickness in the future. So sorry… it would appear you were quite the trooper, pushing through.

    The picture you painted of those kids running on the rocks has hooked my heart. You should know that this has been a big part of conversation here at home for us. I’ll be sitting down with my five-year-old, Sophie, sharing more pics {already shared some} and even showing her the Compassion site of children. We’ll be praying for specific direction not only for the possible missions trip for me in July but also for sponsorship.

    Thank you for sharing your journey. Forever grateful.

  47. says

    Wow, what a wonderful trip! So sorry about the car sickness!
    I too, am special in that way! Oh it’s horrible! Welcome home.

  48. says

    Not to joke at your expense, but that old saying about opportunity (“When God closes a door, he opens a window”)….”When God closes the bus door, Keely is there to open a chip bag.” :)

    Sorry. Couldn’t resist. :)

    So glad to read your blog posts about this trip. Compassion did a GREAT job of selecting bloggers this time around. Thanks for going and sharing!

  49. says

    Thank you for going on this trip and sharing your experiences with Compassion and the lives it touches. I loved reading your stories! We sponsored our first child while reading about your trip. She was the first face to show up when we searched for a child, she is exactly six months older than our oldest here and we share a nickname. I love the details God already knew about her and our match. Thanks again for being the hands and feet of Christ and the beautiful, witty and touching way you report it all!

  50. says

    Oh – you made me tear up! I have to say that reading your blog and Ann’s has really impacted me and I’m so thankful for your journey to Ecuador! And I’m glad you survived those bus rides. And I hear you on the jungle, those noises will get you every time. But if you did happen to get a monkey in your room and you went to the tell the management – and if the management told you that the man who gets monkey’s out of the rooms has gone home for the day – then you might just have to ask the President of Compassion Canada to come and get the monkey out of your room – and thankfully he will! (It was only a baby monkey and very cute)

  51. says

    Trying to catch up after a bloggy-absence. No blog roll on my new blog design is making me behind on reading! Looks like I’ve missed a lot. What an incredible trip to a beautiful land.

    Love the picture and your words about running on the rocks while trusting with complete abandon in THE Rock.

    I want to run too!

    Blessings to you…