A Samaritan’s Purse team in Bolivia finds a unique way to help a man who has been a patient of the Ruth Bell riverboat.
By Tom Ovington, community health and logistics assistant in the Samaritan’s Purse Bolivia office.
Epiphanio Calda Villarroel spends almost all his time in a wheelchair. The 43-year-old man has lived in 27 de Mayo, a village on the Isiboro River, all his life. He was raised by his aunt, Palina, and worked on a local cattle ranch as a young man. When he was 16, fellow workers found him unconscious and severely injured after he was thrown from his horse. That was the last day that Epiphanio walked.
Three years ago, Epiphanio became a patient of the Ruth Bell riverboat.
The Ruth Bell is a hospital boat operated by Samaritan’s Purse and often staffed by volunteers sent by World Medical Mission that brings medical and dental care and the Good News of Jesus Christ to isolated communities along tributaries of the Amazon River in Bolivia.
The residents of these villages have no medical care and must travel by small boat many hours, sometimes even days, to reach a doctor. It’s a privilege to know and serve these resilient people, most of whom are members of indigenous groups that have lived there for countless generations.
Epiphanio is well cared for by his aunt, though five years ago he began to suffer from Parkinson’s-like symptoms. He spends his days in his wheelchair, surrounded by his extended family, gazing at the Isiboro. It was the wheelchair that presented us with an unusual way to help.
The wheelchair, having been adapted to the muddy conditions, uses bicycle tires, and they were old and worn out. Paulina asked us if we could purchase new tires so they could push Epiphanio around their “chaco” (homestead), and we quickly agreed to meet the need.
What a joy it was to give him the tires and inner tubes the next time we visited. As we put the tires in his hands, we shared the message of love through Jesus Christ, and Epiphanio’s expression said what he could not speak: that he now knows he is important to the Creator of all and has not been forgotten. “… As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40b, ESV).
The gift of tires for his wheelchair meant so much to Epiphanio and his family and shows how small things and simple gestures can make a practical difference. Like Jesus often did, we met a need by listening and responding. It reminded us that the ministry of the Ruth Bell is more than medicine.