Sharing God’s Love on the Ruth Bell Riverboat

May 30, 2017 • Bolivia

A trip into the Amazon Basin brings opportunity to serve in Jesus' Name.

Rachel Gruenloh is an intern with Samaritan’s Purse in Bolivia.

Helping lead and serving as an interpreter for World Medical Missions teams that work onboard the Ruth Bell riverboat is a challenge but also a blessing like none other. A recent trip into Bolivia’s Amazon Basin was no exception.

It was late in the afternoon on Good Friday and nearing the end of the first day of clinics in the village of Desengaño. World Medical Mission volunteer nurse Terri Wiebe knocked on the door of the boat’s dental consult room and asked if the dental professionals I was interpreting for had time to see one more young patient.

Walter brought smiles and much joy to the medical team.

Walter brought smiles and joy to the medical team.

He’d arrived on the boat with a low-grade fever that was likely due to a mouth full of infected, abscessed teeth and deep cavities that had gone untreated for far too long. With the sun already slipping behind the trees, volunteer dentist Dr. Julia Tyson and dental assistant Mindy Bowers agreed to see the boy. They recognized at once the serious risk the infection could pose to his health should it spread to other parts of his body.

That was how we met Walter.

With more energy than seems possible for a 7-year-old boy, little Walter quickly filled the Ruth Bell dental consult room with his excited chatter. He was curious about everything and not the least bit phased by the intensive dental treatment. Walter and his 12-year-old brother, Joel, had been left in the care of their elderly grandparents some time ago, and not much was known of their parents. Regardless, their abundant joy was undeniable and their comical antics kept us laughing long after I walked the two boys home that night.

From that point on, Walter became a sort of permanent fixture onboard the Ruth Bell riverboat. By the second day, nearly our entire team knew him by name thanks to his nonstop talking and uncanny ability to slip past the crew member controlling the flow of patients allowed onboard during clinics. The energy he brought to the boat kept the team smiling, even during afternoons when temperatures soared and jungle humidity made our work incredibly difficult.

On Easter Sunday, the Ruth Bell team met for a morning worship service with the local evangelical church. Walter and Joel were waiting for us, eager to sit with us during the service. Walter, unsurprisingly, couldn’t keep himself confined to a chair for more than a few minutes.

Joel and Walter live with their grandparents and two cousins.

Joel and Walter live with their grandparents and cousins.

However, Joel stayed faithfully by my side throughout the service, alert and eager as I quietly helped him follow along with the pastor’s message and look up the Bible verses. Other team members also had opportunities to share the message of Christ not only with the boys, but also with their grandparents. They demonstrated Christ’s love through both actions and words of hope and Biblical truth.

On our final day in the village, after the dental team had put the finishing touches on the last of Walter’s teeth needing attention, the boys’ grandmother arrived at the boat with a huge sack of freshly picked grapefruits for our team – a sweet gesture of thanks for the care Samaritan’s Purse had provided her family.

I normally take great pride in being able to help touch the lives of people living along the Amazon Basin. However, as we pulled away from Desengaño, I couldn’t help but feel that I’d received more than I gave this time. I was incredibly touched by the open arms that welcomed us into the community and by the way our team gave so much of themselves for the sake of reaching as many people as possible.

However, more than anything, I was touched by the enthusiasm of one particular 7-year-old and his brother. I was encouraged by their constant joy and the way they accepted us during a short time.

For me, Walter and his family represent everything that the Ruth Bell riverboat exists to accomplish—meeting physical needs and using that precious service as a platform to share Christ in word and deed. It is my hope that we did more than just save a little boy from serious infection and future health problems. I’m praying that we touched his family with Christ’s love in a way that they will remember and that will draw them closer to God.

We began today receiving patients at the respiratory care unit.
Emergency Medicine Your gift will enable Samaritan’s Purse to provide life-saving medical care (including doctors, nurses, respirators, and other essential equipment) to hurting and vulnerable communities. We respond in the wake of natural and manmade disasters, as well as during outbreaks of infectious diseases. We also offer public health outreaches to prevent the spread of life-threatening illnesses. Most important, our teams bring the Gospel message of the Lord Jesus Christ to those who are suffering and afraid.

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