My Account
Close this search box.

In the Amazon jungle

Story by Jennifer Wolf
Photos by Lemuel Malabuyo

This is the third in a series of stories about my visit to MAF Ecuador’s program in early December. If you missed the earlier ones, start with the first story here, and then read the second one here.

“Where will we sleep in the jungle? I asked Cristina, MAF Ecuador’s administrative assistant and our main contact for the week.

It was Monday morning in Shell, Ecuador, and our group was at the MAF hangar. We would soon be boarding a Cessna 206 for our flight into the Amazon jungle to visit the small community of Panintza. 

“You’ll be tent camping,” Cristina answered.

I immediately wondered how our tents would hold up under the torrential downpours, and then a more pressing question came to mind. “Would we have to dig a hole for a toilet?”

She looked at me quizzically, as if it were a strange thing to ask. I can’t imagine why. I believe her answer was, “There’s a structure.”

Okay, good. I was sure whatever form of “toilet” was in said structure I had experienced by now in my travels with MAF, including the following: bucket-flush toilets; a long-drop toilet; squatty potties; and a thorn bush.

Left front, Lem; middle row, Jenn and Sixto; back, missionary brothers Levi, left, and Daniel, right.

By mid-morning, it was time to board the airplane along with MAF chaplain Sixto and two local missionary teen brothers who would serve as our translators and help us conduct interviews in Spanish. Soon we were airborne with pilot Danny and flying over the Amazon jungle, which looked like a forest of broccoli from the air.

Forty-five minutes later we landed on the short grass airstrip at Panintza. As we taxied to the end of the strip, people were already coming out from the center of the village to help us carry our cargo, and the food gifts the MAF team had sent.

As we followed Sixto with our gear, two things became clear to me: 1) We were sleeping in tents but we’d be in a simple, raised wooden home, with two rooms and a large covered front porch. Four of the guys would be on the porch, Sixto had a room with all the food and supplies, and I had my own room. So we would not need to worry about the rain getting to our stuff, and the tents would keep the bugs out.

And (perhaps more importantly) 2) There was an outhouse nearby with a squatty potty.

Hospitality in the jungle

We dropped off our stuff and headed over to the large covered area where the community usually gathered—an open-sided structure with a tin roof. We sat on wooden benches at the front and Sixto introduced us and explained that we were there to gather stories for MAF’s supporters. Then some of the leaders came forward and made short speeches to welcome us.

There were maybe 30 or 40 people—adults and children—gathered under the shelter. One of the men shared how they live off the land. Everything they eat comes from the jungle, through hunting, fishing, or whatever is growing there.

Another man shared, “It was not Sixto’s will that we become Christians. It was God’s will.”

It was amazing to me that they were so new in their faith. MAF was in its second year of serving here. A team visits for three days each month to disciple the believers and train church leaders.

The women made lunch for the entire village and set up tables for us in another sheltered spot. There were bowls of hot broth with some sort of meat, small fish, and boiled plantains. When we asked what the meat was, someone told us it was a small horse. Come to find out, it was tapir.

After lunch, the guys started playing volleyball in the hot sun … with a soccer ball! Developed in Ecuador, “ecuavóley” is the national sport. It seemed to require even more energy than a regular volleyball game because of the heavier ball, and the rules were different.

I sat with the women in the shade of the main shelter. They were shy and sweet, and laughed a lot. They spoke Spanish, so I was able to communicate a tiny bit. I knew how to ask how many children and/or grandchildren they had, and to say how many I had. After those questions, all I could think to do was to show them pictures of my grandsons (almost 2 and almost 4 years old) on my phone. Some things are universal it seems, even in the jungle. 

Nighttime approaches, and so do the bugs

Just before 5:00, Sixto’s booming, jovial voice called the people to come to the church for the evening service. Soon, entire families arrived and began to find a seat.

They sang several worship songs in Spanish and Shiwiar (pronounced Shiviar), their native language. Then Sixto preached from Romans 6:1-8 and shared a list of “7 Reasons Why Not to Sin.”

It felt very much like Christianity 101—rich, basic truths that every believer should know but with culturally relevant examples for people who live in a jungle setting.

Wilson, MAF Ecuador’s base maintenance manager, hands a food gift to each Panintza family.

As it was getting dark, someone set up a projector and they began to play a short film about Jesus. Sixto and Wilson (the other MAF teammate who arrived on a later flight) left the church when the movie started. Lem and I and the translators went to find them and discovered they were heating water for hot chocolate or milk and had rolls with tuna for our MAF team.

We enjoyed our evening snack by candlelight, where the bugs came out in full force. Then it was time to get ready for bed, so I went to my room to grab my toothbrush and toothpaste by flashlight. As I was doing this, Lem says, “Hey Jenn, did you know you have a roommate?”

I turned around to see him by the door, his headlamp illuminating a spot next to the door frame.

There, hiding within its web, was a good-sized TARANTULA!

While I was mortified, the guys thought it was hilarious and promptly nicknamed it “Timmy.”

Of course I would get the room with the large spider! They assured me it would only come out at night to eat the bugs. It was a good thing, they said.


Would I be able to sleep knowing that Timmy was nearby? What would the next two days hold for me in Panintza? You’ll have to wait for my next installment to find out.


Persevering in hard places

Just over a week after a devastating 7.2 magnitude earthquake rocked southwestern Haiti, MAF pilot Eric Fagerland landed in the town of Jérémie with a load of relief supplies.

Read More »

Search this Website

Notify Me of Upcoming Adventures


Share This