By Jim Mersereau
Dr. Ken Daugherty of Crossville has been the president of CERT International (Christian Emergency Relief Teams) for over 25 years. During that time he has led short-term mission teams and supervised mission projects in more than 60 countries. However of all the regions of the world he has traveled to and worked in, one that is very dear to his heart is the Amazon jungle in southern Peru.
For more than 16 years Ken has been taking medical and dental teams deep into the restricted region of the Amazon jungle to bring healthcare to some of the most impoverished people on earth. The restricted area of the rainforest, known as Manu National Park, is 3.5 million acres of pristine rainforest and is home to approximately 10,000 Machiguenga and Piro Indians. Imagine an area roughly the size of Massachusetts but with only 10,000 people living there, mostly in small and remote tribal groupings. That is Manu National Park and it’s where Ken and the CERT teams have done much of their work over the years.
Although the Peruvian government has welcomed CERT’s medical and dental assistance to the Indians inside the restricted zone of Manu National Park, they did so only with the understanding that CERT would not engage in overt acts of evangelism. Therefore CERT team members have faithfully ministered to the physical needs of the people while at the same time, prayerfully seeking opportunities to subtly engage the Indians spiritually one-on-one.
Approximately 15 years ago some of the Indians began venturing outside the southern boundaries of the park to visit and trade in the little jungle town of Boca Manu. Boca Manu is known as “The Gateway to Manu” because everyone going into or coming out of the restricted area must pass through it. Ken developed a vision for starting a church in Boca Manu which would reach out to the visiting Indians, who would then take the Good News of the Gospel back to their villages inside the park.
Seven years ago that vision became a reality. CERT was able to purchase two very nice buildings in the center of the village, one to serve as a church building and the other as the home for a pastor. A Peruvian man from the city of Cusco, Tomas Deza, came to Boca Manu with his wife, Norma, to be the pastor and God blessed the work in amazing ways. The church has grown, new works have been started in surrounding villages, and a boarding school has been started in Boca Manu where Indian children from the restricted region come for three months at a time to gain a basic education and to learn about Jesus. Tomas and Norma have been strategically involved in that work.
Unfortunately, in recent years the Madre de Dios river has experienced severe flooding and has eaten away more than 100 yards of the river bank in Boca Manu, washing away buildings and homes. The church building, which originally was more than a football field away from the river, was now on the edge of the riverbank and would probably be lost in the next flood. So the men of the church took the church building apart, board by board, and reassembled it at a new site approximately one half mile inland.
Ken is 76 years old now and in recent years has not been able to travel internationally due to health problems, but he longed to return to the Amazon one last time and to see the new church site. So from Nov. 12-26, Ken and I traveled together to Peru. After a couple of days in the city of Cusco in the Andes Mountains, we flew to the jungle town of Puerto Maldenado. Using the 50 foot canoe CERT keeps docked there, we made the two-day trip up the Madre de Dios River to Boca Manu. The trip was pretty arduous, with heat, high humidity, swarms of bugs, and heavy rains, but Ken did great. The people of Boca Manu rejoiced at his return and welcomed him warmly. The church held a special nighttime prayer meeting to pray over him, as well as for the future work of CERT in the Amazon. Ken and I had the opportunity to inspect the new church site (the building will be ready for use in just a few more weeks), and we made plans for the future work of CERT in the Amazon jungle. It was a special trip and I’m glad we made it.
This may have been Ken’s final trip to the Amazon jungle, but his faithful service and leadership in this remote region of the world has established a legacy that will endure and be a blessing for generations to come. There is a thriving church in Boca Manu, CERT teams will continue to work in this remote corner of the world, and the Name of Jesus Christ will continue to be proclaimed in Manu National Park.
For more information about the ministry of CERT International visit our website at www.certinternational.org.
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Jim Mersereau is the pastor of Oak Hill Baptist Church in Crossville and the vice president of operations for CERT International.