At the time of Mayr, the great Brazilian mission field had few workers to reach the population that lived in rural areas. There were no roads or trains in the middle of the jungle, so in regions like the North and Northeast, the inhabitants of the interior had to navigate about 65 thousand kilometers of rivers in a green maze to reach a hospital.
Diseases such as malaria, typhoid, and smallpox were aggravated by malnutrition and poor sanitation. People lived surrounded by jaguars, piranhas, and poisonous snakes. For them, the disease meant needing a miracle.
Desire to Serve
This situation in the Baixo Amazonas Mission, an administrative region of the Adventist Church, changed in January 1929, when Pastor Leo B. Halliwell was transferred with his family from the Bahia Mission to Belém, Pará to assume the presidency of the institution.
His wife, Jessie, was an excellent nurse and famous for delivering babies. In addition to the profession, she was an expert in hydrotherapy and an excellent vegetarian nutritionist.
To visit those who needed Jessie’s work, the Halliwells undertook dangerous, lengthy, and uncomfortable trips through the Amazon. The available boats were not able to go directly to the places they needed, and the crews had to continue through the narrow tributaries of the canoe. The mission needed an option that best suited its needs, but there were no resources for that.
The Halliwells acquired the knowledge and inspiration needed to build the first motorboat through the pioneer vessels on the continent, Ulm am Donau and Messenger, commanded by Enrique Marker on the River Mamoré and its tributaries. Through an exhaustive study, Leo Halliwell designed a mission launch. During the 1930s, while on vacation, the Halliwells returned to the United States to raise funds to build it. Leo visited churches and camp meetings, thrilling people with stories of their experiences in the new mission field.
A Light for Riverside Communities
The construction of the 11-meter motorboat took four months. On July 4, 1931, Jessie Halliwell christened her Luzeiro. After deciding that all vessels would have the same name, it first became known as Luzeiro I.
The boat’s mission was to offer health education and medical and dental care to about 1 million people. Each trip that Luzeiro made from Belém to the city of Manaus took seven months. Thus, the launch was also the Halliwells’ second home.
As they went, they visited the different regions, staying in each location for up to three days, preaching, comforting, praying, and studying the Bible with their patients. For more than 25 years, the couple served about 250,000 people, many of whom accepted the Adventist message.
The work they did for the riverside and indigenous people was well-received by the government, which had few resources to serve the vulnerable. State governments have started to supply drugs purchased at great discounts. Before leaving Belém, Leo and Jessie Halliwell received the Cruzeiro do Sul Order, with which the Brazilian nation honors foreigners.
With the advancement of technology, the services offered by the other floating clinics have improved. From patient care and tooth extraction, the medical mission’s work has expanded to include x-rays, ultrasound, and minor surgery. Speedboats transported the most serious cases to the Hospital Adventista de Belém.
When successive economic crises limited the financing of the Luzeiro project in the 1980s and 1990s, volunteer doctors continued their work. Infectologist Rogério de Paula mobilized professionals and students of medicine and dentistry. They used their own resources to rent motorboats and visited the riverside twice a month. In 1999 and 2000, approximately 5,000 people were served.
In 2019, the Luzeiro project operated with three boats and has the support of two permanent bases in the cities of Barreirinha and Manacapuru. These support bases have trained health professionals and medicine distributors, as well as speed boat operators to transport the sick and injured. The initiative continues in partnership with local city halls.
This article was originally published on the South American Division’s Portuguese news site