Since the beginning of my employment in the Samaritan’s Purse Bolivia office more than a year and a half ago, I’ve heard about the Ruth Bell Boat Clinic program. A few months ago, I finally got to experience a trip, and it was even more special than I expected.
The Ruth Bell Boat program began in 2011. It’s a fully functional clinic that provides primary medical and dental care services to people living in remote areas. Through this program, communities receive medical and dental consultation, access to medicine, spiritual counseling, prayer, community Gospel outreach activities, and more.
To be able to see and experience the Ruth Bell firsthand was humbling and inspiring. I worked mainly with the dental team to check-in patients and translate. In a timeframe of two weeks, we saw 414 patients for medical consultation and 139 patients for dental consultation. Many of those patients received both forms of care.
This trip reminded me that in the context of following Christ, what we do is always less important than how we do it. The way we listen to, serve, pray with, and talk about Jesus with patients is the difference. So often, we’re in turn blessed by their personalities, their hospitality, and their genuine gratitude.
Here are a few special moments and highlights from the voyage in March:
Mirna is a sister in Christ and a community leader in El Peru, a large rural community on the Apere River. She helped the Ruth Bell team by organizing the check-in process for more than 150 patients seen in three days. We were so blessed by her and encouraged to see a follower of Jesus in an important community leadership role.
She invited our program coordinator to preach at her local congregation. He spoke for Bolivian Father’s Day about the importance of being a father who truly loves God and his family in word and deed. Supporting the local church and supporting local believers in community leadership positions is a vital part of the Ruth Bell Boat Clinic ministry strategy.
A unique family
Also in the community of El Peru, a mother shared with us that though she isn’t a believer, her two sons are followers of Christ and attend the local church. In addition, her oldest daughter is a believer and a nurse married to a Navy doctor living in the U.S.
One afternoon this mother came back to the boat so that we could talk to her daughter in the States. We enjoyed this unique connection and shared with the daughter more about Samaritan’s Purse and the Ruth Bell. She encouraged us in our work and expressed desire to someday serve with her husband on the Ruth Bell.
The love of a father
In a male-dominated culture, where many times women are designated to take care of all tasks dealing with the children, we were intrigued to see the counter-cultural example of Fabricio and his father. Though Fabricio, a 7-year-old boy, was fearful of getting his tooth pulled, he had incredible support in his loving father who spoke words of encouragement to him and assured him.
Fabricio was one of the few children to come back to the boat the next day to say thank you, giving us a huge smile and proudly showing the new hole in his teeth. We encouraged this father to continue to love his son well.
Lucho, a real-deal Bolivian cowboy, had just returned from working out in the pasture. He had cleaned himself up and brought his young boy, Hugo, with him to the boat. Lucho needed dental attention and little Hugo needed to see the doctor about a skin rash.
The Ruth Bell Boat often sees these cowboys as patients because Beni is one of the largest cattle producing regions in Bolivia and the majority of people work directly for the industry. Some cowboys even ride more than eight hours on horseback into town to be seen by a doctor or dentist. Many leave with a Bible and with hope about the love of Christ for their life.
To those waiting under the big tree
When the Ruth Bell docks in a community, it searches for shade. Without it, the sweltering temperatures of the Bolivian Amazon can become challenging for the medical and dental team members and their ability to work. Finding shade means that patients waiting outside the boat can also find shelter from the hot sun.
It’s common for staff from the Ruth Bell to start the day by meeting with this large group of people, explaining the process of the clinic, and then joyfully talking about Jesus. We pray that hearing the Gospel will be another opportunity for these people to respond to the incredible love of Christ. We also share the Gospel in consultations and through local evangelistic activities or movie nights.
Seeing and enjoying God’s creation in the Bolivian Amazon is a tremendous pleasure and constantly leaves our team in even more awe of our Creator.
The most beautiful woman in town
One day an elderly woman came aboard the boat for medical consultation. She used a handmade walking cane and boarded with significant assistance. Seeing a special opportunity to bless her, we made an announcement to the people on the boat that we had been searching for the most beautiful woman in the region and that we had just found her. Her face lit up with a smile, and she relaxed even more. We’re honored to serve elderly people on the Ruth Bell.
Encouraging young students
On our last stop on this trip, we were able to attend to nearly all of the children in the local school. After nearly two weeks of seeing young children with severe tooth decay, we were impressed that the majority of these boys and girls only needed a consultation and cleaning. We encouraged them to continue taking good care of their teeth and to remember how much Jesus loves them.
Three and four years
The dental team members have now served on the Ruth Bell three and four times successively. To see their commitment, their friendship, and their fellowship in action was an inspiration. It’s a joy when friends come together to serve the Lord.
A family team
It was also a great pleasure to see the Adams working together for Christ as a family team. Dr. Greg (MD), Carol (RN), and Hallie (RN) joined us on the Ruth Bell for the first time and did a tremendous job of serving our medical patients with great care, gentleness, a fun-loving spirit, and the love of Christ. It’s a joy when a family comes together to serve the Lord.