Oakwood University chaplains Kimberly Mann and Andrew Pileggi began recruiting students in October 2017, for a mission trip organized by the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA). This mission trip was planned on a scale that had never been done before — to build an entire school campus in the Amazon jungle.
ADRA invited every college and university in the North American Division to take part in the “ADRA Connections Extreme: The Amazon Project.” Each school would send up to 30 students, for approximately 350 volunteers. Historically, mission projects include the building of a church or school building, but the Amazon project would include an entire campus of 12 buildings — a 40-room dormitory, five missionary houses, two classroom buildings, two office buildings, a library, and a cafeteria.
During the school year, Dwayne Cheddar, professor of communications at Oakwood University in Huntsville, Ala., began sharing with the Hope Channel that Oakwood planned to participate. As a result, the Hope Channel fully funded the expenses of Cheddar and a team of videographers to document the entire project. Kenn Dixon, Oakwood director of integrated media and public relations, also supported documentation of the project by sending a photographer. Nineteen from Oakwood participated, including 13 students, two chaplains, and the media team.
Oakwood’s missionaries arrived safely in Brazil on July 7, 2018, and at ADRA’s base in Manaus the next day. At 5:30 p.m., they boarded a riverboat on which they would sleep for the duration of the mission trip. During the 24-hour ride down the Amazon River, the group experienced a taste of the extreme weather of the Amazon as rain poured down, and they were simultaneously engulfed by the extreme humidity. The group remained drenched either by rain or sweat, but that did not stop them from working hard.
The missionaries were up by 5:30 a.m. every day. Worship began at 6 a.m., followed by breakfast, and a four-hour morning shift in intense heat. The afternoons consisted of lunch, a brief rest period, and an afternoon shift until around 5 p.m. Every evening the team of more than 200 missionaries gathered for worship before returning to their boats to sleep by 10 p.m. It was a grueling schedule, especially because of the intense heat, but the sacrifice was more than worth it. Sixty students in a remote village along the Amazon River would be able to receive a quality education if the missionaries reached their goal.
The first few days of the trip were full of challenges due to language and cultural barriers. More than half of the group of volunteers were from Brazil. Missionaries worked, but not as one. It was at that point that Oakwood’s team began to shine. Through Oakwood’s sweetness of attitudes and harmonies, the Holy Spirit began to create a “bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3).”
One day in particular, the entire campus stopped to cheer Oakwood’s students after hearing them sing while working. The other missionaries were moved by the music and the spirit of the occasion. It wasn’t long before Oakwood became the first American group asked to lead praise and worship.
Oakwood’s chaplains and students, led by Mann, went to the stage and lifted the worship service to another level. The next night, missionaries from Brazil gathered to hear Oakwoodite Jewell Thomas sing original songs as she beautifully strummed her guitar. An unplanned concert began, and by the end of the night, most of the missionaries sang “Total Praise” by Richard Smallwood. Groups on other boats began cheering, “Oakwood! Oakwood! Oakwood!” as Oakwood’s team pulled off shore to head to the next community to spend the Sabbath in ministry.
The next day, Oakwood arrived in another village along the Amazon River. Mann led the children’s Sabbath School, the entire group offered special music, and then Pileggi delivered a sermon. Later that day, the group walked through the village to share the encouragement of the Gospel, and the night ended with a social for the children in the community.
The second week was marked by the Holy Spirit, evidenced by increased unity and morale, and new vigor. Oakwood’s group completed the construction of the library — affectionately called “Eva B. Dykes Library” — and two classrooms. The campus was completed by the end of the second week. The students of the new campus presented a beautiful program in honor of all those who sacrificed their time, money, and energy.
The entire experience was captured on film by Cheddar and his team, including Oakwood employees Themar Pericles and Teymi Townsend, and student Elijah Leftridge. The entire 13-episode documentary will be ready to view via the Hope Channel in 2019.
Oakwood University | November 2018