Skip to content

The huge challenge of going to the Amazon

(Note: If you have no time to read it all, please scroll down to the sentence that starts with ***

It just kept raining and raining “somewhere” in the Amazon against the Brazilian border. Some originally intended villages turned out to be almost inaccessible, but we – as a team – persevered and through God’s guidance were able to go to those places. The need there was great!

We are therefore grateful to the Lord that this journey was not an expedition in vain, but a great help to countless people. They were touched by the steadfastness of our team because we keep going out where no one goes and always return to them.  You find there no doctor, no dentist, not even a nurse or any medical care. It is also hours of driving from those villages to get any medication… if you have money…

Fortunately, Doctors On Mission provides thanks to your generous gifts we receive from a few ones. Although, it keeps our rather expensive (because of being medical too) ministry alive. All transport, fuel, medication, medical material and all our really “poor” medical Doctors, Nurses and Pastors are payed by Doctors On Mission. Why paying them?

They come from these regions and have studied in the faraway city with great sacrifice to end up with great debts that they can’t pay back to the University. Also, they want to return to their villages and families to help as they are Christians or become Christians on the way. Mostly of the time, we are sitting with 9 people in the Ambulances singing and praising the Lord. We load an enorm amount of medicines and medical material on the roof of the jeep and fill every empty space with clothes, teeth brushes, child materials, etc..

We are increasingly convinced that – in the region where we work – no other help at all comes to this vast Amazon. This in contrast with the Andes, where there is more medical infrastructure. The (political) capital of La Paz and all cities (with exception of Santa-Cruz de la Sierra) are located in the Andes…. But the Amazon looks like a huge empty region where it’s hard to find the people who live with dozens of family together.

You will not find those villages on the world map. We ourselves hardly remember the mostly strange names of these “pueblitos”. We therefore consider ourselves lucky that we work with local teams where some brave people come from and have studied medicine ending with a huge amount of debts as said before. They are our new disciples and of course our best guides. This is so necessary as you will not find nameplates there and Internet or GPS systems doesn’t work either.

It is often hundreds of kilometers to drive to bring health care and spiritual care. It all goes at a very slow speed… We should not have any illusions. The size of the Amazon is hard to comprehend. The Amazon is about 220 times larger than Belgium (my home country) and that is why it is rightly called the lung of our earth. In addition to Brazil, the Amazon forest also includes very large parts of Bolivia, Venezuela, Guyana, Ecuador, Peru and French Guiana.It’s a “no man’s land” where nobody comes or you need to be born there. In contrast to the Andes, you will still find many children with single mothers in these villages. They are alone. Mostly, the men went to the cities looking for work and did never come back… We hear these stories again and again. Imagine, a very small village with some elders, dozens of women and sometimes hundreds of kids… They is also no education at all.

On our last expedition some of our team members experienced severe pains in their head, joints, abdomen, fevers, diarrhoea, vomiting, fever, etc..  My wife and I (Rik ) were no exceptions as we did before outreaches to the Andes too. Stress levels are high as we are the only ones to try to heal everything with the help of God. There and later also our diagnosis are often insecure. Eventually, we were forced to leave the Amazon forest. Some serious rest, urgent medical treatment, etc.. were much needed.
It’s hard to get there with our old 4*4 Land-Cruiser jeep-ambulances. It is also dangerous because there is really no way to get help – not even in hours – if something happens to you or to the team. No wonder that almost everyone stays far away from there.

From the medical vieuw, it’s also dangerous to just go to the deep Amazon.
Because of the non-stop rain falls, we came suddenly in a real Dengue epidemic region. This virus can cause deadly internal bleeding, especially if you’ve already contracted it once. I have been already positive once what was proved at the Tropical Institute of Antwerp (ITM). This Institute is linked to my University in Leuven (origin in 1317 under Erasmus) near Brussels and is – after the Sorbonne University in Paris – the oldest University in Europe.

The viral strength of Dengue does not weaken as with Covid, but rather increases after an initial infection. It is not a pandemic here but an epidemic because it’s “local” and can only be transmitted by the tiger mosquitoes. Yet, there are 10,000 deaths a year while malaria gives a 100,000 death people a year. The good news is that ITM is developing finally a so needed vaccin. Why didn’t take it so long to do this as the Dengue virus was for the first time discovered in 1779??? Because, it didn’t exist in the West. Everything depends on money… Same with Malaria that for first time was detected in 1880 by a French doctor.

Anyway, we must continue to trust in God’s protection and take care child by child and person by person, testifying of His goodness and love. Of course we take all possible protection we need but we can’t do what the locals do. They just sit together during a Malaria or Dengue Epidemic in the heat of a fire with lots of smoke and put a blanket over their head with the smoke around them to not be infected.

Dear friends, our resources are very limited. The work is gigantic. Yet we persevere, driven by His fire! That’s how we started and that’s how we want to end. I should write a book about what it means to “live as a doctor or aid worker who constantly works among countless seriously ill people without any proper hygienic resources”. The risks are enormous…. Your prayers and real help are so needed. Know that there is no administration cost except of my Laptop.

It has taken a lot to hold on to this ministry during decades but maybe – because of this testimony – many other teams will come over one day. We are just a drop of rain and yet – over the years – a shower of blessings. What we have done – now since 1986 – 1987 and full time since 1990 – we have done. Just think: ” What if all that misery would happen to myself?”In the only city on the beginning of the Amazon (Santa Cruz de la Sierra), my own son came to help us with a team of “Operation Smile” to perform for free dozens of complex reconstruction surgeries, be it a cleft lip palate what I myself did time ago as first assistent. We and our team were in the meantime hundreds to a thousand Kilometers further in the middle of the forest…

Of course, I could have a very nice contact with my Son.  Something to be really thankful for!

On the other hand, we always see happy and relaxed faces as long as no illness or hunger strikes. There is also generally peace here, but the great killers remain the insects, mosquitoes and parasites that cause all kinds of life-threatening tropical diseases that cause a lot of pain and sorrow. We must also avoid the drug mafia (Cocaine) at all times in these regions. They feel to be the owners of this land…

The Ambulance Fund

***In the meantime we continue our Medical expeditions with very old Toyota Land cruiser “ambulances”. These are now 25 and 17 years old. The defects can no longer be counted. Nor the associated mechanical (and medical) costs that go along with all these expeditions. Our Hospital truck doesn’t work at all anymore after 35 years (bought 2nd. hand 25 years ago in the Netherlands.

We must be able to buy a new Toyota Landcruiser Ambulance The good news is that we have already been able to save several thousand Dollars for a new ambulance, but we are still long way from our goal and it’s like donations of organisations can’t follow anymore. We depend on you!

So, who can help us to continue our medical expeditions? It’s an urgent question! Please see or maybe a friend can subscribe our Newsletter

You can also view photos on my Facebook –

Now, it’s time for me to rest and heal from another disease… Thank you for your prayers as we will continue!

Warm regards from our Bolivian Doctors On Mission team and of course also from Carolien and me (Dr. Rik).

Back To Top