Compassion's 36-year partnership with Ecuador for Christ is bringing emergency medical care and educational opportunities to a tribe that wouldn't have them otherwise.
Flying in a single-engine Cessna over dense canopies of Amazon forest is an act of faith. Just ask Lloyd Rogers, founder of Ecuador for Christ.
Rain often grounds the planes. Even in clear weather, landing is an advanced skill in this tree-choked terrain.
Skilled pilots from Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF), a partner with Ecuador for Christ, must maneuver their crafts through small clearings just large enough to touch down.
Soaked airstrips cause planes to skid and bounce. Their tires can get stuck in mud, "but the Lord keeps them going," says Rogers with a laugh.
Rogers and MAF pilots have been going for more than 40 years in Ecuador's Pastaza province, the most remote area in the country.
Here, the trees are so thick that only slivers of sun make it to orchids clumped along their trunks. The rivers are often thick with piranhas, and the grasses thick with snakes.
Most people would steer clear of this harsh environment, but Rogers is not like most people.
The first time his Cessna skidded to a stop here, he knew he was home.
Rogers and his family came to Ecuador in 1966, a decade after the Waodani, a tribe of nomadic hunters, killed five missionaries who tried to contact them.
In the years following the missionaries' deaths, Rogers and others missionaries felt called to contact them again and share Christ's love with them.
In the 1970s Rogers forged a unique partnership with Compassion that is still going strong to provide vital resources he lacked, and help the Waodani come to Christ.
As Rogers traveled from village to village meeting Waodani families, what he saw moved him to chart a new course for his life.
Many children died before age 5 from dysentery, infectious diseases and snake bites. Rogers wanted to help, but medical care was nonexistent in the jungle and antivenin went bad without refrigeration.
Even with generators, refrigerators were impractical if not impossible in this remote jungle. The best way to help villagers was to build airstrips.
Pilots could airlift the sick and wounded to the nearest hospital about an hour's flight time away in the township of Shell.
The second biggest need was for education. Rogers wanted children to learn to read the Bible and learn school curriculum.
He proposed the idea of schools and airstrips to villagers in one community, and they liked it. So for three weeks, Rogers took a chainsaw and cut through the thick grasses, vines and trees to carve out a 382-yard clearing.
When he cut away trees, new shoots popped up almost overnight. It rained daily, and his saw often failed.
Rogers spent much of his time pulling apart the saw, cleaning it out, putting the pieces back together � and hoping it worked.
After the initial clearing, the villagers worked one day a week for a year to clear the underbrush, level the landing strip, and piece together two small schools out of rough-cut wood.
Rogers partnered with Mission Aviation Fellowship to provide pilots and planes for villagers and hired several teachers for the kids. Soon, children were learning how to read God's Word.
Villagers were using a radio to call pilots during emergencies � and children who would have died lived.
Other villagers saw the difference Rogers was making and wanted landing strips and schools, too, but Rogers didn't have the resources, so he began to look for a partner.
A Powerful Partnership Is Formed
When Rogers visited Compassion back in the United States, he saw an instant partnership. "It really sold us that this was something that God was doing that we could join with and feel they were part of our work," he says.
Compassion was sold on Rogers, too. His approach was powerful because he worked to respect the culture, not change it.
Fernando Puga, Country Director for Ecuador, says that in 1974, when Compassion Ecuador opened, Compassion's leaders were instantly drawn to Rogers' approach to help the Waodani.
"In those years, the Waodani were the most in need, and today they are still in a condition of vulnerability," says Puga.
When Compassion and Rogers pooled their resources, they were able to do more for the Waodani.
Today, through Compassion's Complementary Interventions Fund and Child Sponsorship Program, there are 37 landing strips and schools, and sponsors are helping save lives and preserve the culture of this unique group of people.
Rogers, at 72 years old, still rides a Cessna into the Amazon and has partnered with 45 Ecuadorian missionaries who travel with him to encourage and train indigenous pastors.
"Our main goals are that the people would be strengthened in their faith in Christ and know how to read the Bible in their own language," Rogers says.
These are Compassion's goals, too, and as long
as the Waodani need them, Compassion and Rogers will be there to help.