Serving God on the Ruth Bell River Boat

April 10, 2018 •
Dr. Vicki Penney, left, and translator Abimael Rivera work with patients on the Ruth Bell River Boat.
Abimael Rivera is a Samaritan’s Purse intern in Bolivia.

I recently experienced my first trip on the Ruth Bell River Boat. I had seen pictures and read stories about past trips, so I was excited to finally set sail along the Amazon Basin. We had a dedicated medical team, amazing boat crew, and great translators. Our team maintained a positive attitude and we relied on God’s strength for success.

My role was to translate for the medical personnel and it was a great experience. Translating feels like a game when you instantly try to find the words to best explain what is being said in another language. After translating for a few hours I would begin to get tired. In those moments, I reminded myself of the mission, and how I needed to put aside my desires and comforts and think of others.

For some people we treated, their only time to see a doctor is when the Ruth Bell comes once a year to their community. The least I could do was provide a pleasant experience for these patients.

For me, that meant having a welcoming smile. Or, being patient when my translation wasn’t understood, whether due to the volume of the generator and the chattering people on the boat, or because as a Puerto Rican my Spanish is different than the locals in Bolivia.

I made sure people sitting in the dental seat knew every step that was going to happen during the procedure so that they felt more at ease. I offered my hand as comfort when patients were about to receive a shot or have a tooth pulled. I asked for God’s presence to comfort those who needed it.

During one medical consult, a father complained of pain in his body, but also emphasized his restless nights. He shared that he would wake up every night around 2 a.m., worrying about life and how he would be able to financially provide for his family.

His worries consumed his thoughts. I reminded this father, who said he believed in Jesus, of John 14:27. This verse talks about the peace of God and how God does not give as the world gives.

We prayed together for God to overwhelm him and his family with peace and for the stress and anxiety to be gone.

Romans 12:10 says, “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” Sometimes I see this verse as a nice slogan on a wall that we agree with but don’t implement in our lives.

It’s not easy. Sometimes we have to leave our comfort zones to serve radically, no matter our vocations.

During devotions on the last day of our trip, World Medical Mission volunteer dentist David Feick encouraged us to walk in obedience to God. He said that no matter what God has called each of us to do, if we are serving Him and walking in obedience, our work is valuable to God.

Whether serving on the boat as a dentist, family doctor, boat cook, captain, nurse, or translator, each role is valuable to God when done with excellence, love, and obedience.