Oblivious to the rest of the world, the kids laugh and scream as they take turns flying off a rope-swing, plunging into the cool water and trying to swim against the current to a nearby rock. To them, the jungle is an exciting new adventure.
To Brad and his wife Carissa*, it's the risky place where they're about to move their family. Still, sitting on his cabin porch at the International Mission Board's new jungle training camp, Brad watches his children playing and knows it's the right move.
The month-long training program is the final step to prepare the Connellys and their three children -- ages 4, 6 and 8 -- to venture deep into the heart of the Amazon jungle and work among one of the nearly 230 unengaged, unreached indigenous people groups in the Americas. Their people group is less than 2 percent evangelical Christian and no one is currently trying to reach them with the Gospel.
The community they hope to work in is restricted and permission to enter is hard to obtain. For the moment, the Connellys live in a nearby city, praying that God will soon open doors for them to enter and begin work in the area. Once that happens, He'll be all they have.
They'll be the only missionaries in their area, nearly 15 hours away from the next closest IMB personnel. Electricity will be a luxury for about an hour a day -- sometimes. Food options will be limited, and Internet and phone access will be nonexistent. The family will be up to eight hours away from the nearest decent medical care.
They suspected a lot of this when they asked for the job.
"When we were looking through available jobs," Brad recalls, "we specifically asked to look at the hardest ones, the ones no one else wanted. Some of these jobs had been on the books for four or five years because no one else wanted them."
But moving their kids to a difficult and even dangerous environment wasn't a decision the Connellys made easily.
"I was thinking a lot about my family and how this will work out," Brad says. "One morning I was reading through the Bible about Abraham sacrificing Isaac. I was praying and I just felt like God asked me, 'Would you do that and not ask any questions?'"
As a mother, Carissa had to come to terms with the threats she knows her children will face with this life.
"In the beginning, I felt like I'm dragging them away from everything and putting them in a place where there's malaria and dengue and all these sicknesses and no doctors," Carissa says. "But the Lord had to teach me, do I trust Him? Because He loves my kids more than we could ever love them. If He's not big enough to take care of them, who can?
"It's not just Brad's call ," she continues. "It's not just my call. It's our family's call. Sometimes the call to follow Jesus is painted as something very nice and pretty, but there's a price. He says, 'Pick up your cross and follow me, and you will suffer.' That's just part of it."
The Connellys know that not all their stateside friends and family members understand their decision to move to a potentially dangerous place. But knowing God has called her family has kept Carissa confident in their direction.
"Will they miss out on some stuff? Probably," she says. "Will they get sick? Absolutely. But our kids are really blessed to grow up in the ministry and to know God as their Healer, as their friend and their everything."
Brad adds, "You know, if the Lord wants to protect my kids, He will. And we're going to ask Him to do that. But if He wants me to lay them on an altar, ... to the American mind I know how that sounds, but I feel like that's what He asked of us."
In the face of uncertainty and risk, the Connellys look forward to sharing the Gospel with people who currently live with no eternal hope, understanding that while God's plan may not be the safest place, it is always the best place.
"God is in control, and to me, everything else is fluff," Brad says. "It's like God just says, 'There's the rope. Are you willing to jump and hold on?' And He's going to swing it hard all over the place, and I'm going to get hurt and things are going to happen, but I just have to trust Him. He's got this. And I feel like we're going to have the opportunity to see God do some amazing things."
*Name changed. Emily Pearson served as an IMB writer in the Americas. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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