Local teacher raising money to build school in Brazil’s Amazon


Group members from a Serve and Study trip organize an exchange fair at a village school in Brazil. Susan Thomas, who is raising money to build a school in another village, said the buildings typically have a small cafeteria, an office and a couple of classrooms. The Serve and Study trips are offered by Justice & Mercy International. Participants attend a Bible study led by Kelly Minter and Angela Thomas Pharr and also serve in the villages they visit, offering Vacation Bible School and other events.

Photo provided

In less than two weeks, Susan Thomas’s kindergartners will set out for a new school year, with white glue sticks and fresh boxes of crayons in tow.

But the Mt. Comfort resident knows that in another part of the world, more than 3,000 miles from her Perry Township classroom, there’s a community of children who can’t meet for classes yet — and have struggled to for several years.

That’s why Thomas is raising money to build a school for the children of Iranduba.


Thomas had stayed after school to finish some more work one Friday in September 2021. She visited the restroom before she left for the long Labor Day weekend, only to realize she couldn’t smell the hand lotion she’d just pumped out.

After confirming she had COVID, weathering its symptoms, and staying home writing lesson plans for a substitute teacher, she had a few more days of quarantine. She’d been in a summer Bible study group, and there were a few videos left in the series, so she started watching them.

Growing up in McCordsville, Thomas had never felt called to go on a mission trip. But as one video touched on a “Serve and Study” trip to the Amazon area of Brazil, “It was a God nudge,” she said. “I felt God like, ‘You’re going to do that. You’re going to apply.’”

She was late to the process. She was required to read a book, “Wherever the River Runs,” before applying. It described piranha, sleeping in a hammock and eating large insects, all amid fierce heat and humidity — not conditions she’d ever craved.

Still, over fall and Thanksgiving breaks, she finished the book and applied. When 2022 began and there was still no word, she figured she wasn’t going but had at least tried.

In late January, though, in between testing incoming kindergartners, she saw a notification on her phone. She was in.


That June 2022 trip with Justice & Mercy International was a real-life experience of some of what Thomas had read about. Banana-like hammocks anchered to the ceiling could sway as the ship moved, sliding women in the group into each other at night.

Yet she found it “a blessing” to serve the people — to put on a Vacation Bible School for the children, and to pamper the women by giving them facials and manicures.

At an “exchange fair,” the group offered clothes and supplies to people in exchange for whatever they could bring, even a flower from a bush.

“The kids just … they stole my heart,” Thomas said.


She began sponsoring two children. But at home, several weeks past the trip, Thomas had a restless feeling there was more to do in response to all she’d seen.

As she scrolled the Justice & Mercy site, she saw information about building schools and libraries. “My teacher heart — but more, the Holy Spirit in me — pinged.”

She learned that a school in the Iranduba area, along the Solimões River in northern Brazil, was swept away by a flood.

“The river rises 25-30 feet during the rainy season,” Thomas said. “The floodwaters basically destroyed the school.” The school’s teacher tried to set up a makeshift school under his house, which is elevated, but that space was also flooded.

Building a school in the community, an elevated one designed to withstand future rainy seasons, would cost $30,000.

“I’m not doing this if you’re not in it with me,” Thomas said to God. “… I need a big sign.”


Thomas and some friends used to go to a Christian women’s conference in St. Louis. It had since moved to other cities, but in September 2022 it was back to St. Louis, and they went again.

Thomas was still praying for a billboard. During a break, she went through a room about expressing dreams and praying about them. She grabbed a marker and wrote about the school on a ribbon, then hung it on a piece of lattice with other ribbons.

In the next room, she was reading Bible verses displayed on the walls and floor. In walked a friend — one she’d met on the Amazon trip three months before, one who lives in Washington state.

The next day, as she blow-dried her hair, a sentence came: You don’t get what I did yesterday.

She prayed and pondered that. She could have run into this friend from the trip in the restroom. Or on the street. Or, among 15,000 women at the conference, not at all.

But she had crossed paths with someone from an Amazon trip right after writing about building a school there.

It was the billboard she’d prayed for.


The campaign to raise money for the school went live about five months ago, on Presidents Day. About half the amount has been raised: $16,451 as of this week. That’s enough to build a floor and ceilings, but the rest must come in before the building can be finished.

Between COVID and flooding, about 50 children in Iranduba have not had school for several years. Thomas said drug trafficking and sexual abuse are very present in the area, and a school will expand the number of different, positive outcomes available to the children.

“The school project in Iranduba is much needed,” Mary Katharine Hunt, executive director of Justice & Mercy International, wrote in an email.”Our Brazilian staff has told us that some children in this area have not been able to study for 4 years and that a school in this village would be an absolute game changer for them. Providing education opportunities like this is part of JMI’s goal to help make Justice personal for the poor, orphaned and forgotten people we serve.”

Thomas visited different villages during her two trips, but when the school is done she wants to go to Iranduba.

“I want to look into the eyes of those 50 kids and tell them, ‘God sent a teacher from Indiana … to build a school for you because he sees you and he loves you,’” she said. “They need to know that ‘God sees you. You’re not forgotten in his eyes.’”


Learn more about the effort to build a school in Iranduba, Brazil, at https://justiceandmercy.reachapp.co/campaigns/iranduba-village-school.

Susan Thomas is willing to speak and show slides to churches or groups interested in supporting the school. She can be reached via email at [email protected].