Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Brazil Short Term Team

I have an amazing friend, Haline, who is Brazilian and lived most of her teen years in southern Africa where her parents were missionaries, and who actually texted me two days ago, and I just realized I haven’t texted her back yet (sorry!). After the United States, Brazil is the second most missionary sending country in the world. Brazilians are also incredibly hospitable, generous, and gracious people. All of them. Which is now comforting me as I think about that unanswered text. I remember a conversation we had years ago where I expressed my doubts about the effectiveness of short term missions teams. Haline assured me that they are invaluable to the career missionaries. Short term teams add energy to the mission. They encourage missionaries and draw people to the work God is doing. 

Lucia, Rubens, Rose Angela, Fernanda, Paola, Luciano, Paola
Tarciana, Idenir
We recently had a short term team from Recife, Brazil help us out for a couple weeks. They were a delightful group of seminary students of all ages on summer break. I guess when it’s summer all year long you default to having summer break at the same time as Christmas break, maybe? Six women and three men in their twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, and sixties. Four of them spoke decent Spanish, and the rest knew the basics. With our Brazilian pastors, we never wanted for translators. Their seminary is non-denominational. It attracts students from varied backgrounds because it focuses solely on missions training and sending. In our small group we had a Nazarene, a Baptist, a Methodist, an Anglican, a Presbyterian, and a few Pentecostals. This was a typical Brazilian missions trip in that it was a month long. They had already spent two weeks serving in other churches before they got to us, so they were a well-oiled loving family.

Brazilian lunch with the district superintendent
As seminary students, the short term team members specialized in preaching and evangelizing. Some of my team members have preaching skills, but none of us are trained pastors. We are experienced at making disciples. One of the goals of the trip was giving each team time to learn from the strengths of the other. We watched them preach and teach on the street and they watched us make follow up calls, visit people in their homes, and lead Bible studies. During their two weeks with us, we did seven events; four evangelism events in parks and plazas and three ministry events in the church. It was a great time of learning new strategies and growing the church.

My favorite event was a children’s event we did in a nearby neighborhood called Alberdi. We recently started two new houses of prayer in Alberdi, and this was a great chance to get to know more people over there. The presentation was short: a few songs, a skit, and some gifts. The skit was about people whose joy was in their toys until a thief stole their joy. Then they met someone whose joy was in Jesus, so the thief couldn’t steal it. The kids in the audience enjoyed it, but the parents were all deeply affected by the message. We spent a lot of time talking with families about who Jesus is and about the church.  

Kid's event in Alberdi

One of the families Ashley and I met in Alberdi was Fernando and Lidia and their four children. We went to their house to visit and share with them. We ended up being more blessed by listening to their story. They moved to Cordoba from Bolivia a year ago so their son could have eye surgery. They had converted to Christianity from traditional Catholicism in Bolivia, but have never been involved in a church. It was incredible to hear their story of God’s providence. Their son had an eye infection and needed it removed and a glass eye fitted. They waited for months for a surgeon to arrive, but he never did. While their relatives worried and prayed to their saints, Fernando and Lidia remained firm in their faith in God. In the past two years, Fernando has been freed from alcoholism, they received money to move to Argentina, they found jobs and an affordable house, and their son had his surgery and is happy and healthy. Along the way, they’ve been gifted housing supplies and toys when they’ve needed them, and a Bible and a TV. The preaching channel is their main Bible instruction. We are privileged to continue their understanding of God and the Bible and finally provide them with a church family. 

Ashley, Lidia, Fernando, Leo

My favorite moment with the short termers was a weekday event in the center of town. The weekday events were different in that the team was divided between the event and regular midweek activities. We had a portion of the Brazilians, Ashley, me, and the pastors. As we walked into the plaza, we saw a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses setting up to preach. We moved to another side of the plaza and started setting up our own equipment and preparing the skit. It started to become evident that each of the ten Jehovah’s Witnesses planned to preach. We tried to befriend a couple of them to find out how long they would be. They told us fifteen minutes, but really that could mean anything in Argentina. So we waited and chatted and shopped and waited. An hour later, they packed up to leave and we finished setting up in the dark. The short termers did a very cool skit, but we weren’t getting that much attention from the few people left in the plaza. “Mama Lucia”, the most experienced of the Brazilians, preached powerfully but in Portuguese with a translator. At this point, I was ready to call it a bust and move on, but we continued. After the preaching, we talked with some of the people who were listening. Luciano and I approached a couple men on a park bench. Luciano speaks decent Spanish, but with a thick accent. The men introduced themselves as Filipe and Roberto. Filipe was from Syria and didn’t speak fluent Spanish either. Poor Roberto had just sat down and hadn’t seen the skit or heard the sermon. Then Luciano began to preach. He started with creation and explained the entire plan of salvation. Filipe was paying attention, but Roberto appeared incredibly uncomfortable and kept looking around like he was waiting for someone. I put my focus on Luciano, hoping not to worsen a bad situation. As he finished up, I looked back at the park bench and was shocked to see tears in both men’s eyes. Luciano asked if they wanted to accept God’s offer of forgiveness, and both said yes. I led them in a prayer of salvation. Hearing Roberto repeat the words after me was the strangest and most amazing feeling of broken expectations. 

As encouraging and helpful as the Brazilian team was, the biggest blessing was seeing yet again that God was going before us and preparing things we could never have planned or imagined.

Ice cream with Fernanda and Tarci
Rachel, me, Tarciana, Ashley, Fernanda

Tarciana visited Juan and Dani's house of prayer
Worship with real instruments!
Rose Angela and Lucia visit our house of prayer.
I put the self in selfie, except for when I don't.

Post-church picture with the Brazilians

Missionaries praying for the church

Kid's event in Alta Cordoba
Kid's event in Alta Cordoba