Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Open Doors

Have you ever gotten good news that felt like bad news? Like when “Yay! A new puppy!” becomes “Now I’m buying expensive dog food and picking up poop for the rest of my life.”

In January, I got to attend Extreme’s annual summit in Manta, Ecuador. We began every morning with prayer and worship. One morning, we were asked to get with a partner we didn’t know well, pray for them, ask God what He wanted to share with that person, and share what God told us. My partner, the pastor of the Chile church plant, told me that my message from God was to not freak out. Don’t freak out about my future plans in Brazil or the visas and just trust that God would take care of things. Sounds great, right? I immediately felt warning bells going off inside of me. God’s word is timely and perfect. However, I was not at all worried about visas or my future plans. Why would God tell me in a prophetic word to not freak out… unless a storm was coming. My dread was now at odds with the promise. Getting the visas we need might be more difficult than I was expecting, but God had clearly promised me He would take care of it.

Extreme Leaders and Dr. Verne Ward at the Extreme Summit 2017

 A week after we returned from the summit, we had a farewell service for a short term mission team from Brazil. They had been doing missions in different parts of Argentina (including our city) for a month. After the service, there was a moment of chaos as too many people tried to hug each other in too small a space. In the middle of trying to hug all of the Brazilians, one of them, Flavia, stopped me and held my face in her hands. She started speaking very intently in a mixture of Portuguese and Spanish that I could mostly understand. She said I would be blessed in Brazil, that God was sending me like Nehemiah, with the favor of the government, to rebuild the walls of His church in Brazil. She again emphasized that God was granting me the favor of the government for all the documents and visas I would need and that God would greatly use our ministry for His plans in Brazil. Again-pretty incredible, right? And at the same time I knew it was time to get serious about these visas God kept promising.

A couple of the Brazilians joined our outdoor small group while they were with us.
Flavia is seated to the right of me. 

 As I began researching the visa process, the problems weren’t difficult to find. On a tourist visa, one can only be in the country for 90 days at a time and no more than 180 days a year. One must be a clergyman to get a missionary visa or take classes in a seminary to get a student visa. One must receive a salary from a Brazilian company to qualify for a business visa. The only visa we might qualify for, and by a long shot, was a volunteer work visa, and the list of documentation we needed to provide was about as long as my arm. What just took me a minute to type took us weeks to discover with frequent phone calls to people in Brazil, visits to the consulate in Cordoba, Argentina, and emails to the consulates in the States. It was a long hallway of closed doors. Actually, it was a long hallway of slightly ajar doors. At each one, we pushed and pushed to a near solution only to have it snap back in our face and force us to the next unpromising option. This was the reason for the prophecy. Even after we finally decided to move forward with a student visa for the seminary extension in Brasilia and a ministry practicum in Anápolis, we are still having to overcome impossible hurdles. I came to the logical conclusion dozens of times that this simply couldn’t work out. What we want to do does not qualify us for Brazilian immigration. We don’t have the resources or the documentation to legally live in the country. All the doors are closed. However, I didn’t freak out. My mom will tell you that’s not true. There were lots of times that I yelled, complained, maybe even threw a pen or two. But I didn’t do what I wanted to do. I didn’t stop. I didn’t let the frustrations freak me out to the point of giving up. And eventually, doors started opening.

One of the many small, weird frustrations was trying to prove I belong to the Los Angeles consulate jurisdiction. I don’t even want to belong to the Los Angeles consulate jurisdiction. I’d greatly prefer to belong to a closer consulate, but whatever. I had to prove that I was applying to the correct consulate by showing I am from Idaho and not another state, specifically that I have lived in Idaho for the past 12 months. Except I haven’t lived in Idaho for the past two years. No utility bills. No voter registration. Email from the consulate- you can use your driver’s license. Perfect! Wait, my driver’s license expires in June. I’ll get a new one that only shows I’ve been living in Idaho since June. I’ll show both the new and the expired licenses. If they let you keep the expired ones. Worth a shot. Except I changed my address to my Meridian address and I still don’t have a utility bill to change it back to Lewiston. If I have two permanent addresses that might cause me problems.

This is my brain on visas for four months.

Anyway, I went to the Lewiston Sherriff department with my old driver’s license. My eight year old driver’s license that had the correct Lewiston address printed on it, but I knew the computer system would betray the Meridian address. I got a number and sat down. I waited for an hour and fifteen minutes. An hour and fifteen minutes of watching people who had recently moved to the valley argue with the nice lady about how they could possibly prove their residence without a utility bill and what qualifies as a utility bill and whose name appeared on said utility bill and what are they to do? Each one was sent away without a license. The office closed at 4:00. They locked us in so they could finish the ten or so people still waiting in line. I was finally called up to the same nice lady who was now a tired, nice lady. She did my vision test, recorded my signature, took my picture, while I waited nervously for the last question to be asked. “And your address is 2482 Rebecca Way?” No, it’s the 25th Avenue address on the card. “The Lewiston address?” Yes. Pause. Please. “Ok.” She changed the information on the computer and printed a temporary license. I walked out the door with the expired license and received a new one a week later.

It’s a weird, small story, but this happened a dozen times- being in the right place at the right time, knowing what to say or who to talk to, people suddenly changing their minds about what they were willing to do or give. In the visa process and in my fund raising process, God has been obstinately doing things His way in His time. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have to do anything. No one gave me a check for $40,000 and Brazil didn’t just mail me a visa. In fact, I still don’t have the visa. But God had all the open doors ready for me ahead of time. He also gave me the right encouragement at the right time to keep me going long enough to find them. I’m flying to Los Angeles on Thursday. My visa appointment is Friday morning at 11:00. Please pray with me that God would hold this door open. That I would be in the right time. If it is approved, I will be on a plane to Brasilia on August 9th, ready to do more work and discover more of God’s plans. 

Pastor Junior with the Brazilian pastoral and 40/40 missionary candidates. We interviewed
three pastoral couples and five missionaries. We approved one pastoral couple and four
missionaries. One more Brazilian missionary and the team is complete!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Archangel

Last week, I preached about how we can see our lives and our circumstances with God's vision. I used Jorge's life as an example. Even after meeting Christ, he still lived in suicidal depression until he saw himself as God sees him; completely forgiven and free to live abundantly. Enzo is a very different example of the same concept. Having been a Christian since his youth, he saw his life through the lens of Psalm 22:6 "I am a worm and not a man." He is a man of excellence in everything, but only perfection will do with the things of God. Whether rewiring the sanctuary or buying snacks for an event, he provided the best of the best. However, he knew, and would often tell us, that his humanly standard of perfection was not enough. His work, efforts, performance was merely the best he could do, acceptable only by the grace of a loving God. His self-deprecating language was always confusing to those around him. We could see him with God's eyes: a natural leader, everyone's favorite father-figure, godly, loving, talented, but he would never allow anyone to speak of him as such. We even used flattering nicknames to annoy him. I believe the progression was disciple, pastor, apostle, prophet, angel, archangel. From there we couldn't think of anything higher, so we stuck with archangel.

Over the course of the past year and a half he's been attending the church, Enzo's began seeing himself in a different way. He's realized that even the lowliest servant of God is still an instrument to be used by God's hand. After a lifetime of attending church, he's now leading ministries for the first time. He serves in many behind the scenes roles in events and church maintenance, but he also leads worship in the Sunday evening service. A few weeks ago, he preached an actual sermon at a men's event, teaching others what God has been developing in him his whole life-how to be a man of God. Without losing an ounce of his humility, he is also seeing his purpose as a leader of others in seeking more of God. He is a beautiful reminder that even the wisest among us are still growing in Christ.

At the close of the sermon (before the hamburgers) Enzo and his son, Cristian, shared a special song, Hillsong's "Even When it Hurts." They had been practicing it for weeks because Cristian just recently began learning to play the piano and the song features the piano melody. It turned out to be perfect timing for the performance. Only two days before the event, Enzo's oldest child, Sol, was mugged on her way to work. She had been planning to go from work straight to her university classes, so she lost a lot in the robbery: phone, kindle, glasses, wallet, books, and handwritten notes for her thesis. The loss was hard on the whole family, realizing that the sinking economy and rise in crime in Córdoba now meant that their 24 year old daughter couldn't even walk by herself the four blocks from home to the bus stop at 7:00 in the morning. Still they were able to say, even when it hurts, I will praise You. And serve You. And give You my very best. 

The men's event was preceded by a woman's event complete with makeovers and nail painting. Both events had several first time attenders, friends and siblings of our church members. 

Last Sunday, the kids presented a special song in the afternoon service. It was fun for me to have to ask "Who is the kid next to Hadassa??" His name is Baptist and he and his mom Agostina began attending church last month. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Saying Goodbye

There once was a missionary who was traveling with his apprentice through the highlands of South America preaching the good news and encouraging the people. One evening, at day’s end, the two were far from any town and without lodging. They saw a small house on the edge of the ridge and, thinking it was abandoned, went to seek shelter. The structure was barely standing, but the duo was surprised to see it was inhabited by a large family. The head of the household invited them in. He explained that they were very poor, having only one dairy cow to provide food. The family lived off of the cheese they made from the very small amount of milk the cow gave. They didn’t have much, but they were more than willing to share with the missionary and his disciple. Before the meal, they asked the missionary to pray for them. He did so generously, asking for the Lord’s blessing and provision for the family and their future. The cheese was divided into portions so meager that each one continued in hunger after the meal. Having nothing else to satisfy their stomachs, they all went to bed.

As midnight drew near, the missionary’s disciple, deeply troubled, asked the missionary what could be done to help this good, poor family. The missionary, too, was deep in thought and prayer and after a while responded, “Take the cow up to the highest cliff and throw it off the mountain.”

This only disturbed the poor disciple more. “Throw it off? And kill the only source of food this family has?”

“Yes, do it now.”

The disciple had spent many years with his missionary and respected his word and wisdom. Reluctantly, he obeyed the missionary’s command, and the two left the house in secret.

Years later, the disciple found himself passing through the same highlands and thought he’d go see whatever became of the poor family. As he approached their home, his heart sank. The crumbling structure had been repaired and repainted. An addition had been built and the barren ground was now a thriving field. The family had probably starved long ago and a new rich family had moved in. When he got to the door, he was greeted by the same man as before, only different. It was the same man, the same family, but well-dressed, well-fed, and somehow happier. They were more than excited to see the disciple and quickly ushered him to their sturdier and over-flowing dining room table.

“We never thought we’d have the opportunity to thank you for praying for our household! As you can see, God heard our cries and has greatly blessed us.”

Stunned, and still thinking about the cow, the disciple could only say, “Tell me what happened.”

“Well, you won’t believe it, but on the same night that you visited us, our cow ran away and fell off the mountain! We were crushed. We didn’t know how we were going to survive. Days passed and our cheese was running out. Then we found some old seeds in a drawer. We didn’t know what else to do, so we planted them behind the house. We didn’t know anything about farming, and we almost died that first winter, but we kept praying and trusting in God. Miraculously, the soil was good. The seeds grew, and that year we had enough to eat and had more seeds to plant. The following year, we had enough to eat and some extra to sell. Each year, we worked hard and discovered that we had a gift for nurturing and harvesting great crops. Eventually we were able to buy the tools we needed, and each year we grew more and more prosperous. We can never thank God enough for His faithfulness and His response to your blessing!”

This is a story Pastor always loved to tell when we were first starting our work in Córdoba. Sometimes the one thing we are holding onto the tightest is the one thing that is holding us back from success. I’ve been thinking about it a lot in the past couple months; not so much in the farmers, but in the cow.

The cow provided for the family in the only way she knew how. She literally poured herself out so that the family could live. She gave everything for them. She loved them perfectly, self-sacrificially. Maybe at some point, she had been enough. She had provided enough for them to make the cheese they needed. But as time went by, and the family grew, her milk was not enough. Not only that, but the family’s dependence and trust in her milk was actually poisoning them. It was keeping them from discovering their own gifts and talents and purpose.

And so it is with missionaries.

We give everything we have and everything we are for love of the lost. We pour ourselves out in prayer and discipling so that those who need God will find Him. But eventually, we are not what the church needs and the dependency of the church on foreign missionaries will ultimately kill it.

Praise God that this story has a good ending. Even for the cow who must die, the ultimate prosperity of the family is a good ending. In the two weeks since we left Córdoba, I’ve heard nothing but good news about our leaders. Marcelo preached in both services on Sunday. One year ago, he was an atheist. In the last Encounter retreat, he felt God tell him to start preparing to be sent with his wife to the mission field in Africa, a calling she received many years ago. Enzo and Pastora Jaci are dreaming of forming a second worship team to lead in the morning service. Cristian completely disassembled the broken keyboard, cleaned it, put it back together so it is good as new. Ashley started teaching herself to play the drums. Yolanda and Erica preached over an hour in their house of prayer (too long, we know, but they love the word!) The main prayer request from that group is growth and revival in their house of prayer and the church. Six women met on Sunday to plan the next women’s ministry event. Fifteen leaders met with the pastors to map out ten evangelistic and discipleship events they want to host in 2017.

The cows in our lives, in our ministries, the cows that we become are not overbearing or hostile. They are giving and loving. We always pushed our leaders to make the church their own, but as long as Juan is around to preach, as long as Rachel is available to sing in the first service, the keyboard is Brooke’s, the house of prayer is Dani’s, it’s hard to break through and try something new. Often, it is only when the “cows” are dead and gone, when we are desperate to survive, that we discover the abilities and wisdom God has put in us.

I have put off writing this article for days that have turned into weeks because I know once this is published I’m going to have to live up to my word. I’m going to have to die to Puerta Abierta Córdoba. I must let go of my accomplishments and forgive myself for the things I’d like to make up for and let God move as He will in those I love.

Puerta Abierta Córdoba was difficult to start and difficult to maintain, but it was even more difficult to leave. It is not the strongest church Extreme Nazarene has planted by any measure, but it has courage, faith, and obedience. It is now starting its most harrowing chapter-the lean years of struggling without the cow they have always known. However, these are the years in which it will find its feet planted on the Word of God, held firm by God’s grace, and guided by the Holy Spirit. God still has much work to do in Córdoba, Argentina, and He will do it through the Córdobese people. 

Yolanda preaching about the Samaritan woman in our
last Encounter retreat. She shared her testimony of her struggle
with depression and suicidal thoughts and
 the freedom that God has given her. 

Sol preaching on how God destroys our idols.
When she heard this sermon for the first time,
it changed her life forever. Now she's the one preaching.

Marcelo preaching about God's design for the family.
A year ago, he was an atheist living with his girlfriend.
Now he's a godly husband and father. 

Emilse preaching on the importance of forgiveness.
She shared her testimony of how God taught her
to forgive her family members and herself for a lifetime of sin.

Cristian preaching about the three enemies of the believer:
the flesh, the world, and the devil.
 He shared how God has and is giving
him victory in every area of his life. 

Church members praying over the missionaries on Easter, our last Sunday in Cordoba.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

February Construction Team

Our last trip, our last Encounter, our last communion, our last holiday, our last short term team. As April 20 looms closer, we are experiencing and planning more of our “lasts.” Our last Sunday is Easter Sunday. What a horribly depressing way to celebrate the purpose of the universe. The short term construction team that visited us last month was a huge blessing in a difficult time. For those of us transitioning out of Extreme and feeling like we have less and less to do, it was a perfect distraction. For those of us continuing on and feeling more and more the weight of our ministries, it was an encouragement to see so much productivity in such a short time frame.

The team itself was made up of old Extreme veterans. For some, this was their fourth Extreme construction trip, having built our churches in Arequipa, Ambato, Antofagasta, and now Córdoba. And that’s just with Extreme. Some have been on as many as twenty work and witness trips with Nazarene Compassionate Ministries. Three couples were from Michigan and the other four were from New York. Added to our team of missionaries from the northwest and the south of the U.S., we had a great mix of accents and cultures from our own country.

As with all short term teams, we took the first day to tour the city and pray. After two years, it was refreshing to watch Americans explore our home for the first time. We visited the university and a couple cathedrals, ate some local food, talked about the political situation, and prayed for the city at every stop. It set the tone for the rest of the trip. More than construction, we need prayerful servants. Each work day also started with a devotional and prayer time.

The original construction goal was a new Sunday school classroom. Our church building is actually a house we are slowly turning into a church. We’ve already taken out a wall between the living room and kitchen to open up a sanctuary space, but it’s very narrow and long. We want to take out another wall between the living room and the garage to widen the space, but we needed the garage as a classroom. A new classroom frees us up to take out this wall when we have the resources in the future. In the weeks before the team arrived, Pastor began dreaming up other small projects that could be completed with the extra man power. In the end, the team completed the new room by adding walls and a roof to an upstairs patio. They also created an extra bedroom out of a small storage area, poured cement in the outdoor patio, moved the downstairs kitchen to the outside, built a platform in the sanctuary, stained all the children’s furniture, and painted everything. In two weeks. Seriously. Check out the pictures. They were rock stars.

Another of the team’s “side projects” was Marcelo, the construction foreman. After six months of remodeling and fixing things that break, he’s been our on-call guy for just about everything. He’s developed friendships with Pastor and a couple other men in the church, but has been hesitant to get involved. Last Christmas, he brought his wife and two daughters to our Christmas dinner in the church. Since then, his wife, Agostina, has attended church a couple times and has started attending a house of prayer. But Marcelo remained distant. After working for two weeks alongside Christians, seeing their commitment, perseverance, patience, he had nothing but appreciation for them. They couldn’t communicate with each other directly, a 40/40 missionary was always around to interpret, but the still made a huge impact. The greatest impression they left on Marcelo was on their worst day. Towards the end of their time here, the church was robbed while everyone was outside working. The two short term missionaries who were staying in a spare bedroom of the church had all of their electronics and a lot of money stolen from their room. Through the chaos of figuring out what had happened, dealing with the police at the church and at the police station, and eventually recovering most of the items, everyone stayed calm. The construction work continued. People prayed. People forgave. At the end of the day, Marcelo pulled Pastor aside and simply said, “I want to be a part of this church.” Pretty cool. 

At the university, the first stop of the prayer walk.

Laying pipes for the outdoor kitchen before pouring cement.

Joyce and Darla staining pallets for the platform.

The first Saturday, at about 7pm, after a full day of work, it was clear that the platform wouldn't
 be finished in time for the morning service. We called in some local church members who came
 to relieve the short term workers. They stayed at the church until 2am to make sure everything
 was ready for Sunday.

The before.

Some things had to be destroyed before new things could be built.
Dry wall had to be hung in some precarious places.
Staining with wood for the ceiling of the kids' room.

Marcelo hanging the wood slats stained by the ladies.
Marina and Luca teaching the first class in the brand new room.

The worship team on the new stage.

This poorly used storage are became a bedroom with a door and window for Edivaldo,
a new missionary who will be staying to help the pastors after we leave.

These cabinets used to hang in the stage space of the sanctuary. They were moved to the
 outdoor grill area and new counters were built to create a usable kitchen.

The short term team with our pastors. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

From Every Nation To Every Nation

The Setup
Ok, let’s back up. What is Extreme? Extreme Nazarene is an organization that partners with the Nazarene church to plant new Nazarene churches using teams of missionaries from the United States and the country where the church is being planted. Except it doesn’t because sometimes the teams have members from three or even more countries. The church in Ibarra, Ecuador has pastors from Venezuela and the church in Antofagasta, Chile has missionaries from Brazil and Peru. And really, Extreme doesn’t send missionaries but rather social workers, baristas, 4th grade teachers, dog groomers, factory workers, and college students to be trained as missionaries on the field. So Extreme Nazarene plants Nazarene churches using teams of young people sent to make disciples and train their disciples to make disciples who make disciples.
Dr. Verne Ward, Global Director of NMI, and
Brian Tibbs, CEO of Extreme Nazarene, at this year's summit.
In the past ten years, we’ve planted churches in Paraguay, Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, and Chile, all Spanish-speaking countries. In 2017, we will plant new churches in Ecuador, Argentina, Venezuela, Germany, and Brazil. That’s right. Germany. And Brazil. Where Spanish is not spoken. In addition to expanding the Kingdom of God and encouraging the practice of making disciples, we are going into Germany and Brazil with a vision. In Germany, we hope to learn how to share the gospel in a Western, post-Christian context. Strategies we learn there will be applied to future church plants and even our current churches in Chile and Argentina where the culture is heavily influenced by Europe and the United States. Brazil is the opposite of Germany when it comes to evangelism. The Christian church in Brazil is strong and growing. Why would we want to waste money and resources on new church plants there? Because we so strongly believe in the practice of making disciples that make disciples that we know God has sooo much more He wants to do in and through the Brazilian churches. Not only that, but we know there are hundreds of young Brazilian Christians who have a call from God to mission work but don’t have the means or opportunity to fulfill the call. We want to send them to other cities in Brazil and all over the world. As a missional church it is our responsibility to not only send missionaries from the United States to the world, but from every nation to every nation. This year’s church plant will start a thriving church in the beautiful city of Cuiaba, Brazil, and will start a training center with Extreme staff members who will learn the language, get to know the culture, and share the vision of Extreme with the Nazarene churches of Brazil.

Brasilia is the capitol of the Federal District and the capitol of the country.
Cuiaba is the capitol of Mato Grosso to the west.
The Call
So, who are we sending to start this training center in Brazil? Well, me and maybe you if you want to learn Portuguese and come help us out. My time in Cordoba, Argentina, will end April 20, 2017, and I’ll be coming home to Lewiston and Nampa for a while to rest, spend time with family, and raise the funds I need to leave again. I will move to Brasilia, Brazil at the end of July and start preparing for our pilot team to arrive in October. My official title will be Brazil Field Education Coordinator, but there is a lot that needs to happen before the education part can begin. Last November, I was able to visit Brasilia for a week and start to get a sense of the task I’m taking on. We chose Brasilia for the training center because one of their larger churches has a discipleship program similar to the Master’s Plan that we use in our other church plants and they are excited to partner with us to train new missionaries. In November, we met several times with their pastor, who is also the district superintendent, and a representative from Brazil’s Nazarene Seminary to plan out the ministry training. We also visited many, many Portuguese schools and found one to match our unique needs and budget. Finally, we did a cost of living survey and checked out some possible apartment buildings and homes to house the teams while they are in training. Brasilia is a beautiful city, and I am very excited to get to live there.

The Brazilian Consulate in Buenos Aires, Argentina
The view of Brasilia from my hotel room.
The Roadblocks (also known as future miracles)

Like most other Extreme teams, the Cuiaba team will include five North Americans, five Brazilians, a married cluster support couple, and a pastoral couple. We already have three confirmed North American missionaries, dozens of Brazilian applicants, and a possible pastoral couple. We are praying for more applicants and the right applicants to come through the interview process. We will also be building the Brazil office staff over the next couple years. Please pray that we find passionate, called people to help develop this important field. We have a lot of things planned and ready to go, but we still don't have visas to enter the country long term. Brazil has a reciprocal visa policy, which means the policies to enter Brazil as a U.S. citizen are the same as the policies we have for Brazilians entering the U.S. You can imagine how strict and complicated they are. I know God will make a way, but I would appreciate your prayers as we continue looking for it. 

As always, thank you for your prayers and support. I will be speaking in a couple different churches in the Nampa area during May and in Lewiston First on June 4. Although this new job is another two year contract, I expect to renew that contract several times as we continue to build Extreme's presence and capacity in Brazil. While I do need some one time donors to help with the up front costs of moving to a new country, I'm really looking for donors who will stick with me through the long haul. God has clearly called me to work in Brazil and is currently calling some of you to participate. I pray we will all be obedient and experience the privilege of watching God do exactly what He wants with us. 

One of the Nazarene churches we visited in Brasilia.

While in Brasilia, we interviewed and approved Pastors Dayvison and Flavia for the Salta,
Argentina team. Ruben, pictured next to me, is from Peru and was on the interview panel. We had
lots of fun exploring Brazil in English, Spanish, and Portuguese, especially when we found ice
cream with straws and realized that "ice cream" in Portuguese and "straw" in Spanish are the
 same word.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Brazilian Short Term Team 2017

On January 4, a team of eleven Brazilian missionaries came to Argentina to serve God and bless our church. We spent two weeks speaking Portuñol (Portuguese + Español) with them and laughing a lot. Each one has a talent—preaching, singing, acting, teaching; but their most effective evangelism tool is their incredible joy. It was wonderful to bask in the presence of God with them.

While they were with us we prayed over the city, presented dramas in plazas, and hosted events for men, women, and teens. We, the 40/40 missionaries, also tried to include them in our daily work. A few weeks earlier, Ashley and I had started something we’ve termed a “plaza of prayer” where we have a Bible study and prayer time in a public plaza. One Thursday, three of the Brazilians were able to join us. They sat uncomfortably in the 85 degrees of dry, summer heat sipping on mate tea, a traditional hot Argentine drink. It’s interesting to watch a third culture experience some of the same culture shock we’ve experienced in our second culture. Their general mood improved when some Argentines showed up. We even had a new participant! Ashley shared a lesson about how to start the year well with discipline and patience in God. She challenged each person to think about how they wanted to grow closer to God this year. We discussed perseverance and depending on others to help us when we want to give up on our goals. Suddenly, Flavia, one of the Brazilians, began crying. Her tears clouded her Portuguese and made it even more difficult to translate; effectively proving the point of her testimony. God had called her to do mission work in Argentina six years earlier when such a calling seemed impossible. She was raising five children and life was just too busy. Out of obedience, she began studying Spanish. Then she gave it up. Then she tried again. And quit again. Over and over for six years. Regret visibly poured out of her. God had given her a promise with plenty of time to prepare for it. Now, because of her lack of faith, she couldn’t communicate effectively with the people to whom she had been sent with such great news. In spite of all this, there was hope and joy in her eyes when she finished. She was sad, but her faith had been renewed. What a good and powerful God we serve who keeps His impossible promises to us. She encouraged the others in the group to keep moving forward. Like drops in a bucket, keep reading your Bible. Keep obeying and serving in big and small ways. Keep seeking more of God. He has promised us more, and is always faithful to give.

Plaza of Prayer

The next evening we had a children’s event in another plaza near our church. We showed up in clown outfits carrying a puppet show stage and quickly had an audience of twenty small children eager to participate. We sang some songs and the Brazilians performed a puppet show about love and forgiveness. Rachel used the puppet story to present the gospel. As soon as she started explaining Jesus’s sacrifice, the crowd began to shrink. Parents pulled their kids out of the group and led them back to the playground. By the time Rachel finished her prayer, there were only four kids left staring up at her from the concrete. I wrapped up my conversation with one of the moms and saw one left standing and watching. I approached her and asked if one of the four children was hers. She pointed to the smallest little girl and explained that she always loves watching performers in the plaza. We chatted a little bit about the daughter and the plaza before getting to the main point – Did you hear the explanation about Jesus? Yes, she had. Big sigh. “I never used to believe in Jesus.” She had recently lost her job. Here in Cordoba, food and rent prices are increasing every month and jobs are hard to find. After losing her job, she started praying for the first time in her life. Two days ago, she had a vivid dream. She was looking at herself in a large mirror, and Jesus appeared standing behind her. He said, “I exist,” and she woke up. The next day, she got a call for a job interview. The next day, she met us, doing the one thing her daughter loves most about the plaza and talking about Jesus. Her name is Valeria, and she could use your prayers. Her whole life is changing. After the event, I told Rachel about my conversation with Valeria, and she began to cry. Rachel thought she hadn’t gotten through to anyone. She thought God couldn’t use her. She thought she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. She couldn’t have been more wrong.

Puppet Stage

In their two weeks with us, the Brazilian short term team preached the gospel, shared testimonies of God’s power, and encouraged the faith of many people. These two stories represent a lot of what our team has gone through. We have waited, sometimes patiently and faithfully and other times not. We have given up on God because we couldn’t see how He was moving. If you are feeling this way, or when you are feeling this way, be encouraged and know that it simply isn’t true. God is always simultaneously preparing, fulfilling, and completely His work in and through us. With time and wisdom, we see His faithful and powerful hand moving through all situations. In the end, it is clear that only He can receive the glory.

Children's event

Children's Event

Talking to parents after the children's event

Handing out treats at the children's event

Women's event

Men's event

Prayer Walk

Prayer Walk

House of Prayer

Youth Event

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Our First Baptisms

On Sunday, December 18, we had the privilege of baptizing six new members of our church, six new servants of God’s kingdom. Before the baptisms, each person shared a short testimony of why they wanted to be baptized. It was awe-inspiring to see how God has brought six very different people on six unique journeys to the same place at the same time.

Marcelo shared first. He laughed as he explained that he was forced to go to his first Encounter retreat by his wife and the pastors. He gave his life to Christ in that first Encounter. Two months later, he attended another as a leader and experienced the tangible presence of God for the first time. Since then, he can’t stop worshiping. On the bus, at work, at home, he loves singing praises to his Savior and feels closest to God when he expresses his adoration of Him. The Holy Spirit has been repairing his spirit in many ways, and he wants to be baptized to show his love for God and God’s sacrifice for him.

Lucas moved to Córdoba a few months ago. A friend invited him to church, and he began attending the youth and Sunday services regularly. The first big change in his life came from just spending time with Christians his age (like the 40/40 missionaries). His habits and attitudes changed as God began peeling off the person he was to reveal the creation he is. When he attended an Encounter retreat, God opened his eyes to see the work He had been doing. Lucas realized that he is not alone on the journey of his life, that God is always present as protector and counselor, and also as transformer of our hearts.

Stephanie has a long and complicated story of how God has taken her from a dark place of rejection and loneliness to the vibrant person she is today. She started by saying she has been a Christian for twelve years, but corrected herself and clarified that she has attended church for twelve years. She didn’t grow or absorb anything God was trying to teach her. Since fully surrendering her life to God, she has marked the difference between attending church and being a Christian. Before each baptism, Pastor Junior asked the candidate a series of questions to confirm their faith. The last question was if they were committed to serving in God’s kingdom. This question struck a chord in Stephanie. She is no longer a static figure in the church. She is a disciple maker.

Jorge also cited the Encounter as a turning point in his life. He loves being at the church and being with his church family, but attending the Encounter was the push he needed to grow closer to his Heavenly Father. Learning more about God’s word and God’s character has brought a new joy to Jorge’s life. Being made new doesn’t come without its challenges. Getting baptized, for Jorge, is a promise to continue seeking God. After the excitement of justification comes an active and evolving relationship with God in which we are pushed and pulled to be who we were created to be. Through the victories and the struggles, Jorge is committed to his God.

Luca has been a believer in God longer than he can remember. He attended an Encounter retreat shortly after his sixteenth birthday. Since then, he says he feels a need to serve God. He has done so faithfully at youth group, in the worship team, and evangelism events. After almost a year, I think this was the first time I have seen him with a microphone in his hand. In a family of six, it can be easy to disappear behind the ones who enjoy talking. I was so proud when he spoke with conviction, “My life is His.” I turned around and saw his oldest sister sobbing in the corner as she watched her two youngest siblings declare their personal faith.

Carli, the youngest of the Barrera family, didn’t share a testimony, but her love for God shines out of every pore in her body. She is always eagerly attentive in her Sunday school class to learn the Bible stories and apply the lessons in her life. Carli and Luca’s grandmother came to our church for the first time witness their baptisms. Each of the six people who were baptized is part of a larger family and circle of influence. Each is a new light in a dark world.