Of Banks, Bandits, and Blessings: Brazil 2013
As I reflect on our CPE ministries in Brazil June 23-30 in Rio de Janeiro and July 7-14 near Sao Jose’ dos Campos, my initial thoughts are of all the things that ‘went wrong.’ In mid-June our US office wired funds for ministry expenses, as I write we still do not have access to those funds. Apparently, the Brazil banking rules have changed and we had exceeded the $4000 limit for such transactions. Secondly, in early June two Canadian Banks assured me that my debit cards would work in Brazil. Not so! Fortunately my credit card still worked. The most challenging adventure of our Rio ministry came the night our team arrived in Rio. The Internet connection was not good in the Rio de Janeiro Calvary Chapel church so I went down 2 floors to the Ace Hostel coffee shop. Bad timing! A man approached with a gun and herded 10 of us to a corner. Two other thugs took keys and went through every room. After locking us in a room, they stole the Hostel security tapes and left. This was my first robbery experience in 22 years of CPE ministry.
Fortunately, I was the only team member in the hostel at this time. The three women on our team had their suitcases dumped out as the theives searched for valuables. Fortunately our most experienced traveler Joan, had instructed Karen & Isabel to leave their valuables in the church office. I was praying for team and hostel personnel safety, and that the thugs would be blind to my wallet and money belt. Three times the fellow ran his hand around my pockets and back for these items he had taken from the unfortunate tourists, and 3 times he did not feel my bulging wallet pocket or money belt!!!I then spent 4 hours in the DEAT Tourist police department filling out reports and looking at mug shots of possible suspects. ?The thieves took $15-20,000 worth of electronics and money. Loosing my Ipad left me without preaching, teaching notes, bookkeeping and communication tools. The good news is it opened up new doorways to share the Gospel with policemen, other tourists and the girls on shift that evening.
Thankfully our team did not miss a beat but refocused to embrace the task we came to do.
Rio is a decadent city, a modern day Corinth. Women outnumber the men 3-1, which leads to much immorality and marital unfaithfulness. I often spoke to Christian men about the need to glorify God in their marriages. If they fail in this regard they will loose God’s blessing in their marriage and ministry. Many spoke of their personal struggles. Most wives battle insecurity, wondering when a more beautiful woman (Rio has many) will "steal" their husbands. Their fear often surfaces in anger, which drives their husbands away. Young women don't want to get married because they fear being abandoned. My heart aches for them. We need to pray Christ will be honored in the marriages of these churches.
A number of the team visits were unusual events where the Holy Spirit's convicting work was a wonder to behold. Pastor Garret and I were invited to dinner in the home of a family I had led to Christ in 2011. Their guest was Vagner a successful lawyer. Four times before the meal was concluded he asked us how to hear from and know God. Pastor Garret struggled to stall the discussion long enough for our hosts to clear the table and join the discussion. With lips quivering and tears running down his face Vagner opened his heart to Jesus. A modern day Nicodemus.
Fabiana, a young woman who helps with the church administration, took me to visit her Physical Therapist who comes from a spiritist cult background. Brazil Spiritists are somewhat like JW’s; they use biblical words but have no spiritual life. Fabiana was concerned Ranata would not respond well as she had been resistant to the Gospel. But God was at work; when she prayed to confess Christ, tears of joy rolled down her cheeks. That brought our total to 16 professions of faith, somewhat less than most CPE ministries but Pastor Alex was very encouraged with this response.
The real blessings for me during this week were in the discipleship sessions. We tried to model how we conduct small group discipleship in my church. This was very well received. Most Brazilian pastors put too much emphasis on the Sunday service. It is our prayer that Pastor Alexandre has caught the vision to spend his energy on leaders and teach them to lead others.
Two days after the robbery I met with the Hostel employees. Flavia (1st R) had turned away from Christ because of a church split but recently prayed, “God if you want me to come back to you please show me.” He did, and she did! The other girl Laeticia (2nd L) opened her heart to Christ. They expressed sadness that I had to experience the robbery but said my presence gave them peace, as they knew I was praying. We had two wonderful follow up visits full of good questions. When I left the Hostel to make my way to our next ministry in São Jose dos Campose, they threw their arms around me and said they would never forget me. I replied God´s ways are strange some times. An Ipad for two new sisters in Christ is a good exchange any day!
Sao Jose’ dos Campos [SJDC]
I was looking forward to a fruitful blessed time in SJDC since that has been our experience in past ministries with the Vista Verge C&MA church. I took a domestic flight from Rio and arrived ahead of the team. Minutes after my arrival I discovered this would also be faith-stretching adventure. Our host church was in turmoil. As we met for our first team meeting I had to inform the CPE team that something was different in the atmosphere of the host church. I was not sure what God was up to but we needed to discern His leading in this venture.
In the planning for this trip I had asked if we could split the team up to work in a nearby town of Monterio Labato 45 min away. CPE team members had shared the Gospel with a few contacts in this small town two years prior. We eventually moved our entire team of 10 to focus on this location. The team size was larger than this emerging church plant warranted but 25 of the 29 professions of faith we observed that week came from this location. The Spirit was clearly at work in Monerio Labato. Sadly the host church missed out on a great opportunity.
Please pray for Pastor Sergio and his family as his 23 year ministry at Vista Verge C&MA church is over. This brother has a pure heart and a great burden to help church planters. He believes CPE is a significant tool to help church planters in Brazil. We discussed the possibility of him acting as CPE point person in Brazil, something he has already been doing for us. Please pray for God´s leading in this regard and the necessary funding to make that possible.
Prior to my departure to Brazil I asked the Lord to increase my faith. I am sure that prayer is always dear to our Lords heart but those who pray it will face testing to prove their faith [Mark 9:24]. This Brazil 2013 CPE ministry certainly had plenty of tests. As I conclude this report my thoughts are of all the things that ‘went right.’ God was at work in amazing ways. Churches and pastors were encouraged, CPE travelers were stretched through obedient faith, souls were saved and the angels rejoiced. God always works in amazing ways His wonders to behold!