Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas from my family to yours

Merry Christmas from our family in the United States to yours.

May God Bless you richly as we celebrate the birth of our Savior today. Seek Him and you will find Him. Knock and the door will be opened to you. Jesus loves you.


Saturday, December 23, 2006

Powderhouse Church (quite literally)

As I mentioned in a recent post, we toured an old Portuguese island fortress on our recent trip to Florianopolis. The original powder house where gunpowder and ammunition was stored was located high on the hill, behind a large rock outcropping (pictured above). Originally, ship cannons could not aim up or down, they could only shoot straight out and bombard the shoreline, so the ammunition stores were quite safe.

However, with the development of technology, ship cannons were devised that could rotate up and hit higher elevations. Realizing that the powder house was now vulnerable to Spanish attack, and also that the Spanish were devout Catholics who would never bombard a church, the Portuguese came up with an ingenious plan. They built a new powder house in an exposed position and built a facade around it so that it appeared to be a Catholic church. And indeed, the church was never bombarded by the Spanish.

The lesson of the "powder house church" has stuck with me. There are so many possible spiritual applications that it makes this ex-preacher's head spin. Let me give just one:

The real world example of a church full of gunpowder perfectly illustrates what Paul was talking about when he referred to the power we have through the Holy Spirit. One of the Greek words that Paul uses is actually the root word for dynamite. Through the Holy Spirit which Jesus Christ freely gives to all who ask Him, we have the power to cause an explosion of God's Kingdom here on earth. There is no limit to the power we have at our disposal if we allow God's Spirit to truly work in us.

So I ask you, and I ask myself, am I doing everything I can to unleash His power? Am I quenching the Spirit for fear of being labeled extreme, weird, or theologically questionable? Am I grieving the Spirit in some way? Am I being a conduit of the Spirit's power or am I clogging up the pipe? My prayer is that the next time Satan comes to bombard us and our ministry, that it will set off an explosion that will destroy the spiritual barriers around us forever and commence a move of God that will echo for all of eternity.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

World Champions! (With a spiritual twist)

Internacional, the professional soccer team that we cheer for here in Porto Alegre (POA), won the FIFA World Championship in Japan on Sunday!

They are only the fourth team in Brazil to ever win, and this makes POA the only city on the planet to have two different professional teams that have win the world championship (Gremio won it in the 80's). It is difficult to describe how big this is - it is far bigger than any sporting event in the United States, because it is truly a world championship, representing thousands of professional teams from all over the world. Inter was playing the mighty Barcelona, an team with a huge payroll full of world-famous superstars. Inter has no superstars and was given basically zero chance to win. But, they played well as a team, pulled together, and accomplished what was widely considered impossible.
The passion and energy that is being expressed is truly astounding. Tens of thousands of people gathered in public parks to watch the game on giant screens. When Inter finally scored with just eight minutes left to break a scoreless tie, the roar that rose up from the city was absolutely amazing. After the win, hundreds of thousands spilled out into the streets to dance, cry and celebrate.
The team arrived from Japan this afternoon. They had to land at an air force base in a neighboring city because the police were unable to secure the POA airport from the crowds. It took literally hours for the fire trucks on which they rode to travel the few short km into town to start their parade, because so many fans swarmed the interstate highway to meet them. It has been both impressive and somewhat saddening to see the worship and adulation that millions of Gauchos give to their soccer teams. If only they would give the same worship to Jesus!

Also, it has been both typical and saddening to see the mixture of witchcraft and syncretistic catholicism on the team. In one of the newscasts after the game, the astrologer who picked the jersey number for the player who scored the winning goal was interviewed and given considerable press. A frequent image at Inter home games is that of a statue of St. Anthony sitting behind their goal to bless them as they play. After the team won the title of South American champions, which sent them to the World Championship, one of the assistant coaches crawled across the field on his knees with an statue of Mary in his hands to fulfill his vow. The head coach later walked 20-some miles to a sanctuary of Mary in another city to pay off the vow that he had made.

However, there are bright spots! A number of players pulled off their jerseys immediately after the game to reveal shirts that said "Jesus loves you" or "Jesus changed my life" or "Only Jesus saves" in various languages and were photographed by the 1500 registered photographers. Reporters commented after the South American Championship that pagode, a musical style usually associated with wild partying was "already playing in the locker room." What they didn't mention is that it was Christian pagode being played to glorify Christ.

So...what to do? How about we pray for the Christian players on the team to have an increasing influence on their fellow players and coaches, so that when they win the World Championship again next year, all the members of the team will wear Jesus shirts for the photographers, to God's glory!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Ministry in 2006

In reflecting over the last year, I found that it has been full of blessings and challenges.

As the year began, I taught several classes of church planting to students in the Baptist seminary. We recently got an email from André, one my former students who is currently starting a church in the nearby city of Gravataí. He says, “Thank you for teaching me about how to plant churches! You know, every time that I am at our church plant, the Spirit of God has reminded me about our classes. I think that I will be able to graduate next year, and my senior project will be the following: ‘Is it possible to plant churches with almost zero financial investment?’ I intend to use our actual church plant as the example and foundation for my senior project. I’m counting on you to help teach me. By the way, I have a colleague from the seminary who did not take the Church Planting Movements class, and I am passing on to him everything that I know and we want to start a Church Planting Movement in the city of Guaíba, where he lives.”

While the door to teaching at the seminary has closed under difficult circumstances, we rejoice at what God is continuing to do as a result of our short time there. Please pray that God will continue to give us opportunities to influence pastors, students, and laypeople to start new churches.

I also taught several laypeople in a decentralized training institute. I am pleased to report that these four students will be graduating this coming Sunday, and that two of them are already planting a new church in a slum area in the nearby city of Novo Hamburgo. We rejoice for the fruit that God is bringing through them and pray that God will continue to give us opportunities to be involved in training future leaders and church planters.

As you know, we have already handed off the church planting work in São Leopoldo, which was a tremendous challenge, a learning experience, a time to be humbled, and a blessing.

As we look back over the year, we thank God for the blessings that He has given us. We thank Him for the privilege of serving Him here in Brazil, and we thank Him for the many Southern Baptists who help us to be here through their generous giving, as well as for the faithful prayer warrior from many different denominations that intercede on our behalf. As we look towards next year, we are both excited about the possibilities for future ministry, and sobered by the immense need that the 3.5 million gauchos in Metropolitan PoA have to meet the Savior whose birth we now celebrate.

Please pray that:

1. God will give us clear direction for our ministry in 2007.

2. That God will place on the hearts of Southern Baptists to give generously to the Lottie Moon Christmas offering so that we and 5,500 other IMB missionaries can continue their ministries.

3. That God will move on the hearts of Gauchos to turn to Christ and be saved.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The BIG Meeting

Well, we had our meeting on Saturday with the mother church pastor. It was sort of a mixed bag as far as results.

Let's start with the positive aspects of the meeting. First, all of the relational issues appear to have been resolved. I saw this as absolutely essential for the survival of the work - after all, Jesus said that if we aren't unified, we have nothing. Also, there appears to be a clear direction for the future, which is good. Alexandre, one of the original members of the church planting team, has been officially designated as the leader of the work. Alexandre shares the CPM, simple church vision and if he steps up to the challenge, has the potential to really see the work take off under his leadership. I saw Alexandre as the only one who could really keep the work on course and who had the gifts to keep it going.

Unfortunately, we also took a couple of steps back. During the meeting, frustrations about the simple church model were expressed by several of the original team members, who, in their effort to get back in the good graces of the mother church pastor, took pot-shots at our methodology. The mother church pastor, while he stressed his commitment to church planting and his desire to see churches spread rapidly throughout the city, also insisted that all of the members of the various home groups be brought into the mother church for services on Sunday night. In other words, he wants to bring the work closer to a single, traditional church plant.

On the other hand, everyone agreed that our strategy has been highly effective. The pastor went so far as to state that once the work was more structured and established, he would like for the church planting team we trained to move on to another neighborhood and start over. He also invited me to move my focus to another neighborhood and start another new work there.

So...where does this leave us? Well, we have semi-officially handed over the work into the hands of a Brazilian leader who shares our vision. We leave 5 home groups (some of which could probably be considered simple churches, and some not) and a group of new believers. The structure between the home groups is still a bit loose at the moment, although there are plans in place to tighten this up shortly. Also, the relationship with the mother church has been fixed, although the new leader will have to push against the tendency to make this a single, traditional church plant.

We have felt for some time now that God was telling us that it was time to put the work into the hands of Alexandre. The timing was right, and the transition is being made, although we will still be involved in a more limited capacity. So what will the long-term future of the work be? Only time will tell. Pray that the work will thrive, that God will give Alexandre wisdom and boldness, and that we will all be able to continue to rejoice together in what God is doing in São Leopoldo.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Important Meeting on Saturday

For all of you who have been following the continuing saga of our church plants in São Leopoldo, you know that we have had some bumps in the road with the pastor of the mother church. He has now meet with most all of the members of the church planting team individually and it appears that most of the relational issues are ironed out.

Tomorrow (Saturday, December 2), our core church planting team will meet with him as a group in an attempt to better define the relationship between the church plants and the mother church. This is a crucial meeting for the future of the work.

Please pray that:
1. The Holy Spirit will fill the hearts and minds of each one present and that He will guide the meeting without being quenched or grieved in any way.
2. That God's will for the future of the work will be evident, and that nobody's personal opinion will interfere
3. That all will exhibit the fruit of the Spirit in the meeting.
4. That Alexandre (who was ordained by the mother church last Saturday) will step to the front and truly take the reins of the work and lead it on to be all that God wants it to be.
5. That both during and after the meeting, the body of Christ would be unified and there would be no division or hard feelings that Satan could exploit.

This is a make or break meeting - pray that God will make it into something great!

Thanking you for your prayers,

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Termites, termites, termites....

Ever since we moved in to our apartment a year or so ago, we have noticed a little bit of sawdust from time to time in the closets. We never really thought much about it, but finally it occurred to us that we might have termites. After making sure that we would have enough money in our property maintenance budget, we called an exterminator.

The exterminator was scheduled to come on Wednesday afternoon. On Tuesday night, the termites launched a preemptive strike. I awoke on Wednesday morning to find Parker's room full of termites, termite wings and termite dust. They had swarmed during the night, trying to get out the screen in the window to find a new place to colonize (it was sort of like they were listening - kind of creepy, really). We started pulling everything out of the closets, only to find dust, chewed cardboard boxes, and termite leavings everywhere.

The termite guys came and pumped 20 liters of poison into our closets by drilling small holes in the wood and injecting in the poison. At one point, they squirted the poison in one hole, and a stream of dead termites came squirting out of another hole - yeah, pretty gross, I know. Anyway, fortunately, no long term damage seems to have been done, and we are currently on a crusade to inform everyone we meet to call an exterminator ASAP if they even suspect termites.

All of this started me thinking about those pet bad habits and sins that so many of us have. We have a few telltale signs on the surface, but nobody confronts us about it, and meanwhile, they are chewing the life out of us on the inside, and will eventually swarm out to try to take over other areas of our life. Just like the termites in our closets need to be mercilesly stomped out at the first sign of them, in the same way, we need to ruthlessly hunt down those little, easily excusible sins in our lives and allow God to wipe them out before they can cause permanant damage. I've seen too many pastors, leaders and missionaries fall into sin by allowing something to chew the spiritual life out of them and make them an empty shell just waiting to be easily toppled by some major, public sin.

Pray that I and all of our other missionaries will address any and all termites in our lives before they cause problems. There are temptations on the field that many in the USA will never experience, and we must remain completely pure if we are to maintain our testimonies and see God work through us. Here's to keeping short accounts with God!

The Best Laid Plans...

During our time in Florianopolis, we had a chance to go on a "pirate schooner" and tour the bay. While this was great fun for the boys, we also had a chance to tour an island fort that was part of the defenses set up by the Portuguese in the 1700's to defend against invasion by the Spanish. In the course of the tour, I saw several parallels with our current mission challenge.

The Portuguese commander had a brilliant plan. He built forts on each side of the bay, as well as on an island in the middle, thereby forming a defensive triangle. The idea was that if any Spanish ships tried to enter the bay to attack the city, they would be caught in a withering crossfire. The forts were constructed and super-long range cannons were ordered from Portugal. The cannons came, but went to Rio de Janiero, where they were kept, and old, leftover cannons were sent to Florianopolis instead. These cannons had a range of a mere 300 meters, not nearly enough to cover the bay, which is 4000 meters across.

One day, 115 Spanish warships carrying approximately 8,000 soldiers entered the harbor. The alarm was sounded and the 100 Portuguese soldiers in the three forts promptly abandoned their posts and fled. The island was captured without a shot and held until a treaty was signed a year later. The Portuguese had a strategy in place, but had not received the resources they needed to win the fight. They were outgunned and out manned.

All too often, us missionary types have brilliant strategic plans in place, but when the battle is engaged, we find that we are outgunned and out manned. Why? Because of a lack of prayer and prayer support. We can plan, budget, and strategize all year long, but if we don't spend time on our knees beseeching God for our people, our spiritual weapons won't be strong enough to do much damage. All too often, we are guilty of regularly failing to inform our prayer supporters of how they can pray, and therefore, we find that we are out manned and overwhelmed in the battle.

All of this is to say that God used an old fort to reminded me of the importance of my prayer time and your prayer ministry on our behalf and on behalf of our people. We need your prayers - it is how God has chosen to fight the battle for the souls of the people of metropolitan Porto Alegre, and it is an imminently winnable battle if we all do our part.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Our Missionary Thanksgiving

So what do you do when you want to celebrate Thanksgiving but you live 7,000 miles away from your family? Ah, obviously you celebrate with your missionary colleagues where you live - except in this case, they are all in the United States with their familes. So, we picked up and went to the 18th annual missionary Thanksgiving gathering in Florianopolis.

Florianopolis is a beach resort about 310 miles North of where we live. Years ago, the missionaries in Southern Brazil began to meet on Thanksgiving for their annual strategy and planning meeting. Over the years, it evolved from business into fellowship (Although we frequently end up drifting back to discussions of strategy and mission business). Last year's gathering was much bigger, but this year we had 7 IMB units representing 4 different states in Brazil, plus our Canadian missionary friends from Porto Alegre, whom we had the pleasure of traveling with.

We even managed to have an authentic Thanksgiving meal with turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce that I brought in from the USA a couple of weeks ago. Its nice to be able to eat Thanksgiving dinner and then walk down to the beach and play in the water! Was it worth the 9 hour drive home through construction, rain and traffic? You bet. Just don't tell anyone that your missionaries were playing on the beach while some of you were shoveling snow :)

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Cutting the Apron Springs

I just spent two weekends out of Brazil working on my degree in the USA. That was two weekends away from our church plants in São Leopoldo. For 10 months now, I've been out there multiple times per week praying, evangelizing, doing Bible studies, and trying to impart vision to our church planting team.

Now, my great desire is to see the Brazilians I have been working with completely take charge of the work. So, it may very well have been God's timing that had me miss a couple of weeks. has been hard to not be there - to not know what was going on.

So, I felt a little bit torn about going back out there tonight - would it be better for me not to go? Do they need me? So, I called one of the members of my team. And he basically said "we've got it under control." So, for the first time since January, I didn't go out there when I could have gone. Now, of course, he was just talking about his group, not the other but still - in a way it was nice, in a way it was a bittersweet - they don't need me any more - but it was a lot more nice!

So, tomorrow, I'll check in with one of the other groups - we'll see if they are doing as well. I'll continue to meet with the core group for a while to talk strategy, and we need to get our new converts baptized. Also, we need to have the big meeting with the mother church pastor to hash out some relational and directional things, but all in all, things seem to be moving in the right direction. Sigh...It's good to cut the apron strings - and highly necessary for the future health and welfare of the group, but I think I'm starting to understand a bit more of the Apostle Paul's perspective when he spoke of his constant burden for the churches!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

God works in mysterious ways

One of the best parts about being able to come back to the U.S. for a time for my studies is the chance to spend a little time with my family on either end of my class. On Sunday, we went to the nursing home where my Grandmother lives and took her to the worship service in the cafeteria.

The services are done by four different churches on a rotating basis. On Sunday, the group consisted of a group of African ladies - truly African, from Nigeria. They held an upbeat, joyful service and taught a short, inspiring lesson Bible lesson.

I had a chance to speak with them afterwards and told them how wonderful it was to know that while God sent me from the United States to Brazil, God sent them from Nigeria to the United States, and they came and ministered to my Grandmother when I could not be there.

I thank God for the body of Christ and its wonderful diversity. I also thank Him for His incredible creativity - I never would have thought to do things the way He does them, which is exactly how He can bless so many people in so many wonderful ways.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

I'm off!

I'm off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of Oz. . . . Actually, no, I'm leaving the land where I have been trying to reach out to real wizards (who are not cute and funny like in Oz, but rather are deadly serious in their evil - rather more like the wicked witch of the West, but without green skin) and heading off to the United States.

Ah, the United States. . . . land of sharp cheedar cheese, peanut butter, barbeque, tortillia chips and cheese salsa. I'll be spending almost two weeks there taking a doctoral class in interpersonal relationships and spiritual formation (I know, some of you are probably thinking that those are two subjects I really need to work on - just trying to beat you to the punch).

Anyway, pray for me as I travel tomorrow and in my seminar all next week. Pray that I'll learn a lot and sharpen my ministry skills and that I'll be able to squeeze in some good time with my family on either end of my class. Also pray for Cam and the boys, who will be staying behind in Brazil. Ask for God's protection over them, and that He would be very real to them during this time. Even though she's not going, Cam has already put in her order for sharp cheedar, and expects me to fill up every spare inch of luggage coming back with goodies. Come to think of it, you might need to pray for our waistlines as well!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Exit strategy

God has been impressing on my heart for the last month that it is time to move forward with an exit strategy for the church starts in São Leopoldo. I met yesterday with our core team that started praying for a new church back at the end of January of this year. I told them all that I would be stepping back and that the primary responsibility for the work will fall on their shoulders.

Up until this point we have mainly been doing evangelistic and discipleship studies in homes. In those studies, we have tried to incorporate other aspects of "doing church," with varying degrees of success. We will be moving toward structuring the people who have been involved into more set house churches. These churches will have their own self contained worship and will be fulfilling all of the purposes of the church (including worship, which has been a little harder) within their group each week. The house churches will also have a network between them (you might call it an umbrella church) which will periodically bring all of the participants in the house churches together for larger group worship.

This is the vision. I would like to see it fully in place by the end of the year. I would love to be able to "put a bow on the top," fully hand it over to the Brazilian leadership and move on to the next step that God has for us.

Sometime in the next few weeks, we will be bringing the core team together to meet with the mother church pastor. He seems to be wanting to exert more control and authority, and has some ideas that could potentially take the work in an entirely different (much more traditional, controlled, and dependent on him) direction. Please pray that God will help him to see God's vision for this group, and pray that he will not start throwing his weight around to try to impress, as he did in a meeting with me a couple of weeks ago.

Most of all, please pray that these churches will be established and networked by the end of the year, that the Brazilians will step up, we will step back and be able to celebrate together in the new self-sufficient, self-reproducing, and self-governing churches that have been formed.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Improvements in Dental Care in the last 4,000 years?

Yesterday, I read an article about a new archeological find in Egypt. It seems that some enterprising, but unlucky tomb robbers discovered the tomb of three powerful dentists who tended to the teeth of the pharaohs in ancient Egypt. Experts have dated the tomb to about 4,000 years ago, or 2,000 years before the birth of Jesus. According to the article, "Their location near the Step Pyramid of King Djoser — believed to be Egypt's oldest pyramid — indicate the respect accorded dentists by Egypt's ancient kings, who 'cared about the treatment of their teeth.'"

This immediatly brought to mind some of the work we did with medical volunteer teams in Maranhão, in NE Brazil, where we used to live. One medical team pulled several hundred teeth in a couple of days. The people in the town (and many other towns in the NE) had absolutely no access to dental care. They had been living their whole lives with abcessed, diseased, and rotted teeth, with incredible pain, but no relief and no solution.

So - dentists have been around for at least 4,000 years, but they still haven't gotten to parts of Brazil. Sigh...It's nice to know that we're making progress.

Gaucho Barney?

I had a really strange experience this afternoon. Here I was, dutifully shoving beans and rice into my two year old son's mouth like a good Brazilian. As usual, Parker was watching Barney (yes, the dancing, singing purple dinosaur). The kids on the show were doing some sort of international fair, and all of a sudden, they start talking about Brazil. After talking about Carnaval (of course they did not mention the fights, drunkenness, debauchery, and ruined lives) and doing a little dance, they went on to mention the rain forest - nothing too different - just the standard American stereotypes about Brazil.

But wait! There was more! All of a sudden, they start talking about Brazilian cowboys, show a picture of some gauchos, whip out gaucho hats, and start doing a gaucho dance to very NON gaucho music (they also used the spanish pronunciation for gaucho, and not the portuguese one).

I sat there, flabbergasted to see a dancing purple dinosaur doing promotional work for my people group. God truly works in mysterious ways.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

New Convert Birthday bash

On Saturday, I did a discipleship study at Roberto and Cassia's house on the top of the hill in the slum behind the landfill. They and their teenage daughter Emily have all recently given their lives to Christ.

Emily will be having her 15th birthday next month. This is like a "sweet sixteen" birthday in the USA - it's a big deal. They want to have Emily's party in the community center, invite the youth praise band from the mother church, have a devotional, and celebrate with soft drinks. They are getting considerable pressure from their family to have a drunken bash in a nightclub instead.

It was so neat to hear them saying "it's strange - deciding to follow Christ has been a good thing for us - it has helped our family, but our relatives are giving us a really hard time and are ostracizing us. If we were doing something bad, they would be clapping their hands for us - it doesn't even make sense." Roberto went on to say "I want to invite our friends and family so they can see that we are different now."

Amen, Roberto! I have heard people with decades in the faith express far less conviction about their ideals - it was incredible to hear the stand they are taking for Christ despite the persecution from their family. Please pray that this family will confitnue to grow and that the birthday bash for Emily will be a great witness to their family and will result in growth for the Kingdom and new members for our church plants.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Last week in Vila Baum

One of the best parts of working with the youth group from FBC Oviedo is that the team I worked with most basically "adopted" Vila Baum (where our church plant is) as their own.

On Monday night, our school commitment in Porto Alegre fell through, so I took the team out to Vila Baum for a prayer walk. They saw the places were sacrifices are made to the African Gods, they meet some of the new believers who have come to Christ in the last few months, they prayed over the school and the Catholic church where they would later present, and they prayed in front of various places where the forces of evil are openly worshipped. As they did this, their awareness grew.

On Wednesday, the team spent most of their day presenting their evangelistic dramas in various schools in the area. The school in Vila Baum itself does not have an auditorium or sports court, so we presented IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH next door. God is good! On Thursday night, we returned for one last presentation in the Catholic Church for the adult GED students, and we invited the entire neighborhood to attend. We had a standing-room only crowd, including several people who have been influenced by the church plant. It was wonderful.

We invited everyone back for an evangelistic service in the community center on Saturday night. The youth band from a neighboring Baptist church led worship and a drama and Alexandre gave an evangelistic message. We had about half of the people who have been involved in Bible studies there, plus about 10 unbelievers. One of those families and a single mother expressed interest in beginning evangelistic Bible studies with us. Please pray that they will follow through and be saved. And pray that the many seeds which were so creatively and faithfully sown last week will bear fruit 30, 60, and 100 fold. Thanks FBC Oviedo Youth!

We survived the youth team - and they survived us!

Hey everybody!

I'm sorry for the long delay in posting. We have had the blessing of hosting a youth volunteer team from First Baptist Church, Oviedo, FL for the last week or so. As such, we've been a little bit busy. This team has been faithful to come down and work in the Porto Alegre area for about eight years now. This year, the team was composed of 42 people divided up into two teams.

While I didn't blog for an extended time, the team was very dilligent and blogged every night (with pictures!). Here is their excellent blog for those who are interested in hearing about their trip from their perspective.

The genernal plan was for each one of the teams to perform three different evangelistic skits in multiple public schools throughout the course of the week. The skits are mime performed to music (and therefore get around the language barrier) and deal with the problems of drugs, alcohol, suicide, and violence, while presenting the solution for these problems that can be found in Christ. It is so refreshing to be able to go into PUBLIC schools and show students, teachers, and administrators the hope that Christ offers in the midst of desperate situations. Unfortunately, it's something that we would never be able to do in our home country. After every skit, a student would give his/her testimony relating to the skit. At the end of the presentations we would give a clear gospel presentation and link interested seekers in with a local Baptist pastor for follow-up.

It was refreshing to hear, in school after school, principals and teachers thanking us profusely for the message that was communicated. One thing a number of them said was "we got the message - it came through loud and clear - thank you!" The vast majority of these administrators and teachers are not believers in Jesus Christ, but recognized the importance of what was being communicated.

We also had the chance to present the skits in a number of church plants and in an open-air market/park right next to where a large group of "goth" teenagers were openly using drugs. Some of the results of FBC Oviedo's youth's service will be seen soon - some of it will not be seen until we reach heaven.

Please pray that the seed which was sown so abundantly will fall onto good soil. Also pray that the new believers who came to faith through the team's work will be incorporated into strong, Bible-teaching churches.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Counter Attack - Prayer Needed!

On Sunday, I wrote about the wonderful time of worship and fellowship we had with the groups of believers that are forming in São Leopoldo. Yesterday, I learned about the concerted counter-attack by Satanic forces to try and squelch what God is doing. We urgently need your prayers and the prayers of your churches.

Nice, the spiritist witchdoctor with whom we have been studying, has been making open declarations for several weeks now about her intent to accept Christ. On Tuesday night, she suddenly backed off and said that she would not make a decision until her son Jean is cured of his diabetes. Jean is bedridden at her house, and while he reads the Bible, he tells his mom (who waits on him hand and foot and treats him like an infant) that it is her fault that he is sick because she is contemplating leaving witchraft and becoming a Christian. This beside the fact that he became sick long before she even contemplated studying the Bible. Nice will not let us go and talk to Jean directly, she only talks about him. Marta (one of our members who lives on the same street) ran into Nice on Monday and she was exhibiting signs of being possessed. Also, several of Nice's other children have started spreading half-truths and lies which are creating tension between Nice and Simão and Marta's family, as well as creating tension between them and Nice's other daughter Iara who is a new believer.

So...we have the witchdoctor who wanted to get saved, exhibiting signs of demon possession, discord being sown, and a sudden reversal of heart on making a commitment to Christ. All of this is direct spiritual warfare, and must be addressed as such.

Also, we started a Bible study with Eni on Saturday, and she and her husband Eunico and their entire family came to the service that night. He said that he felt really at home during the event. His father, who is a spiritist medium (and the father of two of our new believers), called him on his cell phone during the service and overheard a prayer in the background. He forbid them (they are adults, remember) from having any contact with us and from studying the Bible. Out of fear of crossing their father, they cancelled their Bible studies. Eni has been possessed before and was exhibited some signs of possible problems when it was time to read Scripture during her study on Saturday.

So...the spiritist medium has forbid his spiritually hungry adult children from being involved with believers.

Also, SuiLee, one of our new believers fell on Friday and was injured. On Tuesday, Lana, the teenage daughter of one of our other new believers fell and was injured.

Yesterday, in a span of less than two hours, both Cam and I very narrowly missed being in separate serious traffic accidents (through no fault of our own).

While I am not the type to see a demon behind every bush, even the new believers here have been able to identify what is going on as spiritual warfare. This battle must be fought on our knees. Please take these requests to your church prayer meetings, Sunday School classes, etc. and pray urgently for us and for the work here - God is FAR GREATER than Satan and is fully capable of resolving this,in response to the prayers of His people.

Please pray that:
That God would bind the demons so that Nice and Jean's eyes will be opened and that they and their entire family will renounce witchcraft and be saved.

That Eni and Eunico would stand up to their father, give their lives to Christ, and that their father would renounce his evil practices as well.

That God would not allow Satan to sow dicord among the believers or between them and unbelievers, and that all the lies would be revealed as such.

That God would protect our family and our spiritual family from any and all spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical attacks.

Thank you for your prayers.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Messy Church - The Return

Saturday night, we had our second worship service in which we tried to get everybody together who is involved in Bible studies. For the last two weeks, the weather had been frigid, windy and raining on Saturdays, and people hadn't even shown up for their own Bible studies. I had spent the week fretting that nobody would show up, and that things would be an unorganized mess if they did.

We started a Bible study with Lina and Cassia's sister-in-law Eni in the afternoon, then we crossed the dirt road to continue our study with Roberto and Cassia's family, who I then took to the service at Simão and Marta's house. I showed up to find 31 people crammed in and around their living room. Eni's entire family, who I had met just two hours before was there, and about half the people in the room were unbelivers. I was stunned - pleasantly.

We started off listening to a praise song, and then went around and everyone had a chance to introduce themselves. It was funny, because we had three related families there (2 sisters and a brother and their respecitve families), and they all not only said their own name but how they were related to EVERYONE IN THE ROOM (I'm Lina, and this is my husband Lucio, my sister Cassia, my cousin.....) When we got to Chileno, who has three weeks in the faith, he gave his testimony of how he was saved - it was spontaneous and absolutely incredible! Then we got to Eni's husband, who had refused to do a Bible study just two hours before, who looked around the room and said "I'm related to almost everyone here, and I feel right at home!"

Then I asked if anyone would like to share about what God was doing in their lives. Chileno immediatly shared about how his wife had left him and how God was using that in his life. Then Roberto shared about how they had been studying the Bible for three weeks, and that he could already see a change in their family. Iara spoke and talked about how glad she was that her mother was studying the Bible, and that she hoped that we could have meetings like this many more times.

We then listened to another praise song and then Alexandre led a particpitive Bible study/sermon. We then celebrated Lina's birthday with a snack of grilled sausage and mini french bread.

As I took Lina and her children home, they marveled at the positive reactions of their family, and she told me that during the service, that she felt extremely hot, and that as soon as we started to eat, that she then felt very cold. She said "it was as if the fire of the Holy Spirit was really hot during the service and then when it ended, it went away."

It was a messy service - long pauses between people speaking, a disastrous singing attempt by a couple of embarassed teenage girls, kids and noise everywhere, but it was an absolutely marvelous experience. To see people with weeks in the faith giving their testimonies without any prompting, to see a witchdoctor's daughter grateful for God's work in her mother's life, to hear an unbeliever saying he felt at home in a service, to hear another say that God was changing his family - it made all the messiness and all of the sacrifices worthwhile. If this is what messy will be, then it's ok with this church planter!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Family Ties

A few months ago, Simão (one of the members of our core team) and I were out doing evangelistic surveys in the neighborhood. We walked up to a crude, unfinished brick structure next to the graveyard and found Lucio and Lina in the middle of an arguement. During the course of our talk, Simão and Lucio discovered that they served together in the army years ago. They agreed to study the Bible with us, but moved that week to the next city up the road. Lina came into São Leopoldo the first few weeks and we held the Bible study at her sister Cassia's sewing hut in the slum by the landfill. Cassia was uninterested, but Lina gave her life to Christ after her sister-in-law became demon possessed and we studied about the power of Jesus over demons.

Four weeks ago, Lina asked Cassia if she would be interested in continuing the Bible study. Cassia said no, she had no interest at all. Four days later, Cassia called Lina and said that she had a hole in her life and that she thought she might need God. We showed up and found her crying and shaking. We presented the gospel to her, and she gave her life to Christ. For some reason, I felt compelled to tell her that she might come under attack from Satan, and that things might get worse before they got better. That week, she lost her job as a seamstress, which was the only income for their family of six (including two very young children). She told us all of this very calmly, affirmed that she believed that God would take care of things, and then proceeded to tell me that she didn't feel any different that she had before accepting Christ. I pointed out to her that when she had a way to support her family, but didn't have Jesus, she was a nervous wreck. With no job, food or money, but with Jesus, she was perfectly calm - I could see a difference!

So, please pray for Cassia, her husband Roberto, and their four children - that God will show Himself strong for them and provide something even better than they had before, and that they would not suffer lack. We are doing a study with the whole family now, and trying to help meet some basic physical needs.

Interestingly, Lina and Cassia's sister-in-law Eni, who was (is?) possessed wants to start a Bible study with us on Saturday - pray hard for her, and thank God for Lina, who is reaching out to her family to win them to Christ.

We will be trying to get everyone involved in Bible studies together tomorrow for a worship service / Birthday party. Please pray that the weather will be warm and dry - bad weather really messes us up, and we REALLY need to get everyone together in one place at one time to build some group dynamics. Also pray that God will be glorified in the service and that it will go well.

Thanks for your prayers - they are being heard!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

What A Difference A Year Makes

September 2, 2005 - The Dunson Family leaves São Luís, Maranhão in Northeast Brazil to move to extreme Southern Brazil. Health problems with our youngest son led the mission board doctors to tell us that we had to move to somewhere with more advanced medical care. As we searched for a place, God led us Porto Alegre. Little did we know how big of a change it would be.

We returned to say our goodbyes to many dear friends and pack our things.
Shortly before we left, I had a chance to return to the Baixada (the area where we did the majority of our work) with a volunteer team from our home church, Springdale Baptist. There, the Brazilians presented me with a flag of the city of Santa Helena, a present that I cherish to this day.

Then, it was back on the boat to return to the city and prepare to leave a ministry that had been exhausting, but in which we had seen God pour out His blessing.

The last thing that we did in São Luís was to preach at our friend Elmo's church plant. I remember standing in the pulpit of the little storefront where they met, with sweat pouring down my back, and wondering what was in store for us in the South.

Just two weeks later, I found myself shivering in a church pew in Porto Alegre, wearing long underwear, a leather jacket, and surrounded by children wearing mittens and wool hats. We had moved from heat to cold, from the "third world" to the "first world," from a place where we were known to a place where we were unknown (and often unwanted) newcomers, and from a place where we had seen God bring tremendous fruit to a place where each and every person who comes to Christ is highly cherished - because they have come few and far between.

It has been a year of changes and challenges. A year in which I have been reminded that fruit comes not from my abilites, gifts or talents, but from the hand of God. A year in which God has shown me that my sense of self worth must come not from ministry results, but from Him and Him alone.

We are enjoying Porto Alegre - but what a difference a year makes! I wonder what God has in store for us this year?

Friday, August 25, 2006

"The Chilean"

Last week, one of the members of our core church planting team who is a security guard told me that one of the residents at the apartment complex where he works was having some problems and wanted to talk to someone about God. Monday, we went to meet "The Chilean" (he's from the country of Chile, and that's what everyone calls him, despite the fact that it sounds a bit ominous out of context).

We sat in his micro-apartment and listened to him pour out his sad story. He had been married for 13 years, and had verbally abused his wife for that entire time. He told us how the least little thing at home or anywhere else would send him into a tirade. She took it for 13 years, and then one day, she walked out and left him with their 9 year old son. Repentant, crushed at his loss and desperately lonely, he was unable to sleep for days at a time. When he would walk past the guard post at the entrance to the apartment complex, he would see Simão reading his Bible. Late one night, he stopped and they began to talk. As a result, he began pouring over the Scriptures, and found that the peace it brought him was the only way that he could sleep. But, he had no way to understand what he was reading (see Romans 10:14), so he asked Simão for help.
On Monday night, an American, a Brazilian, and a Chileno sat together, with Bibles in Spanish and Portuguese, and "the Chileno" accepted Christ.

What a wonderful picture of the power of the Bible to change someone's heart! What a wonderful picture of the simple advice of a layperson to guide someone in the right direction. What a insightful example of the need for people to go to all the peoples of the world to present the plan of salvation to them in a way that is clear and contextual! Please pray for "the chileno" and his son, that the discipleship that will begin with him on Sunday will go well, that he will grow in his faith, and that he will become a faithful, reproducing part of one of our new churches.

Monday, August 14, 2006

"Building" Perseverance

They are banging - again. The apartment building two buildings over from us has been having problems with the brick facade on the building. More specifically, large pieces of facade have been falling off from 9 stories up and plummeting onto the ground below. This of course is not good, which is why they have taken over a year to do anything about it.

So, they finally got some workers to come fix the outside of the building. This involves two men with sledgehammers and chisels taking off the brick facade and the couple of inches of cement under it - by hand - on the whole building. No power tools, no fancy machinery, no cherry picker trucks - just two guys with scaffolding, ropes, chisels and hammers. They're building their own scaffolding up as they go, hauling it up with ropes. They've been at it for weeks. Bang, bang, bang, there goes a tiny chip - on a 9-10 story building. This will take a while. It's rather like Chinese water torture. The noise doesn't bother you at first, but after days, it starts to get to you. On the other hand, it has been fascinating to watch.

They are taking apart a building one tiny sliver at a time - and they just keep on plugging away for weeks and weeks until it gets done. It has been a lesson in perseverance. How many times have I gotten discouraged and wanted to quit in the last year? In the last ten years? How many times have I grumbled and complained because of lack of results? How many times have I thought "this church is never going to get off the ground!" The Brazilian hammer tourture has been a good reminder to me to be faithful, to persevere, and to trust that in God's timing, he will bring the results. Finally, the workers have finished one side of the building. Now they are starting on another. Let us all be faithful to run our respective races in their entireties - even when they are marathons!

Out of place

Day before yesterday, a blogger named D Burchfiel (aka OKpreacher) who is a pastor in Crane, TX posted my responses to his 7 Questions Series. You can find my responses below or on his blog

Out of curiosity, I went to look and found that my responses were immediately following the responses of Henry Blakaby (author of Experiencing God and Southern Baptist icon), as well as the heads of the Texas and Arkansas state Baptist Conventions. All of them are stately, dignified gentlemen with well-groomed looking studio photos and suits, not to mention vibrant ministries. My photo, on the other hand, is of a young guy on a boat in the middle of nowhere who hasn't shaved for a month. Sigh....

Anyway, it's nice to be among such esteemed company, even if it's only on someone's blog!

Messy Church Planting

On Saturday we had a, ah, our church plant in São Leopoldo. One the one hand, it was a worship service, on the other, an evangelistic meeting, on the other, a fellowship, but also an indigenous multi-media event. Let me back up and try to explain.

We have a regular Saturday night discipleship time with three new believers in the home of one of the couples of our core team. I show up, they show up, we have a study, pray, and generally help them grow in Christ. It's safe and predictable just like my uptight, American upbringing likes it. Last Saturday, they came up with the idea that they wanted to have a hot dog supper. It was their idea, they planned it, and all I had to do was show up with some wieners. They had discussed the possibility of watching a movie, but it was all very vague. Not wanting to impose my perspective, I just let the thing roll, and figured that I would show up and figure it out.

Anyway....On Saturday afternoon, I get a call asking me to go pick up one of the new believers who lives in another city and bring them. Ok, no problem. So I show up with a missionary from another Baptist agency who is tagging along and we proceed to wait in the carport of their house for nearly an hour entertaining a two-year-old and an eight-year-old while the rest of them take showers, get snazzed up, etc.

Finally, the whole family of 5, plus the two of us, squeeze into the car and show up at Simão and Marta's house. We walk in to find pandemonium. There were people everywhere (21 in all) - believers, unbelievers, a witchdoctor, kids, a dog, people from the mother church who had never been there before - and guess what? NO PLAN (I don't like it that way). So, the next 15 minutes are spent with Jeff going round and round with various people trying to figure out what to do (I can't just BE, I have to DO). Finally, I got a CD out of the car, we read the words to a song, and then listened to it. Then, I led an off-the-cuff participative Bible study on Jesus and the woman at the well, we had time for testimonies, and then we ate. Finally, we cleared off the table, one of the guys went home, got his DVD player and the copy of the Jesus film I had lent them, we plugged it up to Simão's TV and watched it right there in the garage while the two missionaries tried to keep the kids down to a dull roar so the adults could watch the film. Then, of course, we had to reverse the process and get everybody home.

I really don't like messy. I like to have a plan. But you know what? We worshipped, God's word was studied and applied, the believers were edified, salvation testmonies were shared, fellowship happened, the sick were prayed for, and the lost were evangelized. Even Rick Warren would probably say that the purpose of the church was fullfilled on Saturday - and all in a way the was reproducible and contextual. All I did was bring 20 wieners and a family and ask some discussion questions - the rest was all them.

Church planting can be messy - but that's ok! Now, this church planter just needs to learn the lesson.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

“Seven Questions with a Southern Baptist Missionary”

I recently received a request to answer seven questions being posed to various Southern Baptist personnel on a blog. I answered those questions today, and have posted my responses below as well.

What were some of the key issues that lead you to serve with the International Mission Board?
During seminary at Columbia International University, we were planning on serving as ISC missionaries with the board when we finished my degree, and then returning to the continental U.S. to be better at pastoring for the experience. We thought that after 2-3 years of short-term service that we would get the missions bug out of our system. During this time, we served a one-year internship “suffering” for Jesus in the state of Hawaii in a Baptist church of another denomination. God spoke to us and told us that he wanted us to give our lives to missions. We returned with a conviction that the Southern Baptists were more strategic in their practice of missions than other agencies that we had seen. We had no doubt that God wanted us to apply with the IMB and to serve Him where he put us within the board.

What is your greatest passion?
I would say that I have a dual passion. The first is to see Brazilians become disciples of Christ. I am firmly convinced that the best way to bring this about is to plant as many dynamic new churches as possible. My second passion is to train others to plant churches and to evangelize. By doing this, I can multiply my ministry many times over, and see many more churches planted and more Brazilian believers.

What is one barrier that you are experiencing in your ministry at this time?
Because of health needs, we moved from Northeast Brazil to extreme Southern Brazil last year. As such, we have had to retool and fit into a very different ministry role. This has been both a challenge and a blessing!

What is one thing you would want every Southern Baptist to know about your ministry?
THE PRAYERS OF SOUTHERN BAPTISTS ARE ESSENTIAL TO THE SUCCESS OF WHAT HAPPENS ON THE GROUND HERE IN RIO GRANDE DO SUL BRAZIL. WE ABSOLUTELY NEED YOUR SPECIFIC, TARGETED PRAYERS! Every member of our family has an internet blog to keep folks back home informed on ministry and family needs here in Brazil. My blog (which links to everybody else’s) is:

What has been the biggest culture change that you have experienced since leaving the States?
Nobody here speaks English, and we didn’t speak Portuguese when we arrived on the field six years ago. J

There has been a lot of blogging about pressure from the IMB towards missionaries to produce converts. Do you feel pressure from the IMB? What type of ministries are you doing to reach people and start churches?
I can honestly say that we have never experienced pressure from the IMB to produce converts. That being said, I must say that I often feel tremendous pressure to do so – but it comes from myself. I am fully capable of getting overly stressed out about ministry results without any outside help! Just a few days ago, God had to remind me – again – that the ministry does not belong to me, and that my self-worth cannot be based on results, but only on my relationship to Him.

We are planting a church in the city of São Leopoldo. We hope that this church will become both a model and a mother church for a flood of new churches. I am also teaching a decentralized leadership training course to a group of students that I hope will become church planters. I recently concluded teaching two groups of church planting students in the Baptist Seminary.

What are two or three things that you hope to accomplish in the next year and are there some prayer needs that we could begin lifting up in prayer?
We would like to see the church plant in the Vila Baum neighborhood in São Leopoldo firmly established and on its own, as well as seeing it reaching out to plant several new churches in the next year. I would like to start a church planting institute to teach laypeople to start new churches and give them the skills to pastor and lead those churches. We would also like to see a new excitement for church planting spread among our Baptist partners.

In closing, just let me say that we love serving as missionaries of the IMB. It is a privilege and an honor to be a part of this organization and this family. There is no place we would rather be, and nothing we would rather be doing than serving God and Southern Baptists here in Brazil. Thank you to everyone who contributes to our ministry through your prayers and your finances. Just a reminder – check out my blog at to know how to pray for us.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Now the Witchdoctor is Praying!

Tonight at 6:00 (Eastern Time), I'll be continuing our evangelistic Bible study with Dona Nice, the Mãe de Santo (voodoo witchdoctor). On Saturday, I talked with her daughter Iara (one of our new believers), and she told me that 3 people had sought out her mother during the week to cast various spells for them. She refused to do the spells, but one request was for a little girl who was sick. In response, Dona Nice got out her Bible, opened it to Psalm 23, and said a prayer for the girl! I cannot emphasize how big of a thing this is, for someone who has only ever known witchcraft, to be praying to God instead of invoking the power of the African spirits (demons) and accepting payment for doing so.

Please continue to pray that God will draw her unto a true relationship with himself. Tonight, we will be talking about the baptism and temptation of Christ from the book of Matthew. Please pray that as we look at this text about Satan, that she will see the truly evil nature of what she is doing and be brought to repentance. Pray that She will be radically saved and that her entire extended family will give their lives to Christ. Pray that I will be filled with the Holy Spirit and that He will give me the words to say to answer her many questions. And keep praying that we'll be able to have that bonfire with all of the tools of her trade!

Saturday, we had sort of a disturbing instance. Simão and I walked out of his front door to find Dona Nice's youngest son Ne Ne (he's 6 years old) burying a cat he had killed in front of their house. In Umbanda (the African spiritist religion they follow), burying a dead cat in front of someone's house is a strong curse that brings 7 years of bad luck from 7 different evil spirits. It may have been him imitating something he has seen his mother do, it may have been not so innocent child's play, or something else. Given the above, I certainally don't think that his mother was behind any of it. At any rate, I had a chance to talk with Simão about God's protection, and we continue to trust that God will keep us all safe and secure in his mighty power.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


A big THANK YOU goes out to everyone who prayed for my conversation with the mother church pastor of our church plant in São Leopoldo and for the first Bible study with the voodoo witchdoctor.

Things went well with Pr. Heleno. He had gotten some incorrect information on what we were doing and how we were doing it and was trying to figure out what was going on. We had a good, friendly conversation, and are planning on getting together for lunch next week to talk some more. He is still committed to the church plant and wants to be even more supportive of it than he has been to this point (which has basically to give us free reign, which is what I wanted). The root problem of all of this was that at least one of the couples on my team has been exagerating, and some of the people in his church appear to have been misrepresenting themselves. Now we have to deal with all of this! However, he and I are in agreement and at peace - which was what I was praying for.

I left my conversation with Pastor Heleno, and went straight to the Bible study with the voodoo witchdoctor (Mãe de Santo). We had a very long, open conversation, with no punches pulled. I discovered that God is REALLY working on her, and has been for a good long time. She told me that she was brought up in witchcraft and has known nothing else. The african spirit "gods" have been her point of reference for everything, but when she encountered a crisis, they were not there to help her, she began to cry out to God, and she feels that He did help her. She said that she wants to change and stop doing her black magic, but that there are things that are pulling her back. Please pray that God would bind the evil spirits that have possessed her for so long and that she would have the strength and conviction to make a radical commitment to Christ. Pray that Dona Nice and her two children that were there with her would be the firstfruits (actually second, as her daughter made a decision last week) of a great harvest in this huge clan. I'm looking forward to having a bonfire with all of her witchraft paraphanalia! We are planning to continue our time together next Monday night at 6:00 EST.

Thanks for your partnership in prayer.

Monday, July 31, 2006


Tonight I had a very disturbing meeting with our leadership team for the church plant in São Leopoldo. Three weeks ago, the pastor of the mother church spoke with one of the members of our leadership team and said that he thought that it was time for the members of the mother church to dedicate themselves completely to the church plant, tithe to the church plant, and start having worship services on Sundays. This seemed wonderful, but almost too good to be true.

Last week, the same pastor spoke with the wife of the man he had talked to and accused them of fomenting a rebellion against him by abandoning the mother church, talking about removing their tithe from the mother church, and looking to have services on Sunday – all of which were subjects that HE had raised in a positive light with her husband. He made the same accusations to another member of the church planting team this week.

The pastor and I will be meeting tomorrow at 5:30 (4:30 EST), and he sounded none to happy with me on the phone tonight. I find it no coincidence that I’ll be leaving from my meeting with him to go straight to our first evangelistic Bible study with a spiritist witchdoctor down the street from the house where we are meeting. The bizarre nature of all of this strongly points to spiritual warfare.

Please pray for all misconceptions, lies, and confusion to be exposed for what they are during our meeting tomorrow. Pray that God’s Holy Spirit would guide us both, and that I will have a spirit of humility. Pray that God would fix this situation in His way, for His glory. Pray that His work through this church plant would not be hindered, and that the gates of Hell will not be able to stand against it.

Thank you for standing with us in prayer.


Sunday, July 30, 2006

I'm back!!

Hello everybody! (If there are any of you left reading my blog after my long hiatus - I promise to do better). Here's an update on our church plant in Vila Baum.

I'd like to ask you to PRAISE GOD with us. We have finished the first round of Bible studies and have seen fruit from all of the studies that were completed. Lina accepted Christ after 3 weeks of study, SueLee accepted Christ after 6 weeks of study, Junior rededicated his life and his girlfriend Vivianne accepted Christ after 6 weeks of study, and Iara, André and Lina's teenage daughter Juliana accepted Christ last weekend after 8 weeks of Bible study. This means that because of God's grace, 7 new souls are in God's Kingdom. THANK YOU LORD JESUS!!!

I would also like to ask you to PRAY TO GOD for us. We are currently doing discipleship studies with the new believers, as well as preparing to start a new round of evangelistic studies this week. Iara's mother, whose name is Nice (knee-c) is a spiritist witchdoctor (Mother of the Saint). Nice has been increasingly open to hearing about Christ, and has scheduled to start an evangelistic Bible study with us on Tuesday. Please pray hard about this. She is engaged in hard-core black magic and we know that Satan will not willingly give up his possession. She has a son who is telling his mother that if she stops practicing magic, that he will die. We can already see the battle in this family, but we can also see how God is working. Please pray that she will do the studies, that God would touch her heart, and that she will completely abandon her evil practices once and for all and replace them with a new life in Christ. I would love to have a big bonfire in a few weeks and see all of the witchcraft paraphernalia pubically burned (just like in the book of Acts).

Also pray for the more mundane aspects of the church plant. In our leadership team, we currently have one member who is working first shift, another working second shift, and a third working third shift. It has been almost impossible to get everybody together to do anything, and as a result, we have had a series of miscommunications. Please pray that God will work everybody's schedules out so that we can meet, plan, and most importantly PRAY together. Also pray that God would show us how HE wants us to move forward with studies and services and that He would give us wisdom on where He would have us to meet. Also, one of the members of our core team had a fight with his wife and left her for two weeks. They are back together, but this creates a series of complications for how we address this situation.

Thank you all for your prayers - we can see God working in Vila Baum, but Satan is working hard to complicate matters. However, we are confident that God WILL build His church there, and that the gates of Hell will not be able to stand against it - please pray to this effect!

Monday, July 03, 2006

God's miracle!

As you probably remember, the husband in the home where the church plant is meeting in Vila Baum had a ladder slide out from under him a few weeks ago and broke his back. The doctors told him he very nearly was paralyzed, and that he would have to spend at least a month and a half in bed to allow it to heal.
I am pleased to report that just 15 days after he fell, Simão returned to work. While he is still limping and in some pain he is able to get around and do his job as a security guard. I arrived the other day to find him painting the house again (although he admitted with a laugh that he was not "approved" to use a ladder yet).

When he returned to the doctor for follow-up x-rays after two weeks, she was amazed and said that she did not see how it was possible for anyone to heal that fast - it was a true miracle!

Thank you all for your prayers! Once again, we see that God answers the prayers of His people!

Please continue to pray that God will complete the healing of Simão's back, and will also heal his legs and feet. He has fairly severe arthrosis, and several weeks off of his feet, combined with the cold weather have made his feet swell and make it very painful for him to walk.

So, PRAISE GOD WITH US, and keep on praying - prayer works (actually, God works in response to prayer, but we won't get into that :)

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Top 10 Reasons Why House Church is Better Than Traditional Church

In line with the mission's desire that we work with simple, house churches, I've compiled my own "top 10 list" on the advantages of house churches:

10. You can watch the world cup at church without a projector and big screen.
9. No obligation to wear panty hose or high heels - instead, on cold nights you can wear your fuzzy bunny slippers to church!
8. No pews.
7. No requirement that you use the same Sunday School literature that you've used for the last 30 years.
6. No 30 minute "dominate the mike" announcement time - or if so, at least it's participatory!
5. No fights over carpet color in the sanctuary - after all, who's going to criticize your living room floor?
4. No special baptism committee - after all, how hard is it to fill up the bathtub?
3. You don't have to worry about whether the roast in the oven at home will burn before you get home from church - you are home!
2. Nobody minds if you change a dirty diaper in the "sanctuary" during the middle of the service.
1. Bigger portions of juice and bread during the Lord's Supper.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Eleven Wonderful Years

Eleven years ago yesterday, I married the most wonderful woman in the world. In retrospect, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, nor how fortunate I really was.

Cam has been a patient, supportive, loving wife. She has put up with me being a police officer, a seminary student, a security guard, a church intern, an associate pastor, an interim pastor and a missionary.

In the last six years of our missionary service, she has endured hardships that few can even relate to, much less support - all with a minimum of complaining. She has offered me tremendous support even when I have not deserved it. During my extensive travel while we were NE Brazil, she carried the banner for our family and made our apartment a safe place of refuge for me when I was home. Now that we are in South Brazil, she has thrown herself into helping us settle in and into the lives of our boys.

Cam has truly been a Proverbs 31 woman, and I join the husband from that chapter in praising my wife and saying that "many women do noble things, but you surpass them all. Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her the reward she has earned and let her works bring her praise at the city gate" (and in the blogosphere)!

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Praise and BIG Prayer Requests

Praise God with us! Last night, our church planting team had our first decision for Jesus Christ. Lina, a lady with whom we have been doing a Bible study for three weeks now in a seamstress shop in a slum prayed to receive Christ. It was a wonderful moment, and will serve as a great encouragement to our team.

However, it is also abundantly apparent that a major spiritual battle is being joined. I showed up to our house church worship service on Friday night to discover that Simão, the husband of the couple in whom's house we meet, had a ladder slide out from under him on Monday and fell, breaking his back. He was very nearly paralyzed and will be bedridden for a month and a half. Therefore, he will not only not be able to do evangelistic Bible studies, but also will probably loose his job as a security guard and his ability to feed his family. Please pray for Simão, that he will heal quickly and that he will not loose his job.


While all of this was happening, Lina's (the new believer as of last night) sister in law was being demon-possessed - I will not go into any details so as not to give Satan any press. Their father who is a spiritist medium came over and took the demon into himself, thereby gaining prestige in the eyes of the family. Lina was also spiritually attacked during the night. All of this happened on the very week that we saw that we were starting to make inroads into this family.

Our lesson last night "just happened" to spend a good bit of time on the power of Jesus over demons (we studied about Jesus sending the demons into the herd of pigs). Lina began to open up about everything that was happening and we shared extensively with her before she gave her life to Christ.

Two hours later, we shared the same lesson with the daughter of a voodoo witchdoctor. She started to open up about how she was raised in witchcraft and the effects that it had on her family. We also had a good opportunity to share with her about the power of Christ over evil spirits.

We are not intimidated or afraid because we know that Christ has all power and authority over Satan and his evil servants, and we know that we have been given this authority as well. However, we are also aware that we are dealing with major spiritual warfare issues. We ask for your prayers for our spiritual, physical, emotional and mental protection. We also ask that you would pray that God would give us his wisdom and power to deal appropriately with the issues, people, and spiritual beings involved.

The battle is joined -we need your prayers!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Meet our church planting team - Alexandre

Little by little, I want to introduce you to our church planting team.

This is Alexandre. He is originally from the city of Campinas, São Paulo (where we studied Portuguese when we first moved to Brazil). He works at a research facility where they identify the best materials to use in making shoes. Alexandre is married to Tatiane and has a four-year old son named Geovane.

He is thirty years old, and before moving to São Leopoldo, served as a church planter in the state of São Paulo. They attempted to start a church using a very traditional model, and after several years of frustration and disillusionment, left the ministry and moved to be close to Tatiane’s family.

About a year ago, Alexandre felt that God was calling him back into the ministry. Through his personal reading, God showed him that small groups can be an effective way of doing ministry. Not too long after that, God brought Alexandre into my life and we began to work together.

I have high hopes that Alexandre will one day soon be able to take the reins of the church plant in Vila Baum and allow me to go start work in another area. He has a great heart, but tends to be very quiet and shy –but with an absolutely hilarious laugh!

Please pray for Alexandre that:
1. He will be able to have the time to dedicate to the church plant (and that he will prioritize the church plant over other ministry opportunities!)
2. That he will grow in his abilities and confidence in ministry
3. That he and I will both know the best way to share leadership responsibilities in the early stages of the church plant.
4. That he will be able to take over the church plant and make it grow in a way that the tall American with the funny accent will never be able to!

Thank you for praying for Alexandre – both he and YOU are an important part of our team!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Witchdoctors, Dragons, and the Lion

The Bible studies on Saturday went well. The study with Iara (the voodoo witchdoctor's daughter), her boyfriend, and her teenage daughter was the last of the day. Interestingly enough, although she was the one who had requested the study, her boyfriend André was much more talkative and involved in the study. She said that she had read the story (on the birth of Christ) beforehand and just wanted to listen.

We held one of our other studies in a tiny seamstress shop in a slum. The woman with whom we were studying wanted to do it there so that her sister could participate while she sewed. Lina is not yet a Christian but is already inviting others to participate in studies! Praise God!

As we have gotten to know the people with whom we are studying the Bible better, we are finding a host of issues under the surface. A number have been baptized into and heavily involved in witchcraft and black magic, almost all of them are involved in illicit sexual relationships, and the ones that are not have marital problems (not to mention those who are!).

As I mulled over this today, I thought of the scene from C.S. Lewis' book "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" where the unpleasant boy Eustice is transformed into (or perhaps revealed as) an ugly dragon. He tries to strip away his dragon nature, but can't. Only Aslan (representing Christ) the Savior is capable of cutting through the tough dragon flesh to reveal the boy underneath. Please pray that God would use the sharp sword of His Word to cut through all of the layers of resistance, sin, and spiritual barriers that are keeping these people from recieving the truth and having lives that are truly transformed by Christ. Thank you so much for your prayers on behalf of our church planting team, the not-yet believers we are ministering to, and my family. Stay tuned for bios and pictures of our church planting team!

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Bible Study with the Witchdoctor's Daughter

Tonight, we'll start the first session in our 7 week Bible study with Iara, the daughter of the voodoo witchdoctor who lives 2 doors down from the house church. She lives in a slum with her boyfriend and her teenage daughter. Before the study, we will spend some time doing surveys to find people of peace in the slum who would like to study about the life of Christ with us.

Please pray that Iara, her daughter and her boyfriend will all give their lives to Christ and give us an entrance both into this incredibly lost family and into the neighborhoods in which they live.

Pray that God will continue to give us opportunities to do evangelistic studies with people, that they will be saved, and will grow and be discipled in multiple house churches that will then be able to reproduce themselves.

As you pray, please be aware of our schedule out in Vila Baum so that you can pray more specifically. (All times in USA Eastern Time)

(All of the Bible studies below are with "NOT YET believers")

6:00, Bible study with Junior, his wife and mother in law
6:30 (this week only) house church worship service
6:00, Bible study with Gelson
6:30 house church worship service at Simão and Marta's house
2:00 - Bible study with Arí
3:00 - Bible study with Lina e Lucio and her sister's family
4:00-6:00 - Door-to-door surveys to identify interested unbelievers
6:00 - Bible study with SuiLee and Fernando
7:00 - Bible study with Iara, her daughter and boyfriend

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Witchdoctor is asking for prayer!

Simão and Marta

Our house church is currently meeting in the home of Simão and Marta. Last week, the voodoo medium/witchdoctor who lives two doors down the street came by their house and asked them to pray for her teenage daughter who had just given birth. Needless to say, this sort of thing doesn't normally happen!

Marta went to visit the daughter and found that she is resentful of the baby and seems uninterested in receiving much in the way of help. A couple of days later, one of the witchdoctor's other daughters came by their house to hang out for a few hours. Marta gave her one of our Bible study booklets and asked her to look over it. On Saturday, we dropped by her house to ask if she would be interested in doing a seven-week Bible study with us. She said she would need to talk to her husband, but seemed fairly interested.

If this couple does a Bible study with us and gives their lives to Christ, it could open the door to her 10 brothers and sisters and her witchdoctor mother. We're planning on continuing to reach out to the girl with the new baby and to her sister.

* Please pray that God will open up the doors to reaching this incredibly lost family for Christ.

* Thank God for the openings that he has already given.

* Pray that the entire family will be saved and that we will be able to have a bonfire in front of their house to burn all of the idols and items associated with their practice of voodoo witchcraft and that this will serve as a tremendous testimony to the power of the gospel in the community.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Losing by not winning

Sports fans, eat your hearts out - non sports fans, hang with me till the end...

Two weeks ago, the state soccer championship was held here in Porto Alegre. Every town in the state (no matter how small) has their own professional team, and the championship is the opportunity for everybody, from the lowest level minor league guys, all the way up to the major league teams, to slug it out in one big tournament and have bragging rights for the year.

As usual, the two big major league teams (Gremio and Internacional) in the capital crushed the little guys and met in the final, which consists of two games - a home and an away for both teams.

Ok, here's where it gets complicated. In the first game, the teams tied 0-0 at Gremio's stadium. In the second game, they tied 1-1 at Internacional's stadium. So....who wins? Despite the fact that they did not actually win either of the games, Gremio won the championship because they scored a goal in their opponent's stadium, while Internacional did not.

As I reflected on this (to me quite bizarre) way of deciding a winner, it occured to me that there is a deep spiritual truth present. When it comes to the kingdom of God (especially in the area of church planting), if we aren't actually playing for the win, we end up losing in the end.

I have heard far too many Christians (on several Continents) say "we need to build up our existing churches before starting new ones", or "we need to take care of our own members instead of running after unbelievers." Shortly after we arrived in Porto Alegre, I met with an influential Baptist leader, who told me in as many words, that we should not start any new churches, but work for several years to strengthen existing works before doing anything else. The intentions are good, but it's like the Internacional soccer team playing for the tie - it sounds good, but it's a no-win situation.

The city of Porto Alegre is a perfect example. Forty-five years ago, we had 10 Baptist churches in the city. Today, we have 13 - a net gain of 3 churches. Unfortunately, the size and strength of the 13 churches of today is much smaller than it was 45 years ago. In addition, the population of the city has exploded at an astounding rate - while our churches have declined. All the while these churches have focused on themselves - playing for the tie.

But I want to win. As a matter of fact, Jesus has already won the battle, so why are we acting like he hasn't? Have I too, played for the tie? We must start new churches, and these churches must reproduce themselves. If not, it's not bragging rights that are lost, but the souls of 4.5 million people in the Porto Alegre metro area - we cannot afford to tie.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Stay tuned to this bat channel....

Isn't it interesting how God does things so differently than we do?

We are working to start a movement of house churches in the city of São Leopoldo. Our time and energy has been totally focused in one small group of neighborhoods there. The other day, we scheduled an evangelistic Bible study with a couple there. But before the study started, they decided to move to a nearby city called Novo Hamburgo - but they say that they still want to do the study. The next day, I got a call from a Baptist missionary from Canada who is teaching a group of lay leaders in a church in Novo Hamburgo. He is leaving for furlough and he urgently needed someone to take over his group. In nine months of ministry here, I have never had any opportunity to do anything in Novo Hamburgo. In two days, I got two opportunities.

So, last night I went to visit the leadership training class. As we were sharing prayer requests , the lady across the table from me says that she and her husband (who are currently in a traditional church) are praying about starting a home group in their house in - guess where? São Leopoldo.

So, for some reason, all of a sudden, God has given me two ministry opportunities in Novo Hamburgo, which may have given me a contact for starting another house church in São Leopoldo. I wonder what God is doing....? Could it be that we will have an opportunity to start multiple house churches in São Leopoldo as well as one in Novo Hamburgo? It's going to be fun to see what He does! Will our intrepid heroes be able to climb to multiple church plants? Stay tuned at the same bat time, same bat blog, same bat blogger to see the exciting conclusion!
But first, a break from the cheesy old TV references for some prayer requests.
1. Please pray that we will be able to firm up times for the evangelistic Bible study in Novo Hamburgo and for three more studies in São Leopoldo where people have expressed interest but the studies have not yet been scheduled.

2. Please pray for the two studies that started this week and for the two that we will start tomorrow (Sat. 5/13) - that God will go before us and help us to be well received, will draw the participants to salvation, and that they will likewise evangelize others through the house churches that will be started.

3. Please pray that God will give us significant fruit and tremendous wisdom in this church planting ministry.

And don't forget to stay tuned for the exciting continuation of what God is doing in church planting in Greater Porto Alegre!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Church Planting where the Sidewalk Ends (Part 2 of 2)

Saturday, I walked beyond where the sidewalk ends. As I toiled up yet another narrow cobblestone street, I saw many places without sidewalks - or any other real semblance of infrastructure. I talked to a mother whose family used to be involved in church, and who now didn't bother to stand as she smoked next to her whisky bottles (both BIG no-no's in Brazilian Christian circles) and told me with blank eyes and a shrug that her teenage son was using drugs. I walked past the biggest drug dealer in the area and found out that he had been the praise leader in a local church. I talked to a man who described how the police showed up four hours after a woman whose house was being broken into called them. I heard the fear in the voices of adults as they spoke of the youth in the neighborhood.

It's odd - in our former ministry in the rural amazon basin, I faced danger, but it was more along the lines of getting bitten by poisonous spiders (which actually happened to me, by the way) or vampire bats, or sinking in a precarious boat in the middle of nowhere, and it never really bothered me.

Here in the city, there are places where I can smell the danger - as I have headed home late at night through darkened neighborhoods where the sidewalk ends, I have felt stabs of fear as I look at the very people I have been sent to reach. And that physical fear is not without reason. In the months we have been here, a colleague and I have been in the middle of a shooting, another missionary couple was carjacked at gunpoint, and yet another one of our missionary families have had their house robbed four times. We live in a big city, and I'm working beyond the sidewalk - "where the wild things are," if you will. And yet, I know that God is watching over us and protecting us. So I don't fear for my or my family's safety, but every once in a while, I feel it trying to creep in on me.

However, I admit to my shame that the main fear I have often allowed to creep over me is the fear of failure. What if we fail? What if we fail to reach these people who are so desperately lost? What if these churches we want to see never get off the ground? What then? What will become of them? What will become of me? What if we join the ranks of those who have seen little fruit? And so, I confess - I have often allowed my desire to succeed to morph into a lack of faith and a fear of failure. And yet, I know that God responds to us according to our level of faith.

But I know that the same God who promises to protect me also promises that He WILL build HIS church and that the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. His hand is powerful and mighty to save, and He loves the Gaucho people far more than I.

So, pray with and for me and our team - that God will forgive my fear and lack of faith and give me faith the size of a mustard seed, so that His church, planted where the sidewalk ends (both literally and figuratively) will grow to be the largest of plants and become a mighty tree where many will find rest.