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.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Church Planting Where the Sidewalk Ends (Part 1 of 2)

Shel Silverstein's book "Where the Sidewalk Ends" is one of my son Blake's favorite books. On the cover, two kids look over the edge of the sidewalk with great trepidation while their dog scrambles to get his footing. I must say, that at times lately, I have felt both like the children and the dog - out beyond the "Edge - Keep Out" sign.
In response to my "M is for Mud Guy" post, one of our wise mission leaders wrote and reminded me that "church planting begins where the asphalt ends," and told me to "go to the end of the end of the asphalt and a little beyond." Well, that's where we're at -both strategically and physically.
Our great desire is to see a movement of simple churches reproducing themselves throughout our desperately lost state. To see this happen, my conviction has been that we need to be very careful to do everything in as simple, inexpensive, and reproducible of a way as possible - which goes against everything that has been tried here in Rio Grande do Sul. What we have done is to form a core group of believers, begin to worship together as a house church to provide a model of where we are heading, and then to teach them to do evangelistic Bible studies. Our hope is that those who accept Christ through these studies will then form the cores of new house churches and will win and teach others in the same way that was done with them.
But so far, the dream has been slow to come about. I have continually had to beat the drum, emphasize our vision, and try to keep the ship on course. In Shel Silverstein's words, "We shall walk with a walk that is measured and the place where the sidewalk ends." In the meantime, I've been asked a number of times "how is your strategy of house churches and evangelistic Bible studies going?", with a sympathetic shake of the head indicating that it won't work and that I'll come around someday.
In three weeks of canvassing the neighborhood, our core group had a grand total of one study scheduled. I showed up yesterday to go out visiting and to do the study and discovered that the couple had moved. I felt like the dog on the cover of the book, holding on for dear life and scrambling to get my strategic and emotional footing. But after two hours of walking the neighborhood, we now have three studies scheduled and four more strong possibilities for which we need to firm up times. We are out beyond the edge, which is both an exhilarating and frightening place to be - but perhaps we're starting to find our footing!
Coming soon - Church Planting Where the Sidewalk Ends - literally.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

On Changing Hats

As a child, I remember reading the Dr. Seuss book "The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins", where poor Bartholomew discovered that his simple little hat had multiplied into a seemingly inumerable number of hats, which almost resulted in his death.

In many ways, I feel a bit like Bartholomew. In the year 2000, we left pastoral ministry in the U.S. to come to Brazil. I took off my "pastor" hat and put on my "language student" hat while we spent a year learning Portuguese in language school in SE Brazil. That hat did not fit well at first, as I had to adjust from being a competent communicator accustomed to speaking to and leading large groups of people to being an inarticlate foreigner who struggled to do the most basic of tasks. But, after a time I adjusted to the new fit.

I then took off that hat, and put on my "leadership development and evangelist" hat for three years of ministry in the state of Maranhao in NE Brazil. After the initial adjustment, my head grew to fit that hat, and I grew to love it. It was very fulfilling to pour my life into the lives of humble church planters and to help them through a ministry of mass evangelism. Despite the difficulties of rural ministry in third-world conditions, I saw many many people saved and saw lots of new churches started through the sacrifices of my students. I got to spend lots of time with U.S. volunteers who brought me peanut butter, saw God work in their lives in new and exciting ways, and encouraged us in our work. And then suddenly, my hat was taken away.

My beloved pregnant wife started having severe medical problems and we discovered that our soon to be born son had brain problems. The next thing I knew, I was back in the U.S. with the "poor missionary with a sick baby" hat on. For a host of reasons, it felt like my world was ending. But God was faithful (that'll be another post), and after a year of furlough and medical leave, we were ready to put on our familiar hat again. But it was not to be. We were told we could not return to the poor medical care of NE Brazil - it was time to look for a new hat.

God gave us the "church planter" hat. We moved to a large, urban city which has a reputation as a place that is both resistant to the gospel and one where missionaries serve for a short time before leaving the field in discouragement. To be quite honest, the work has been slow. The change of hats from successful evangelist and trainer of many to a nobody struggling to get a tiny group of people excited about starting churches (with little visible result so far) has been a shock to my pride.

Changing hats has been hard to do. Sometimes like Bartholomew Cubbins, it feels like it's going to result in my death. But I know that God is faithful. He is telling me to be faithful as well, to do what I know to do, and to wait on Him to bring the results - both in my life and in the lives of those to whom He has sent me.