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.