A Missionary is Never Alone: Introduction (Part 1)

Loneliness is something that I have struggled with off and on in my life.  There are times in the US where I remember feeling lonely but during my past year plus in Brazil at times I have felt more lonely than any other time.  In my conversations with other missionaries they have also felt the same or similar feelings of loneliness.  It is easy for a missionary to feel lonely and isolated in a country where you don’t know the language and do not have any friends or prior close relationships.  Over my time here I have learned to fight the feeling of loneliness.  There are really 4 different groups of people who have helped me with battling different aspects of my feeling of loneliness.

Before I delve into an overview of these 4 groups, I would be remis without talking about the one who helped the most with my feelings of loneliness.  God, the creator and sustainer of the heavens and the earth, is the one who has helped me with my loneliness the most.  It was important for me to really remember that God is intimately involved with all aspects of my life and is always there to talk with even when no one else is awake or present.  Knowing God and his character and nature has really helped me with my perspective on feeling lonely and how to respond well.

The first group is that of the prayer warriors who are regularly and faithfully praying for me.  There are 410 different people, families, or churches who receive my monthly prayer updates.  If you would like to sign up to receive my prayer letters or quarterly updates please use the link.  I am so thankful for all of the prayers and I can definitely see that the LORD has answered many of these prayers.  This group has really helped me not by physically being present but by continually taking my requests before the God who answers all requests.  I am so thankful for their faithful prayers prior to and during my time here in Brazil.

Alone 1

Youth Group

The second group is that of the financial partners who have been faithfully giving over the past 17+ months that I have been in Brazil.  This group is super important because without them I would not be able to do what I have been doing in learning the language and building relationships.  I am so thankful that I have not had to worry about finances during my time here in Brazil due to the faithful giving of so many people and churches.  My loneness would not be possible without all of your support but in all seriousness this group has helped my feelings of loneliness by seeing their faithful support.  It is great to know that the LORD has been working through these people/churches to provide for my needs here in Brazil.

Alone 2

Dinner with National Friends

Loneliness is part of normal life for missionaries but that loneliness is exasperated by the transformation of previous relationships that I used to count on.  I miss my friends and family greatly in the United States and that is only heightened at times when I miss significant events in their lives.  However, it is great to be able to talk with many friends and family using Skype, WhatsApp or even Instant Messenger.  The text messages or WhatsApp messages that I have received talking about exciting or daily events in life have been a very encouraging thing and have helped me to deal with my feeling lonely.  There are also the times where we are able to use these different programs to have video conferences with many friends and family that have really helped deal with my loneliness.

Alone

Dinner with Fellow Missionaries

As difficult as the first year and a half has been it is also great to make new friends in Brazil.  I have enjoyed the process of getting to know other missionaries and Brazilians.  The patience that my Brazilian friends have shown in getting to know me is amazing.  I have been so thankful for all of the relationships that I have been able to make over the past year.  These relationships have really helped me deal with my feelings of loneliness because God has created us to be social people and forming friendships with Brazilians and other expatriates here in Brazil.

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Preaching in Ivoti

I had the joy of preaching in Ivoti on July 1.  I preached on Philippines 1:6 on that God Began and will Complete all of his work.  I have seen great improvements in my Portuguese sense the first time I preached.  I am also thankful for the improvements that others are talking about sense the previous time that I preached.  I felt more comfortable preaching in Portuguese than I ever have.

Preaching

Beginning the Sermon

While preparing for this sermon it was great to feel more free in being able to express what the passage is saying and more confident that people will understand the points that are being made.  I was very encouraged in that I had only a couple of handfuls of words that I needed to look up because I didn’t know them.

Preaching 2
Making a point during the sermon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was great to feel comfortable enough while preaching to add some unplanned sentences and to also be able to emphasize different words or parts of phrases.  I am so thankful that my language abilities are improving.  It was also encouraging to hear comments from people as to how they were encouraged by the sermon.

Preaching 1

Final Prayer bringing the sermon to a close

Sunday Church Services

This past Sunday I had the joy of going to 2 different church services in two different cities.  Normally church for me is only a night time event in part due to the culture which normally does not rise early Sunday mornings.  There are also some churches here which have morning and evening services but they are normally due to these churches having been started by a foreign missionary.

Church 4

Worship in Vera Cruz

The two churches which I visited was Igreja Batista Pioneira em Vera Cruz and Ministerio Biblico Ivoti  The Pastor of Igreja Batista Pioneira em Vera Cruz is Marco Ribeiro and he has been working to help plant this church for the past 3+ years.  It was very encouraging for me to see the worship and the participation of the children with the worship in song.

Church 2

Singing with the Children

Pastor Marco preached on many different bible stories but I don’t remember his main point.  I do remember listening to all of the different points and enjoying how he used many different bible stories to illustrate his points.

Church 3

Listening to Pastor Marco preaching

I am a member of Ministerio Biblico Ivoti and have been regularly going here almost every Sunday night that I have been in Brazil.  I am thankful that I have been able to develop many friendships here.  We normally begin with singing cutting edge early 90’s Christian worship songs.

Church 1

Listening to Pastor Andreu Preach in Ivoti

Pastor Andreu has been working his way through Roman’s this year and is now entering the final Chapter.  Preached on Romans 16:1-2 on Febe.

Church

Everyone Listening to the Preaching

 

Cooking Hamburgers for a Retreat

I had the privilege of cooking hamburgers for a church plant that fellow ABWE missionaries started and are working at.  Logos is the same church plant that I had the privilege of discipling some of the young men and also baptizing two of them last year.

burger

Kitchen Help mixed and prepared the burgers

This year they asked me to come and cook hamburger’s for the retreat.  With the help of the kitchen ladies it was easy to make all 52 hamburger patties.

burger 1

Formed Hamburger Patties

My main responsibility was to provide the recipe and to cook the burgers for everyone.  Cooking the burgers was fun but with everyone’s help we were able to have all of the burgers cooked on time.

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Cooking the Hamburgers

I was so encouraged to hear Richter’s testimony at the sito da esperansa. It was cold during the part of the retreat that everyone was bundled up but even with the cold they were able to hear the testimony of an engineer.

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Listening to Richter’s testimony

The messages at the retreat were given by my pastor Andreu.  Andrew preached from Romans 8 during the part of the retreat that I attended and it sounds like everyone was encouraged.

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Pastor Andreu preaching at the retreat on Romans 8

It was clear that everyone was having fun at the retreat.  I liked this picture of some of the ladies helping set up the burger bar for dinner.

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Having fun setting up the burger line

Once the burger bar started the people liked up and enjoyed the hamburgers.  They smelled the hamburgers cooking during the message and enjoyed eating all but 6 of the hamburgers we made.  There was about 30 people who were at the retreat and It seemed like each and everyone enjoyed the food.

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Burgers are served

After cooking the burgers I joined the people in playing games until I left later that night.  I am so glad that I could be a part of this retreat and enjoy a good meal with them.

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Playing games at the retreat

 

Local Pastors Meeting

I go to a monthly pastors meeting every month.  This meeting is normally is the first Thursday of each month and is hosted by one of the pastors at their church or retreat center.  We had about 10 churches and two local retreat centers represented at the meeting this month in Ivoti.

Pastors

Conversations before and after the event

The fellowship is a very important part of these meetings.  I have talked with the pastors and each of them feels like this meeting is very important.  With only about 15 like minded churches located in a city the size of Los Angeles it is common to have these pastors feel very isolated and lonely.  The conversations that happen over the meals and before and after the meeting are vital to the local pastors.

Pastors 1

Fellowship over breakfast

Following breakfast we have a time were the host pastor shares an encouraging devotional and then we get down to business updates and prayer requests.  Typically after prayer requests we break up into smaller groups to pray.  I am so thankful for all of these men and the opportunities that I have had to practice my Portuguese with them and build relationships over the past year plus.

Pastors 2

Spiritual Encouragement and Prayer 

Ivoti was the host church and my contribution was making an egg, onion, bell pepper, bacon, cheese, and potato casserole.  I think that it turned out well and the guys liked it also because there was none left over. 

 

Prayer: A Missionaries Lifeline

Prayer is a vital lifeline for all missionaries.  Personal prayer times are a vital part of any Christians personal walk and corporate prayer on your behalf is just as important especially for a missionary who can easily feel isolated and out of touch with friends and family.  Knowing the necessity of prayer I decided that not only would I raise financial support but I would raise 200 people who would commit to praying for me on a monthly basis.  I am under no illusions that the people who committed to pray for me will specifically pray for me daily but I know that if they take the time to pray at least once a month for me it will greatly change the work down here in Rio Grande Do Sul.  Looking back at the first presentation individual presentation requesting support, February 12, 2016, that I ever made I already had 59% of the desired 200 prayer partners.  These people who signed up to pray for me regularly early in the support raising process, I believe, are a key part of all that has happened in the subsequent years.

Prayer

First Presentation Prayer Request Slide

I quickly found out that I was going to blow past the 200 prayer partners so I upped it to 300 prayer partners because everyone knows that it is better to have more people praying for you.  By the time I made the third iteration (I changed my presentation every time there was a significant change in my support levels, financial or prayer.) of my presentation, February 20, 2016, I had already upped the requested prayer partners to 300.  Well as I traveled around and talked with people it I eventually found out that even 300 people signing up to receive my monthly prayer letter was too few so on the 17th iteration of my presentation, August 6, 2016, it was changed to 400 prayer partners.  When I finally left for Brazil, February 8, 2017, I had 400 people who were receiving my monthly prayer newsletter.

Prayer 1

Open Rate of Monthly Prayer Letter

I have seen many answered prayers over the past years.  I am so thankful for everyone who prays for me on a regular basis.  I was warned by a veteran missionary that the readership of the prayer letters would fall dramatically as the number of people signing up grew but I really didn’t believe him that it would be very drastic.  However,  I have seen the list readership constantly decreasing as the number of signups increased, the list readership has gone from the mid 60’s to the low 40’s percentage wise.  This is discouraging when I focus on what the numbers only but I take heart the bible says that “the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective,” James 5:16b.

Prayer 2

Final Presentation Prayer Request Slide

Through these past few years I have seen the LORD answer many of the specific prayer requests that have made the list.  Examples of this are raising all of the required support in one year, the ability to clearly communicate the scriptures in Portuguese, and graduating from Portuguese language school.  In the past I was guilty of telling missionaries that I would be praying for them and then not praying for them or at the very best praying for them in a sporadic manner.  Even now I do not pray every day for other missionaries but I do try to specifically and regularly (monthly or bi monthly) pray for missionaries.  I also pray regularly and specifically for all of those who are supporters of me.  Two tricks that use to pray for missionaries is to take some time to pray when I receive the notice of their update in my e-mail and then to pray when I get around to opening up and reading the update, sometimes a day or two after receiving it.  On a side note it is great to receive notes from people saying that they have read the monthly update and are praying for me.  Thank you to everyone who was and is praying for me as a missionary.

Culture Shock: Cultural Learning in Pictures

Culture 3

Understanding a little culture but not seeing the big picture

Even after living in Brazil for over a year I still experience and deal with culture shock.  On morning walks and throughout the day I often reflect on the cultural differences that I see and reflect on how I can understand and embrace these differences.

Culture 5

Seeing the big picture but still missing many details

The other day I was out on my walk and I saw a valley covered in fog with some hills peaking through the fog.  As I retuned home I go to thinking that this is a great picture of my current understanding of the Brazilian culture.

Culture 1

Seeing more of the big picture but with many fog patches

When I began to pursue becoming a missionary in Brazil my understanding of the Brazilian culture was like driving in tule fog where I could only see a foot in front of me.  This was my initial understanding of the culture. 

Culture

Continued cultural understanding will bring clarity

When I arrived in Brazil my understanding of the culture was like walking around in bad fog, where I could see vague shapes in the fog about 50-100 feet out.

Culture 2

Even with great clarity there is still lots more culture to understand

Now, I feel like I have picked up an understanding of the Brazilian culture which is highlighted by the tips of different hills filled with dense fog valleys in between.  I am thankful that over the past year plus I have seen marked differences in my understanding of different cultural things.  I began with comparing two cultures like a ball vs. a box and thinking that I am starting to become less like a box and more like a ball.  Now I feel like I get more of the culture but I still know that I have a long way to go.

Culture 4

Refining my box culture understanding

Fear and Forgiveness

Discipleship

Proverbs 27:17 – Sharpening One Another

As I disciple men I am continually encouraged to follow Christ more and also to review some basic truths of the Christian faith.  This are two of the things that I enjoy most about discipleship, 1) the continual sharpening of my walk with Christ through being challenged to remember things I forgot and 2) seeing the scriptures through the eyes of a different believer.

Discipleship 1

Proverbs 9:10 – Fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom

The other day I was discipling a  young Christian and he was talking about two things which confuse him when he looks at other Christians. The two biblical topics were the fear of the LORD and the necessity of forgiveness.

Discipleship 2

Proverbs 8:13 – Fear of the LORD is hatred of evil

The first thing which he talked about not understanding was Christians continually struggling with the same sin in the same way over and over.  He talked about how he doesn’t understand conversations with some Christians, who are supposed to be more mature in their faith, that struggle with the same sin over and over.  Our conversation continued and he spoke about how he really fears God and that stops him from wanting to continue to sin.  Our conversation continued with me affirming that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, Proverbs 9:10.  We further talked about how fear keeps us from continuing in our sin.  This is a simple lesson from Acts 5.

Discipleship 3

Acts 5:11 – Great Fear came upon the church

The second thing that we talked about is forgiveness and how he thinks that forgiveness is a fundamental part of being a Christian.  He was marveling that there are mature Christians he knows who do not forgive others but does not forgive those who were responsible for sinning against them (either real or perceived).  We continued our conversation with talking about how those who have been greatly forgiven should forgive others.  Our conversation was centered around the scriptures which tell the believer to forgive.

Discipleship 4

Luke 7:47 – Those who are forgiven much love much

When we have been greatly forgiven it is easier to forgive others.  Understanding that great love is a result of great forgiveness but little love is a result of little forgiveness.  As a newer believer it was awesome to hear this man speak about how he forgives because he knows he was a great sinner and has received great forgiveness.

Discipleship 5

Matthew 18:21-22 – Forgive 70 times 7 times

The other passage we talked about was Matthew 18:21-22 specifically talking about forgiveness and how many times we are to forgive the brother who sins against us.  Christians are to forgive and it was so encouraging to hear how he recognizes that forgiveness is a real struggle for some Christians.  It was encouraging to hear him say that he desires to forgive and understands the importance of forgiveness in the Christian walk.

Reviewing Language School

Formal language school has been a long arduous process for me.  It began a couple of weeks after I arrived last February and finally ended last week.  I have had 2 different teachers for Portuguese Class.  With the guidance of these two teachers I survived the rigorous course that was laid out before me.

Language 2

Andreu and I in class

Classes began with a focus of being able to correctly pronounce the sounds used in the Portuguese language.  With that foundation different words and grammar continued to be added after the first week or two till the final days.  There was much frustration on my part during language school due to the schools philosophy that everything get explained to me in only Portuguese.  (It is very difficult to understand something when you only have a vocabulary of less than 50 words and the teacher continued to use new words to explain a different new word or gramatical construction.)

Language 2

Working with a friend to help me understand a Portuguese concept

I would say that the last 1/3 of class was much better than the first 2/3rds simply because my vocabulary and language abilities had grown to the point where I had a chance to understand what was being explained.  This also coincided with the confidence and ability to ask the correct question about what I didn’t understand.

Language

Completed at least one “Grupo”

There was one activity which I struggled with above all of the others, that activity was “grupos.” “Grupos” are a set of 6-8 questions and answers which you need to repeat in a given time while only looking at the English.  To complete this task it took 6-20 hours of study in the beginning to complete one grupo because I basically just had to memorize the entire grupo to repeat it.  I have to say that I didn’t learn lots from the grupos especially in the beginning except to speak quickly without understanding.  As I continue to complete the grupos throughout the year I felt them it took less time as I grew in understanding the language and also my vocabulary.  In the end it took 2-4 hours of study to complete one grupo.  I am so thankful to be done with this exercise and never desire to return to them again.

Language

Summary of a conversation about education in Brazil during class

When I think about the progress that I have made in the Portuguese language there has been lots of growth.  However, I know that I do not speak Portuguese well right now, just think of a 5-6 year old speaking their first language and you will know where I am in Portuguese.  I am confident that I will continue to improve and strive to get fluent in the language.  The final weeks of language school were marked by the ability to converse over many different subjects and left me with lots of hope that I might actually be able to speak good Portuguese.

Dangers of Understanding

This past Sunday I preached at Ministério Bíblico Ivoti on Sunday night.  It was a great opportunity to not only work on my Portuguese but to have a great time studying the scriptures.

 

Preaching 1

My study area after preaching Sunday night.

 

The process of preaching is similar to the one I did in the United States but includes two key steps which elongates the process.  These key steps are writing the manuscript of the sermon and having Brazilian’s review the Portuguese to make sure that it is correct.  It takes me an average of about an hour and a half to type one page of sermon in Portuguese.  The review process with a Brazilian depends on the person and how much of the manuscript has been completed.  It ranges from about an hour to several hours to review the sermon.  After each reviews the sermon it takes me another hour or two in order to process and input the changes.

 

Preaching

Comfortable enough to actually look up during the sermon.

 

On Sunday when I preached I felt that the sermon went very well.  I could tell that I was exceptionally nervos for the first half of the sermon but then I settled in and was even comfortable enough to adlib a couple of sentences in the midst of the sermon.  While I was practicing the fastest that I went through the sermon was 45 minutes but when I actually preached it was down to about 30-35 minutes for the sermon.  I was surprised that I could speak that fast in Portuguese.  The best part of the sermon was after when people said that they understood everything that I said.  My response was to thank them and then reply that it is more dangerous for me now that they can understand everything that I say instead of before when they could mostly understand what I was saying.  I now feel more pressure to speak properly but I am also up for the challenge.