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.

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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

 

Cultural Learning: Strike in Brazil

When I went to the men’s bible study last week on Wednesday night I saw some cars in line to get gas at the gas station at an unusual time and with an unusual number.  I thought it was strange but it got stranger talking with the guys.  They mentioned that all of the gas had been shutoff in Brazil.  This came as a surprise to me because I don’t follow the local news very closely and didn’t know that the truckers had gone on strike the day before.  Needless to say this information put a little damper on the men’s bible study.

Gas

Gas Station 1 with a line of cars

Due to my Portuguese abilities I had to ask a couple of times for the guys to clarify what I thought that I had heard from them.  It was very hard for me to fathom having the gas cut off from all of Brazil.  Then I figured out that they were also saying that the truckers had gone on strike and were blocking some of the major highways in Brazil.  Further causing me concern, they expressed that this was happening all over Brazil and not just in an isolated place.   Due to trucking being the major/only way that goods are transported in Brazil the crisis is initially only gas but consumer goods are sure to follow.  My friends warned me that I should have purchased gas before study and that I needed to go in the morning to top off my tank if I had not done that already.  When I asked them how long they though this strike would last they said anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks.  Further scaring me, they then mentioned that the airports were already running out or had run out of gas.  My immediate thoughts were, “What have I gotten myself into?”  Well, on my morning walk I saw that the lines had already begun to form very early at the gas stations.  After getting back from my walk I went to get top off my tank of gas.  It only took 30+ minutes of sitting in line to complete this task.

Gas 2

Gas Station 2 with a line of cars

After study I did some more research into what was actually happening and that it seemed like it was not as bad as my friends lead me to believe.  Even though the government was trying to actively end the strike and reopen some of the major roads which has been blocked by truckers on strike it didn’t seem like an easy or quick solution was possible.  As a part of my research I reached out to my team members and they all helped clarify what was actually happening.

Gas 1

Alternative view of Gas Station 2 and the lines of cars

This event really opened my eyes to a cultural observation that I had heard before but never really internalized, that being that Brazilians tend to be pessimists.  This realization scared me because in my understanding of the language I am not able to pick up some of the nuances and tend to take everything I understand in a very literal sense.  Thinking that Brazilians are generally pessimists is something that I will definitely think through as I continue to live here.

Gas 3

Gas Station 2 the next day

The situation has continually gotten worse with Porto Alegre, the nearest major city and about the size of Los Angeles,  running out of gas on Friday and many other smaller cities running out of gas shortly thereafter.  I went to bed Thursday night with the though that there might be a temporary agreement in place but Friday it was rejected by the Truckers.  Everything has continually gotten worse with people thinking that this might stretch on for a couple of weeks.  Many people who I am talking with are thinking that the strike needs to end soon (Monday or Tuesday at the earliest with Thursday being the latest) but are also very sympathetic to the truckers who are striking.  I have prepared for about a week without going to the store but it is still a little scary for me.  I have determined that I will not be traveling any distance, even to Porto Alegre, without the strike ending and normal commerce resuming.  I am thankful for all of my friends that I have made here and have comfort that they will be able to assist me if this gets appreciably worse here.

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. 

 

Time with Friends

I am so thankful for all of the time that I have had with friends recently.  I am so thankful for my friends who have patience with me as I practice Portuguese.  It is also very nice when I don’t have to cook for myself.  I am so thankful to have such great friends.

Friend

BBQ Rib dinner at Marcos house

I enjoy spending time with my friends but it has also revealed another of many weaknesses in my Portuguese.  That weakness is that I am struggling with being a part of group conversations.  Group conversations are difficult because Brazilians talk over each other all the time, I struggle to understand multiple voices talking at the same time, and normally multiple conversations talk place in the same group.  When I speak Portuguese unless it is a simple phrase or a topic that I know the vocabulary well I struggle with forming sentences quickly enough to be an active part of the conversation.  However,  I have seen growth in this are and know that the more time I spend in these environments the better my Portuguese will become.

Friend 1

Grilled Chicken Dinner at Johns house

 

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.

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.

Hamburger School, Basic Burger and BBQ Sauce

Last Friday I had the youth group over to my house to have Hamburger School, Basic Burger and BBQ Sauce.  I created a recipe for basic hamburgers and BBQ sauce that I make and then invited the youth group over to my house to make hamburgers.

Hamburger

Youth preparing the Hamburgers

I prepared for this by purchasing all of the materials to make the hamburgers and sauce.  In all I had about 10 people over to my apartment to prepare the food.  There were two simple rules that I gave them when they came over: 1) You don’t help make the food you don’t eat and 2) Let me know ahead of time so that I can get enough food.

Hamburger 1

Preparing the BBQ sauce

It was interesting to watch the youth group prepare the hamburgers.  Measuring out all of the ingredients was very fun as I only have one set of measuring cups and spoons so we had to use some regular spoons to help speed up the process.  I think that they had fun mixing the hamburger meat with their hands although it was clearly very strange for them to mix with their hands.

Hamburger 2

Cooking the Hamburgers

After forming the meat patties with the cheese surprise in the middle we began to cook the hamburgers on the churrascria (BBQ).  While the meat was cooking we prepared the BBQ sauce and green mayonnaise.  We made two different types of BBQ sauce, we just changed the type of mustard in the recipe, which allowed for the youth to taste the differences which might happen when they make the hamburgers for their families.  The green mayonnaise is something which is very good to have with the burgers.

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Preparing plates of food

After finishing the sauces we put everything together on the table so that we could start to eat while we finished cooking the rest of the hamburgers.  Everyone enjoyed the burgers and most even went back for seconds.

Hamburger 3

Enjoying the fruits of their labor

We then cleaned up the food we had eaten and sat down to chat a little.  A while later we were all able to enjoy the desert which I made for the evening.  I think that the chocolate mousse in Brazil is the best that I have had anywhere in the world.

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Nice full apartment

When the youth left I told them that they could now make this for their family.  I am so thankful for the opportunity to have the youth group over to my house for this event and look forward to hosting Hamburger School Part II, Advanced Burgers.