The Stretcher Community

We always have very interesting encounters with people. I remember one particular morning, when we did our coffee walk, we met a number of people under some palm trees. Some were still asleep (we never wake them), but around 15 people were awake and happy to see us with hot coffee. After some time chatting and getting to know them, we decided it was time to move on. So as we started saying our goodbyes we were interrupted by a young man in his twenties. “What about the Word? Will you not share the Word of God with us, so we can have hope for the rest of the day?”

“Of course! The Word!”, I thought to myself slightly ashamed.

You know, it is so easy to try and deal with what meets the eye, but it is so much harder to meet real need. Need of the deepest kind often goes unseen. Here we were, trying to confer dignity to people through speaking to them in a loving and caring way (all wonderful stuff), but what they really wanted was hope for the day. This reminded me of the passage in Mark 2:1-12, where we read about a man who is carried by his 4 friends to meet Jesus. 

The man in the passage could not get to Jesus on his own. He needed the help of his friends. When they lower the stretcher from the roof, the reader is in eager anticipation for what Jesus will do. Of course, the reasons for going through all that effort are obvious. A quick look, just a glance, at the man on the stretcher would have made any of us realise that what he needed was to be healed… he needed to walk again. He needed to be included in society. His healing would allow him to hold down a job. He would have a normal life. The obvious need, however, was not his greatest need.

His greatest need was his need for forgiveness. To the reader this seems strange though, a man who so clearly needed physical healing was at first just forgiven. Just. Isn’t it funny that we place so little value on what is truly important? But Jesus sees past what meets the eye and provides the man with what he really needed. Shocking the religious people who were watching them. That man’s greatest need was not his inability to walk, it was his need for forgiveness. His need for inclusion. His need for the Word made flesh. His real need was met at the feet of Jesus, and then physical healing took place.

Sometimes in the work we do we are motivated by a sense of urgency, trying to meet needs as we see them. However, we can sometimes miss the point. Jesus offers something much deeper. Something that truly transforms. Something that lasts. By forgiving that man, Jesus frees him from the stigma that he was bad and sinful. The widespread belief was that people were sick because of something they or their parents had done wrong. By speaking forgiveness over him Jesus frees the man from the social prison he found himself in. Jesus places him in a new paradigm of freedom.

Another important thing. We need to be the people who, like those four men, carry people to Jesus. Jesus will meet their needs, but our job is to carry them. Those four men faced the multitudes. They had to devise a plan to overcome the physical obstacles to get that man to Jesus. Many around us, cannot get themselves to Jesus. Our job is to carry them to Jesus, even though that may mean facing challenges. Like those four men were a community of care to the man on the stretcher, we need to be the stretcher community to many. We need to be those who choose a life style of mission that will allow many who are prohibited, by their own condition, to meet Jesus. Then Jesus himself will meet their need. Our job is just to carry one end of that stretcher. We need to be the Stretcher Community.

The greatest need is often not the most obvious. I wanted to offer coffee and friendship to people on the streets, but they needed me to take them to Jesus… they needed hope. May we be those who dig through roofs to give them access to the One who forgives and heals.

Questions to ponder:

Who are the people in your community who prohibited, through their own condition, to meet Jesus? What can you do to help them get closer? This passage is a rich reminder of our obligation to those who are excluded by default because of their own condition, can you identify them in your community? What could God be calling you do about it?

Assassin’s Grace

In our work in Brazil we have tried to walk the streets as much as possible. As part of this we take coffee once a week to the homeless, pray for them and offer ways to help them to start a new life. In these walks we encounter all sorts of people. From travellers, who have been robbed and end up living on the streets temporarily, to assassins.

Of course, not every story we hear can be taken very seriously. We have met people who claim to be secret agents, who break secrecy just to tell us they need some money to go back to Secret Services HQ. We have met “millionaires” who choose to live on the streets because they love to sleep under the stars, as well as people who claim not to have drunk in days, whilst struggling to stand on two feet. The streets are full of stories… 

Some stories are heart breaking. We hear of people who were abused from day dot and found the streets safer than home. People who had a good life but after trying crystal went down a downward spiral that landed them there. We certainly meet many victims. But we also meet people who have killed and hurt others.

Today I met Clayton, a short man with a serious expression. His face, covered with scars from fights a few moons ago, tell me he is not always as calm as he is now as he talks to me. As he sips his coffee he goes on to tell me that the most important thing in life is to have faith in God. I of course agree and tell him that this faith leads us somewhere and changes us. He nods. He then goes on to say that he needs to change because of the things he has done. In trying to answer my question as to why he has ended up on the streets of Goiania, he goes on to share some of the most chilling and disturbing stories I have heard to date.

This short and hurt looking man has killed many people. Sometimes he killed to defend himself or his honour. He said, ‘I rather have his mother cry than mine’. But he acknowledged a pleasure for killing, smiling as he described how he killed. The most upsetting tale was the time he killed because the man was wearing his t-shirt without consent. Details are too graphic, but he said with a smile how he enjoyed feeling the man’s heart stop at the end of the knife.

To my surprise he wanted prayer. To my surprise he me called friend (which was a massive relief!). To my surprise, there I was, in the middle of a public square disgusted and appalled by what I had heard and yet I was invited to extend grace. What to do?

You know, it is so much easier to help victims. It is so much easier to extend grace to those who seem to deserve it. And as I stood next to this assassin and murderer I knew this grace was also his. The word tells us in 2 Timothy 1:9, that:

“He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time”

It was before the beginning of time that this grace was given to Clayton, even before he committed any of heinous crimes. Not because of him or his actions. But it was his, the whole of it. The assassin’s grace was the same that was offered me. The assassin’s grace was the same as mine. As I prayed for him I realised that he and I shared the same condition… we were both underserving of grace but it had been offered to us both in equal measure. So I did what I should do, I shared in that grace which seems so unfair to the human sense of justice. I prayed blessings over him. I prayed God’s grace would change him.

When we finished praying he said, ‘I think God has a plan for my life, I should be dead.’ I went on to tell him that he needed help and to let God in. He said he was going to try, we said our goodbyes and we parted.

As I walked back to the office still shaking from our encounter, I was reminded that on the cross Jesus forgave a man who was hanging on the cross next to him. Pure grace expressed. Yet I always saw it as a beautiful thing, read through rose-tinted lenses. It was only today that I fully understood how radical, gritty and real it was. The other thing I learned afresh was that this grace was also expressed to me.

Ignorance is a good thing…

“He alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea. […] He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted.” Job 9:8, 10

It is scary to think that we have been in Brazil for one whole year. Looking back, we see how much has happened in that time, how much we have learned and how much we have done. We have seen the beautiful and the ugly, felt good things and bad. But in everything we are thankful for what God has done in and through us.

At the end of July we went to Southern Brazil to visit fellow CMS mission partners Jimmy and Katia (Rocks) and their lovely children, and to get to know that region. It was a lovely break. On our first day in Florianopolis we went for a stroll on the beach. And though it was cold on that day, the sheer beauty of the place refreshed us. Nicolas ran towards the sea across the sandy beach and, as any parent would, Levi followed close behind. When Levi caught up with him, he realised that Nicolas was not going into the water but instead began shouting at the sea! He was shouting: “Oh waves, oh wind, oh sea… take me away, take me away!”

Nicolas crying out to the wind…

While Nicolas is a child that lives life to the full and can have both the best and worst days of his life within a single day, his words stroke a chord. The boy had no real understanding of what he was requesting. All he knew was that he needed more. All he knew was that he somehow wanted to go beyond the sand. His heart, probably full of awe and wonder, just cried out for the unknown. He did not take into account that the sea is a dangerous thing. He did not take into account that the wind can take you places you wish it hadn’t. He did not understand that waves can get out of control. He just wanted more.

That moment, which we managed to register with the camera, was profound. It struck a chord with us because sometimes we don’t know what we are asking for; we just know that we cry out to the sea, waves and wind. Take us! At the heart of mission there is this impulse, a cry to be taken where Jesus is. A cry to be swept away beyond the shores where we find ourselves, sometimes in total ignorance of what that will actually mean.

On the beach

Ignorance in this case is not a bad thing. The truth is that we will always be ignorant when it comes to God, as in the Job passage: “He stretches out the heavens and treads the waves of the sea.” He is great and mighty and yet he chooses to reveal himself and performs miracles and wonders, doing these for both his glory and our benefit. So ignorance in this context is okay, because we are in the hands of a good God. And this has been our journey over the past 18 months.

If you are crying out, asking God to take you anywhere he wishes, it is a silly thing to do but the most wonderful one too. For God will take you beyond your shores to where you were born to be, for such a time as this. We need to be ignorant more often; like a child asking the sea, waves and wind to take him, we need to be courageous to cry out to God in the same way. It will change everything. For our God is good. All the time.

Street work

We continue to visit the streets on a weekly basis. We are known as “the coffee people”. We take coffee and use it as a way to start conversations. We often pray and sing on the streets as well. It has been great to develop relationships with so many. We have also formed a team of people that are committed to this work, and beyond the camp visits we continue to offer people the opportunity to go into rehab.

It can take a whole day with one single person to get them into rehab, sometimes two. It is draining work. Since December we have taken 12 men to rehab, and only one is still in treatment, and we are told that this is good. The rate of success in rehabilitation stands at less than 3 per cent apparently (although we haven’t confirmed these stats). We are arranging meeting with the relevant agencies again to check whether what we are doing is aligned with widespread good practice here.

Meanwhile, we have continued to organise larger events, the last one on 22 June. We served food, provided showers in partnership with a local hotel, prayed for people and offered haircuts. It was great to help over 60 people on that night, one of whom is now in rehab and doing well. We have formed a steering group of around 10 individuals who will be involved in setting up a charity for our work. It is a little scary but we feel that this is the next step in making things become more established. We do not want this ministry to be dependent on Debora and Levi; we want it to be sustainable way beyond our being here and setting up a charity in Brazil seems to be part of achieving this sustainability.

Debora cutting hair during the event

Hairdressing…

Debora has successfully completed her hairdressing course. She loved the course and had a great time but is happy to spend more time with the kids during the day now the course is finished. She has already done some haircuts on the streets, but in the coming months we will be exploring how she can do that more regularly, in a safe and constructive way.

Healing conference – New Wine

Through our relationship with Jimmy and Katia Rocks, we had the opportunity to have the New Wine International team with us to run a healing conference at IV Baptist Church. We had 207 people attending over two evenings from various churches, learning more about being naturally supernatural and seeking after the gifts of the spirit. It was the first New Wine conference in Goiania and many healings were reported, one of them quite incredible. A young man had torn a knee ligament and could not move it, but during the conference it was completely restored and he is back to his normal activities. An amazing testimony of what our God does, and what he can also do on the streets.

At the New Wine conference (with Rod Green and fellow mission partner Jimmy Rocks)

Through the conference, a strong relationship formed with the leaders of a large network of churches including Comunidade Boas Novas (the Good News Community Church) and in 2019 a training weekend will be organised. This will be to equip the leaders better in desiring, encouraging and fostering the ministry of the Holy Spirit within their own settings.

Partnership with the local school and CREDEQ

We have another bit of good news. The school that is located within our target geographical area has finally opened up to us. The principal called Levi in to say that only God can change the school, and in the coming weeks we will run workshops there and Debora will be working with vulnerable girls through her beauty ministry. This is a huge answer to prayer.

We continue in conversation with CREDEQ (Centro Estadual de Referência e Excelência em Dependência Química), a rehabilitation hospital set up for the treatment of addictions. They are looking to run the Alpha Course and establish a chaplaincy there and Levi has been invited to be part of the group that will make sure it happens.

Nicolas and Olivia

Our children continue to struggle with health here and there, but on the whole they have been doing fantastically well. Nicolas received an amazing report from school with very good grades. He continues to be inquisitive and extremely quick to understand things that should really be beyond him. Olivia is running everywhere and keeping us on our toes; she is normally the centre of attention wherever we go, and we think she knows it.

Needing to move…

Our place, while wonderful, is a tiny apartment with only two bedrooms. For those who know us well, you will know that we love hospitality and that has been a huge missing ministry for us. We would love to have more space and also be close to school etc. Please pray that we will find a solution to this.

Thank you all so much for your partnership in this ministry; we could not do this without your prayers and friendship.

Much love

Debora and Levi, Nicolas and Olivia

Santana’s Update May 2018

Our News

We feel that we are more settled in Brazil. The last year has been very intense and we still feel we need to recover. However, we also feel excited about the opportunities God has given us here and begin to get used to the way of life here. The slower pace and the more relational approach to life has its perks and we are making the most of it!

Levi has had some opportunities to preach in different places and is beginning to get into the network of pastors and churches in the city. In May he will running a workshop at Vocare (vocare.org), a conference in Southern Brazil for young adults exploring mission. There will be hundreds of people there and Levi will be speaking about planning a missionary career, helping young people to make their mission dream happen.

Debora continues to enjoy her hairdressing course and has had the opportunity to provide hair treatments and cuts to people during community events organised by her college. She finishes the course in July and is looking for opportunities to bless people through her skills in rehab centres around the city.

Health Update

Since January we had many bugs and viruses. Levi had the flu twice and had the awful experience of being another Zika Virus victim. He is better now but the virus has left him very tired. The kids have had breathing issues ending up in A&E 5 times between them. Olivia, recently recovered from pneumonia and is doing well. We are now all bug free! Praise the Lord. Please continue to pray for protection over our health.

School Bullying
As some of you may know, Nicolas suffered bullying at school. We want to thank you all for praying and for your response on social media etc. He is doing really well now in a new group and is proving this by getting really good grades. He continues to be a blessing to us! Thank you for praying.

above Nicolas and Olivia and church lunch selfie.
Street Project Update

We continue to be committed to our street work on a weekly basis. We go out with coffee and spend time chatting, praying and singing with those we meet. Through this work we have met around 50 people on regular basis and 8 of whom have been sent to rehab, 3 remain in treatment.

Recently though, we have caught the attention of the local drug dealers who have sent people to monitor what we do. They have now stopped attending which, we hope, means they must be happy we are not a threat. Recently, we helped a young girl who had been kicked out from home by her mother. She is 15. When we were talking to her and taking her to the police station a drug dealer, Ron (not his real name), came up to Levi and offered to help by shooting the family. Levi, unsurprisingly, declined the offer. Ron then said we can count on him and that when he leaves the life of crime he will go to church.

We have formed a growing team that is really passionate about our work. This has really excited us and in a way confirms God is in this, not that we had any doubts. There will be larger event on 22nd June when we hope to provide showers, underwear, food and haircuts to around 150 people. This event will have a team of nearly 50 people from 3 different churches.

Chaplaincy at Credeq 

We have been asked to be Christian Chaplain at CREDEQ (Reference Centre for Addiction) – it is a state hospital which specialises in the treatment of addiction. We will form a team to run Alpha there and build relationships with patients and staff. We are excited about this as it will ground us within the established provision here.

We hope to run the Cherish Course there as well. The course, created by Erika Biscoe, is bring translated into Portuguese and will be a tool to minister to women about their worth and beauty through a study of the book of Esther. We will also run pilot courses in August/September in two rehabilitation centres.

above left our friends on the streets during one of our visits and
on the right Levi and Janari who went to rehab in May

New Wine Network Conference

In June Levi will be translating Mark Aldridge and team at a conference in Florianopolis. The team will then come to Goiania (18-19 June) for the first New Wine Network conference here. We are hosting and organising the event which will focus on healing. We expect 150 – 200 people to attend and are praying God will start a healing movement here through it.

on the left Debora’s work at college…
on the right (from left to right) Mayck going to rehab with Bruno and Thiago our team members.
As you can see there is lots going on and we are excited. Certain of your prayers and partnership we move forward! Exciting times ahead… there is no better plan than God’s plan A for us. Thank you!

Levi and Debora Santana

We need to see….

Monochrome Photo of a Homeless Man

‘Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”’ Acts 3:6

When Peter and John arrived at the temple gate called Beautiful, they were met by the a beggar who asked them for money. Something, as I have mentioned in a previous email, which is part of everyday life here in Goiania. Everywhere you go, there are people asking for money or trying to sell something to support their families or their addiction. It must be said that this intrusion is not always welcome by those being asked.

My guess is that the Beautiful Gate was called beautiful because of the beauty of the place itself. Maybe there was a view to be seen from there, or maybe the architecture was inspiring. We will never know for sure but I can imagine that for some the experience may have been spoiled by having to deal with the beggar. Wonder and faith would have been mixed with shame, guilt and anger. ‘If only this man could beg somewhere else’, some may have thought. But there he was. Spoiling the experience at the gate. Many may feel this way about those who beg on the streets of most major cities around the world and see them as those who ruin the experience for others. Others, however, may be heartbroken and wondering how to help people who seem to be so far beyond hope.

Since arriving in Goiania a recurring question in our minds, when faced with the huge challenge before us, has been: What do we have to offer?

Peter and John’s has helped us to start the process of reflection as we try to answer this question.

In verse 4 of Acts 3, Peter and John look intently at the man. They didn’t just look at him actually, they saw him. They did not divert their eyes to the view, they stopped and saw the man. This is the first lesson for us, we need to see. It is so easy, when faced with challenges, to look the other way. When we look but do not see we fail to respond. There is an old Brazilian saying that expresses this well: “What the eye doesn’t see, the heart doesn’t feel.” Peter and John though, they saw him and felt they needed to respond.

Having said that responding is not always that simple. What can one individual or group of people do when needs are so deep? How can we respond when anything we do is a drop in the ocean. Peter and John, recognised that they could not give him enough money to meet his need. He needed healing, dignity and transformation. Those money cannot buy. So, recognising what did not have, they gave him that which they did have. The power of the Holy Spirit! Only through that power can the deep needs of those we meet on the streets of Goiania be met. Only God. Only Jesus. So to answer the question of what we have to offer… well we can only bring Jesus with us. We need to rely on the power of Holy Spirit. So we pray he will fill you and us to bring that power wherever we go.

You are important… All because of Grace!

There are a few things that we take for granted. For most of us, although life, in general, is never easy and each of us faces challenges, growing up involved love and encouragement. A few of us may have had bad experiences, but most would say they had people who loved and cared for them in some way. Since starting our ministry here in Brazil, we have encountered people who are not just seen as untouchable and unloveable, they also see themselves as such.

Universe

We recently met a man named Gerson. He is 29. After being abandoned by his mother aged 6, along with his younger brother, they lived in an orphanage for a couple of years until his blood uncle gained custody. However, what was meant to be a homecoming, became their worse nightmare. They were brutally beaten and made to eat their own faeces on a regular basis. The abuse lasted a few years until the younger brother had enough and ran away from home, never to be seen again. After a while, Gerson could not take it anymore, and by age 14 found himself homeless dealing drugs to survive. When he was 18 he was arrested and sent to prison for 3 years. He has been on the road, walking from city to city ever since.

After a long time wandering, with the stars as his friends and the skies as his roof, we met him outside our church. He was greeted with a warm hug, offered a drink and some food while he told us his story.  He was begging to be sent to rehab. Crack had taken its toll, prostitution had become a way of surviving and he was tired. He wanted and needed help.

When we heard his story we could not help but help, so we filled in a form gathered his paperwork and found him a rehab place. Within 3 hours he was no longer homeless. God opened every door… it was amazing! This precious life had been wandering, searching for a home, from city to city across this vast nation, until he arrived here in Goiania that very afternoon. God brought him here.

One of the things God told us to do in our ministry in Goiania, is to treat every person we encounter as a long-lost friend. To treat each person with the same dignity Jesus treated everyone he met. So that is what we did, and as we did this Gerson kept saying: “Why are you treating me as someone important? I am not important.” We, of course, kept telling him how important he is to God and to us, and how Jesus died for him. He just could not accept it.

Blaise Pascal writes:

“Returning to himself, let man consider what he is in comparison with all existence; let him regard himself as lost in this remote corner of nature; and from the little cell in which he finds himself lodged, I mean the universe, let him estimate at their value on earth, kingdoms cities, and himself. What is a man in the Infinite?” (Pascal, Pensees, Loc 457, Kindle Edition)

Indeed, who is Gerson in the infinite? Indeed who are we in the infinite? Why help one person, while thousands of others remain without help? Why is he important? Why are we important?

The Psalmist writes:

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.” 

Psalm 139

He is important because God thinks he is. He is important because he was fearfully and wonderfully made. Because God knows his suffering and cares for him. He is lost in the infinite but has been found by grace. And grace, in turn, baffles us. As small as we are; the creator of the universe became small like us, lost in the infinite of the universe he created, to tell us that we are HIS. Thank goodness for Christmas! Thank God for Grace!

Gerson is important. We are important. You are important. All because of Grace!

 

P.S.: Gerson is doing well in rehab. He has been enjoying a roof over his head and is slowly getting to grips with forgiveness and love. Please pray for him.

I met Jesus today. His name is Rodrigo.​

Fear is part of life in Brazil. People are always looking over their shoulders. When a set of traffic lights goes red, your car will inevitably be approached by someone begging, selling or offering something. When eating out, it is common for famished beggars to approach your table, rudely bursting our middle-class bubbles. Sometimes though, people approach, not to beg or sell, but rather to steal. It happens all the time, so people are often afraid when approached. Since arriving in Brazil, we have been approached by at least two people each time we’ve been out. Thankfully, we haven’t been robbed but, each time we are approached, the fear that is so clearly present kicks in.

help1.jpg

Fear, at least here in Brazil, normally arises when one is approached by someone who looks rough. We don’t like to talk about this, but the reality is that the appearance of the person who approaches is normally how we judge whether we are safe or not. The reality is that people who are marginalised are often despised and avoided in society firstly because of their appearance. However, as Christians, we cannot follow this trend. We cannot avoid or despise the marginalised, precisely because we believe in the Despised one. The One who became despised, so we could be accepted.

Today the verse of the day in my Bible App was Isaiah 53v3:

“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”

Isaiah, writing hundreds of years before Jesus was crucified on a hill outside Jerusalem, describes the suffering Messiah as rejected and despised. Someone from whom people hide their faces. If our Lord and Saviour, was despised and rejected for our sake, we should love and care for those who are despised and rejected in our neighbourhoods and cities. In Matthew 25, we read that whenever we feed the hungry, help the poor and extend hospitality to strangers we are doing it for Jesus:

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

Today, as I was leaving church after the midweek evening service, I was approached by a young man asking for some change. As he approached, I could feel that fear bubbling up and sense my stereotypes kicking in. However, in that moment, I knew I had to deal with that situation as Jesus would have done. So I decided to at least listen to what he had to say. As he asked for money, I told him that I do not have the habit of giving cash and that I usually don’t carry cash on me, but that if he told me what he needed I may be able to help in some way. So he went on to tell me that he had been walking the whole day and that he had had no food since the day before. So I offered to take him to Walmart and buy him something to eat. He could hardly wait.

Walmart was just across the road, opposite the church. As we crossed I started asking him questions about his life etc. He told me his name: Rodrigo. He is 20, and from a city in North East Brazil, Sao Luis. He has been in Goiania for a month and has been living on the streets for the past 2 years. He was abused, his sister was abused, and then, after a difficult childhood, and turning to drugs, he was kicked out of home at 18. He has been wandering ever since. As we talked and as he opened up so readily about his story, I felt privileged to be able to spend time with him.

As we paid for some food, a drink, and a box of chocolate, we talked about the prejudice he suffers, and how people look through him or cross the road when they see him coming along the pavement. Like Jesus, people also hide their faces from him. He told me how he is afraid someone will set him on fire whilst he is asleep, like a few others in the city have (a disgusting act that has often made the news in Goiania). We talked almost as old friends and I told him about what I came here to do and that I would love to meet him again. He said he would like to come to church on Sunday.

As we parted I told him he is not rejected or despised, and that because of Jesus we are loved and accepted. I told him God has a plan for his life and that I would pray for him. He smiled and as I stretched my hand for a good handshake, he grabbed me and gave me a hug. He must have held me in that hug for at least 30 seconds, and as he held me tightly, the following thought from the Holy Spirit entered my mind:

“Levi, you met Jesus today. His name is Rodrigo.”

God’s timing is perfect!

pexels-photo-359989

Last year when we were selected for training as Mission Partners with Church Mission Society we embarked on the most challenging and exciting adventure of our lives this far. We had been in ministry for a few years and had experienced God’s provision in many ways. However, the challenge to leave everything to start a new ministry beyond the sea was a big challenge.

Raising support was the first challenge. Letting go of the false security a salary provides was the second. Then came many other challenges small and great, all of which meant we had to trust God completely. At times we lacked the ability to trust and felt like giving up. Secretly at times we sort of hoped God would not provide, so that we could retreat back to what we know. But God was working in us and giving us opportunities to grow in our faith.

This week, sitting by the river near where we have been camping in Oxford. With our hearts full of thanks, our minds were blown away by what we have seen and tasted in the last few months. Not only because of God’s financial provision for our ministry in Brazil, but also because of all the friendship, love and faith we have encountered in others.

In that moment we asked God to speak to us. “God, what would you like us to learn from all of this?” By the river as we opened the Scriptures the following verses came as an answer to our prayer:

“8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

2 Peter 3

We have learned that God’s timing is perfect… he is not slow in keeping his promise. Sometimes from our human perspective, it feels God is taking his time. That he is perhaps distracted… but we have come to understand that his word is yes and amen, and when he speaks, his words are words of command. His promises will ALWAYS come to pass. He is no man that he should lie and his plan A is worth the abandoning of any human plan B there is!

If you have had promises from God, remember this one thing: HIS TIMING IS PERFECT! It is worth the wait and in the process, our faith grows. This has been our experience… it has been uncomfortable, at times painful, but it has been the best thing we have ever done as a family. At the end of the waiting we will be able to join the Psalmist when he writes:

“I waited patiently for the Lord;
 he turned to me and heard my cry.”

Psalm 40:1

 

Seeing, Feeling, Praying and Acting

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As we prepare to fly to Brazil on 8th August, we begin to feel the reality and magnitude of our decision to go. Many people have asked us why? Why are we going? Many Brazilians struggle to understand why we are going “home” when the country is steeped in a deep crisis and many Brazilians are trying to leave.

The answer to these questions are perhaps found in the following passage from Matthew:

‘Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into the harvest field.” He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness […] these twelve Jesus sent out […]’ (Matthew 9:35 – 10:1,5a – NIV)

There are four things in this passage that jump out. The first is that Jesus saw the crowds. Jesus did not only look, but he saw beyond what met the eyes. Sometimes we look but we are not seeing. When we visited Goiania in 2015, God allowed us to see the people living on the streets. A calling first emerges when we see a need that needs to be met. Jesus saw the crowds, and in the same way we are called to see those around us who need God’s love.

The second thing is that Jesus feels. He has compassion on the crowds. Likewise, when we see the way God sees, God will give us a heart for the people we encounter. This is essential in mission, without an emotional response to human need mission is rarely possible. We need to see but we also need to feel what God feels for those he places around us. God has given us a heart for the people living on the streets of Goiania.

The third thing is: Jesus asks his disciples to pray. When we meet people in a helpless situation we can often feel powerless. Any of our efforts could seem to be nothing more than just a drop in the ocean. That is why Jesus asks us to pray, as a way of recognising that only God can really change lives and helpless situations. Only God can give us the strategy and show us the way forward. When we see and feel, instead of reacting from a place of emotion we are called to pray for God’s way. In our experience, we prayed that God would send others to help the helpless in Goiania, but we were the answer to our prayers.

The fourth thing is that Jesus does not stop at just seeing, feeling and praying. Whilst these are important, when we realise that God can change lives, it demands that we act. Prayer, good wishes and knowledge about a problem, if not coupled with action will never bring change. We often stop at the praying stage… but Jesus’ response is to send people like you and I to meet the need of the helpless. And this is why we are going!

We are going because we saw, we felt, we prayed and these things demanded action. You may not be called to go to a distant country to share the love of God. Maybe God has given you eyes to see, a heart to feel, and knees to pray and a will to act to show love to people at work, in your community, or in your own family. His desire is that we go to those we see who need his love. So we must go!

 

 

#JesusChallege: Day 7

For the past 7 days I have blogged about my daily times with Jesus. It has been a challenging week. Making time to pray and write was not always easy, and I felt pulled in every direction to give up on the challenge. There was temptation too, and at times a sense of real darkness. It goes to show that when we make a decision to spend time with Jesus, the enemy will often try to distract us. I am not one to blame the enemy for everything, but we cannot deny that we are in a battle. This battle is for our devotion. A battle raged by Satan that seeks to take our eyes off Jesus and distract us with other cares.

Today as I prayed I was reminded of the passages in Revelation 2 and 3 about the seven churches. Jesus, through John’s prophecy, commends these churches on their love and work, but also warns them about areas of distraction. The church in Ephesus is warned about returning to their first love. Jesus wants them to go back to the start:

“You have forsaken the your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove you lampstand from its place.”

The church in Pergamum is also called to repent (Rev 2:16), whilst the church in Sardis is challenged to recognised that whilst they have a reputation for being alive, they are in fact dead… Jesus wants them to wake up!

“Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found you deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it and repent…” (Rev 3:2-3a)

After a more detailed reading of both chapters it is clear that  these are pictures of distraction. Communities and individuals that had initially chosen to follow God and even had a reputation for being passionate, alive and strong and yet had been distracted by ungodly ideas and a lifestyle that did not match with the Gospel they had originally believed in.

I know from personal experience that this can so easily happen. We can so easily get distracted by our desires, our ideas and our lifestyle that we neglect our first love. Our first love being that initial passion or resolve to follow God is then replaced by another kind of love, the love for something else that distracts us from our relationship with God.

The way back is repentance. But I often ask God, what does that even mean? I know repentance is not remorse. It is not feeling bad for a particular thought or action, but it is rather a U-turn that redirects us towards God and away from sin. But this is sometimes harder to make sense of than one may imagine initially. Flowing from yesterday’s reflection on sacrifice… repentance does involve self-denial however, it seems to be more than that. It seems to be about going back to the beginning and realising how much grace we have received.

On the Cross, Jesus pressed the reset button and made a new way for us. He opened the door for the way back. He made us a new creation. But often through our distractions we end up stuck somewhere along the way, travelling in the opposite direction. Repentance then seems to be a resolve to go back to the beginning. I don’t know about you, but I would love that opportunity in many areas of my life. The opportunity to start afresh… to be recreated.

Maybe like me, you are sometimes distracted by all sorts of things… thoughts, action, sins, and busyness. It is sometimes required to stop, reflect and deliberately go back. Stop doing certain things, ending certain relationships and throwing ourselves on God’s grace.

Today I am welcoming that opportunity to press the reset button. To restart. To go back to the beginning. The beginning is the Cross… the start of our journey is death. Death to ourselves and to the old way of being and rebirth through the resurrection of Jesus towards life. Today I am challenged to rid myself of distractions and start afresh, my prayer is that you may do the same.

I will continue to make time for Jesus each day (although I may not publish them pubicly). I will continue to go back to the beginning. As Peter exclaimed: ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68) Where else can we go if hope is only found in Jesus. We better return then. A step at a time.

“Lord forgive me my distractions. Make me new and help me to restart. I need you… where else could I go? Only have the words of eternal life. Help me God. Amen.”