Our group of seven students and two leaders spent the better part of two weeks in Brazil. The first week was spent in Manaus, a city in the heart of the Amazon. We visited numerous churches and pastors and tried to soak up as much information as possible. These pastors are so passionate and humble about their work! They pray for numerous hours a day and dedicate their lives to doing the work of God. Their churches thrive on small group ministry. Held in the houses of congregation members, these small groups are used as a way to invite and minister to non-believers and show them the love and grace of God. Each person is involved in a small group Bible study, and the groups come together on Sundays to worship.
What amazed me about these people was their passion and immediacy about evangelism. They see Christianity as a life or death situation, and therefore they find evangelism to be a crucial element of the faith. They are certainly not ashamed of the gospel message! It was not uncommon for grocery stores to have “Jesus is Lord” written on their signs, nor was it uncommon to see a man with a speaker strapped to the roof of his car, preaching the gospel as he drove through the crowded city streets. Since they do not fear offending anyone, they are always willing to share the story of how God changed their lives with anyone who will listen, having full faith that God will work through them. Their courage and passion was contagious!
After a week in Manaus, we flew to the eastern side of Brazil to the city of Sao Paulo and spent time in the surrounding cities of Campinas and Sorocaba. We continued to visit churches, learn from the pastors and observe how they worked to expand and plant churches. Many of the churches here seemed to be niche churches. For instance, we went to one church that reached out to rock-n-roll fans and people with tattoos. Another church evangelized through jiu jitsu! (and we even got to learn some moves!) After each jiu jitsu lesson, the pastor would sit the students down, read a Bible passage, share the gospel message, and close with prayer.
What struck me about Brazil is that the church building itself seems to be of little importance. One church met in a local workout gym, another met in a jiu jitsu school and a third met in a small rented warehouse. What matters exponentially more is the body of Christ itself. The people in Brazil are very relationship-oriented, and their best evangelism seems to be done through real loving relationship with each other and with God. By loving each other, they are showing each other God’s love. We asked one pastor what his biggest challenge was when it came to evangelizing to his church of rough, rock-n-roll, tattooed, motorcycle men, and his response was “changing my heart first.” This was huge to me! It is important, I have learned, to humble ourselves and admit our shortcomings in order to more fully share the transformative power of the grace of God. Evangelism is not something that should be viewed as something that we do to people, but rather a dynamic experience that develops through loving relationship with another person.
This trip to Brazil allowed me to see what God is up to in other parts of the world, but also reinforced in me the importance of living a simple life. When we schedule every hour of each day, we do not leave time for God to speak in the silent, still moments of our lives. What would it look like if we let go of our tendencies to schedule ourselves down to the half hour, and instead created space for God to work in and through the silences of our lives?
Stephanie Martin is a first year MDiv student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.
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