Our Kids

We’ve got 6 kids of our own, 2 waiting for us already in heaven and about 20 more Brazilian kids. Kids that have grown up with our kids in school and at our church. We are blessed more than you can imagine.

One of our daughters is Anna. Oh how we love Anna.

She is one of Carys’ best friends. Her laugh is infectious. Her love for God and all people is amazing. She is one of the best people we know. We call her our daughter and she, even though she has incredible parents, blesses us by calling us mom and dad.

Last night she dropped by our house. She wanted to give us something for Christmas. It was 3 Christmas tree ornaments that had the special touch of Anna.

On one it said, “Christ the Savior was born.”

On another it said, “We are family.”

On the last one it had the names of all our kids on it including Anna and her sister Maria. We love Maria as much as we love Anna. They are both salt and light. Needless to say, we LOVED our gifts.

Benay and Giovanni put up our tree a couple of weeks ago because Giovanni is a very big Christmas person. They agreed to not put any ornaments on the tree until Carys got home from college because, well, Carys is also a big Christmas person. We, however, had to make an exception. Now our tree is filled with the love of these 3 ornaments.

We moved here in 2002. We had no idea we would even be here in 2020 but if you had asked us then what our lives would look like now we sure wouldn’t have guessed it would be this amazing. To have been blessed by adding 2 more kids of our own to our family. Incredible. To be loved by and to love so many Brazilian kids just blows us away.

Over the years our kids have grown up and moved away. It’s part of life. God, in His goodness, keeps putting more kids into our lives. Kids who we love and call our own. Kids who love and bless us and call us mom and dad. Kids like Anna.

Educating for Success

When we first started working with guys in drug and alcohol rehab, I, Benay, was a little bit….. scared. I had never been around “drug addicts” before. However, it didn’t take me long to realize that “drug addicts” were guys who were just like my own sons. But they hadn’t had the same advantages that my kids were blessed with. So, when we began planning the ministry of Hope House, I wanted to be able to offer to these guys exactly what I would want offered to my son, if he were in the same situation.

One important way we are offering the best we have to these guys is through our classes. The first 8 weeks of a person’s stay in Hope House will be an intensive time of training. Classes on important topics such as the life of Jesus, managing emotions, financial responsibility, family relationships, overcoming addictions, work ethics, health and wellness, and sexuality will make up that time of teaching and training. We won’t be able to cram a lifetime of “parental advice”‘ into 8 weeks, but we want to do our best to equip these guys to have success in their new life.

Because these classes are tailored to a very specific population, we are writing most of the curriculum ourselves. A lot of time has already been spent preparing classes and there is still so much to be done. Our goal is to have every class prepared and written in Portuguese so that this material can be shared with other groups who may be interested in opening their own “Hope House” using our materials. It is a big goal, but God is good at big goals.

While we are still in the waiting stages regarding the opening of Hope House, we are actively involved already in establishing a rehabilitation program at the rehab farm, Desafio Jovem. You can click here to read more about Desafio Jovem. The men in this program have a 6 month stay. During this time, classes and training for them are essential for them to understand what a new life in Christ means and how they can live in freedom. Very soon we will begin offering small group classes with these goals in mind. Because the nature of the rehab farm is different from Hope House, the teaching will be less intensive, but just as important.

I am a former teacher. My favorite thing to do in ministry is teach. Preparing and planning curriculum for the rehab center and for Hope House gives me great joy.

We ask that you pray for us as we move forward in this ministry. We need wisdom from God as we prepare this very important material.

Baptism Sunday-Part 2

Our family started being a part of our current church family in 2015. We can’t express how much God has used this group to bless us, encourage us, cry with us and celebrate with us. God knew exactly what we were needing and led us to this family at just the time we were needing them.

With joining any new, big church family it takes time to get to know everyone. Our church is really growing so we are still constantly getting to know new brothers and sisters in Christ.

Not long after we became members we got to know these girls.

This is Sibeli and her daughter Betina. We can’t tell you how much they mean to us. They are definitely the salt and light of Jesus. We LOVE them deeply.

Last year our family spent about four months in the states. While we were there Sibeli started dating a great guy named Daniel.

When we came back home in December we started having opportunities to get to know Daniel and his son Davi. We loved them.

This year we decided to invite more people to join our bible study with Alexandre, Dani and their girls. Sibeli, Daniel and their kids were some of those people God put on our hearts and, thankfully, they accepted the invitation.

Our study group actually got to meet a couple of times in person before coronavirus. This picture was our last time together the day before everything was stopped in our city. It’s us, them and our Brazilian son Lucas.

Before things shut down, Sibeli and Daniel told us they wanted to talk to us. They came over to tell us that they were getting married and they asked us to be in their wedding, as witnesses. It’s a huge honor in Brasil to be asked to do this and Benay and I were humbled and thrilled. The wedding was scheduled for April but is now postponed until next year because of coronavirus.

With everything shut down in the city we began having our studies online. We had homework every week and it was obvious that Daniel and Davi were studying during the week as they always had really good, thoughtful answers as we discussed our homework. We loved getting to know this family better.

About the same time Alexandre told us he and his daughter wanted to get baptized we found out that Daniel also wanted to give his life to Jesus. So they all celebrated their spiritual birthdays on the same day. It was awesome and we were, once again, humbled to be a part of this celebration day.

I love that smile on Daniel’s face.

And I love the picture our church took of Sibeli celebrating. Above her it says, “He lives!”

This year has been a real stinker for lots of reasons. It’s been hard and it’s been tragic for lots of people. Lots of losses and sadness and depression and heartache. I’m reading a book right now about a surgeon who drowned, went to heaven and came back to life. It’s an amazing book.

I read this today from her book, “In the traditional process of making a Persian rug in Persia, the rug is put up vertically on a frame and little boys, sitting on planks at various levels, work on the wrong side of it. The artist stands on the right side of the rug-the beautiful side that will be seen and used by all. The artist shouts his instructions to the boys on the other side, but sometimes a boy will make a mistake in the rug. Quite often, the artist does not make the little boy take out the wrong color; if he is a great enough artist, he weaves the mistake into the pattern and the mistake enriches and becomes integral to the finished rug.” She goes on to say, “To me, the little scene of a weaver and a boy at work beautifully captures God’s ability to transform mistakes and tragedies into a work of great art.”

Exactly! God can use, and is using, the crud of the coronavirus year and all its heartaches and troubles and tragedies to weave a great work of art. We believe that and we have been so blessed to see some of that great work of art happen right before our eyes in the lives of these people we love so much as they have given their lives to Jesus.

I am convinced that any suffering we endure is less than nothing compared to the magnitude of glory that is about to be unveiled within us. Romans 8:18

Baptism Sunday-Part 1

Our family moved to Brazil in 2002. We moved with a group to plant a church.

We knew very little Portuguese so we, obviously, needed to hire a teacher. God blessed us with a great one. Her name was Dani.

We got to be good friends with Dani. She later invited our group to her wedding. She married a guy named Alexandre. We didn’t spend lots of time together but I always loved his humility and kindness. Both of them were always so warm and gracious and kind to all of us.

Over the years they built a strong bond with some of our teammates and Dani, praise God, gave her life to Jesus.

One by one all of our teammates returned to the states. We stayed and God began to dramatically change our ministry calling.

We, once in a while through messages or social media, stayed in touch with Alexandre and Dani but we rarely saw them. That all changed towards the end of 2016. I had a shoulder that was messed up. It was locked up and causing pain so I made an appointment with Alexandre. He’s an orthopedic surgeon. That visit slowly brought our families back together.

We began going out to eat together. We asked them to be a part of a prayer leadership group for Hope House. In 2007 Alexandre helped me to finish a marathon as he ran the last 10-15 kilometers with me. Without him I would not have finished. In 2018 I got to return the favor as he started running marathons and I helped him finish one of his. Benay and I were amazed at how well our kids get along. Alexandre and Dani have two girls and they are almost the same age as our youngest boys. It was like they knew each other their whole lives. Our youngest kids actually share the same birthday. We began taking trips together. We really look forward to our times together with them. We thanked God for bringing them back into our lives.

Over the last couple of years they began to go to church with us and last year we started a family bible study together. Just our families. Two times a month we would share a meal after church and then Benay would lead our Bible study. As I’ve said before, Benay is the best Bible teacher I know. She has a gift of making things simple. The Bible study, and time together, brought us closer to God and to each other.

Our church normally has 4 baptism Sundays during the year. There is a 3-4 week course before just on baptism. We’ve been a part of this church since 2015. Since that time I’d say that we’ve had close to 500 baptisms.

The coronavirus has, just like everywhere else, shut some things down for a while here in our city. We weren’t able to meet as a church family for 3-4 months. When we did begin meeting again it was only groups of 30 people. On those weekends we had 18-19 different worship times over 2 days. We are now allowed to have 120 meet together. So our church planned our first baptism Sunday on October 18. About 3 weeks before that date Alexandre got in touch with me to say that he and their youngest daughter had decided to give their lives to Jesus and they wanted to do the baptism class. Benay and I were so excited.

On October 18 there were 54 people who were baptized. We had 5 different worship times so that families and friends could come and celebrate. Our baptisms are some of the coolest things Benay and I have ever been a part of. Every time we do those we cry. Every time. October 18 was no different. Seeing our dear friends give their lives to Christ was an amazing highlight to our year.

Before the baptisms we had a celebration party in our house.

Then it was on to the church building so the celebation could continue.

All the baptisms were shown live online so we shared the link with our old teammates, my parents and our kids who all know this family, pray for them and love them. As things happened our old teammate, Sascha, was sending me pictures that he was taking, from his house in Texas, of everything that was happening. He was just as excited as we were.

It was an amazing day. God gave us a huge present by allowing us to be there to witness it in person.

The Bible talks about there being a party in heaven when someone gives their lives to the Lord. We love our church so much because we get that and on baptism Sundays we too have a party.

I’m not sure 18 years ago, when we met Dani for the first time, that we could have imagined anything better than what we experienced on October 18. We came to Brazil to share the love of Jesus with others. I didn’t imagine we would fall so deeply in love with this city, with it’s people, with the culture, with the food and with people like Alexandre, Dani and their girls.

We came to be a blessing but I promise you that we are the ones who are being blessed by our friendships, by our church family, by our ministries, by seeing lives changed and by being a part of days like October 18.

“That’s the way God responds every time one lost sinner repents and turns to him. He says to all his angels, ‘Let’s have a joyous celebration, for that one who was lost I have found!’” Luke 15:10

Sexual Purity

A couple of years ago, in a span of about six months, three different men came to me to discuss the topic of sexual purity. I did not open this topic with any of them but it was obvious that the Spirit was bringing us together to pray, study, encourage, confess and hold each other accountable in this very important area of our lives.

It was definitely a God thing because a few weeks earlier Benay and I had had a converstation with our pastor about this very topic. I know how important it is. How this specific sin can destroy lives and families and how prevelant it is among all men. But it seems to be something a bit taboo to talk about and confess as men. The enemy wants us to think we are the only ones who deal with impure thoughts or even actions. Our pastor also had this subject on his heart. He knew that purity in this area is vital to having a vibrant, growing, healthy church family because this purity blesses our homes first. When our homes are healthy the blessings then flow out to church and community.

Two weeks ago another brother approached me about sexual purity. This battle is non stop.

So last night most of these men came to our house. We enjoyed a meal and lots of good, real, deep, open confessional talk about where we are in this battle. We laughed, we encouraged, we made a game plan to defeat the enemy. It was the best thing that I’ve been part of here lately and we are a part of so many good, kingdom things here.

In my life I always look to surround myself with men who are “the real deal.” Men who aren’t afraid to share their sins and weak areas, men who aren’t afraid to cry, men who aren’t afraid to call sin sin when they see it in my life, men who aren’t afraid to stand up for Jesus.

The battle for sexual purity is real. Satan does an all out attack in this area against men. He doesn’t take a break and we can’t either. When we hide and lie and play church the enemy wins. When we confess our sins, ask for forgiveness, have a Jesus game plan and attack the enemy we win. Jesus wins. The kingdom wins and God’s family gets stronger.

Pray for these guys. Pray for me.

And pray for other men in our church and city who need to be a part of this group…..whether they know it or not.

João Luiz……..home.

Yesterday morning we got a call that one of our favorite guys at the rehab farm, João Luiz, had just died from a massive heart attack.

We drove out there to just love on the leader and the men.

We had the chance to see João before the funeral home came to take the body. His face was so peaceful and happy. It felt like God was giving us a present of the same peace and joy that João had at that moment with Jesus. I can’t imagine how amazing that will be. I can’t wait……..and I can’t wait to see our brother again.

We’ll see you soon João.

Family

Today we spent the day with some of our most favorite people in all the world. These guys….

Their names are Vanderlei, Luísa and Caio. Vanderlei is a pastor in our church. God brought this family into our lives in 2015. They’ve brought so much joy, laughter, peace and Jesus into our lives. They’ve blessed us and strengthened us more than they know.

Today was a tough day for our family. We already had this day planned and God, in his wisdom, knew we needed to be with this family today because today this family brought comfort to out hurting hearts and that was exactly what we needed.

Update

Over the last few days I’ve realized how bad we’ve been at keeping everyone up to date on what is going on here. To be honest, not much has changed since our last post. The coronavirus continues to keep everything going at a snail’s pace.

We continue to go weekly to the rehab farm which has been a huge blessing to us. We counsel, we listen, we deal with problems, teach bible classes, meet with the leaders and are making some much needed changes to that ministry. We have a great team working together to talk about and implement these changes. The leaders at the rehab farm are excited about the changes and the men in the farm are, as always, a blessing to us. Please pray for all of us to have God’s peace and wisdom as we move forward.

We continue to wait for the city government to move forward with the Hope House documentation so that we can finish the house and begin that ministry. Please keep that on your prayer list as well.

We continue to be involved with different church ministries and have been asked, by our pastor, to do more things since the coronavirus started.

Our teammate Lyndsay got married to a great guy, Márcio, in August. Benay and I were blessed and honored to be a part of their special day. It was a beautiful wedding in a beautiful place, just outside our city, on a beautiful day. The day was beautiful in every way. Please pray for this new family.

Benay and I had our yearly physicals in July and one test of Benay’s caused a little scare. We, thankfully, have amazing health insurance. Honestly, it’s the best we’ve ever had and this allowed us to get some extra testing done and see a specialist all within 2-3 weeks. We praise God that it ended up being nothing. Lots of people prayed over my wife and we feel very blessed to have gotten good news at the end of everything.

About the same time that was going on we learned that Bronwyn, our oldest child, needed to have her gallbladder removed. After the surgery she wouldn’t be able to even lift her two little girls for 2 weeks. In God’s great mercy and timing He gave us an all clear on Tuesday with Benay’s test results and on Friday she was headed to the states for a 5 week stay with Bronwyn, Stephen and the girls. She got there 4 days before the surgery.

The day before Benay left I heard her crying with the women she prays with every morning from our church. She really wanted me and the boys to be able to come too but we just couldn’t afford it. Within the hour one of our pastors had gotten in touch with a man at our church who works for an airline. He was able to get three vouchers for us. They wouldn’t kick in for 10 days but we at least had an opportunity to try to go be with family. A week later through lots of hard work from this brother, Jackson, and from Benay, Bronwyn and Stephen looking online for an amazing God deal we had 3 tickets for us to go as well. Three days later we were on our way.

After we had been in the states for a couple of days I had a conversation with one of our pastors. I told him how I had not realized how much our family needed a break like this until we actually were on the break. God has blessed us over the last 6 months with staying busy with the ministry opportunities mentioned above but basically we’ve been stuck in our apartment without much contact with anyone. A couple of days after we were in the states I could see a difference in the boys. They were happier, laughing more and, well, free. I felt the same way. It’s not normal, nor is it God’s plan, for His kids to do most of life inside an apartment with no physical contact with others. We have no grass to play on, no park close to go play in and most of our kids friends parents have been afraid to get together. You don’t realize it so much at the time but it really wears you down mentally, physically, emotionally and even spiritually.

In our 3 week visit we were blessed to be with all the kids, both sons-in-law, grandkids, all 4 parents and my sister and her family. It was definitely a God thing because none of our kids live in the same city.

Giovanni was my faith man. When we got the vouchers, but it still didn’t look like we would be able to find tickets, he told Benay, “We’re going to go. Why would God give us vouchers and then us not be able to go?” That was like a faith hammer to my head as I admit I had been doubting if the trip would happen. I told him I was going to have faith like his from then on.

God blessed Giovanni’s awesome, simple, childlike faith with an amazing time. He prayed that he could celebrate his birthday in the states. We arrived at Bronwyn and Stephen’s house around midnight the night before his birthday. How cool is God? Giovanni got to celebrate on more than one occasion with lots of family which is so, so rare for him. He was in heaven.

On our last day in Memphis God, once again, provided, in His crazy, miraculous ways, for our ministry. He used His kids to bless us with a much needed ministry tool and covered the cost of part of our trip. Then 3 days later one of His kids blessed us with another much needed ministry tool. We were floored. We can’t tell you how often He has blessed us this way in our 18+ years in Porto Alegre.

The boys and I got home last Friday after a 36 hour adventure trip. We are still a bit jet lagged but happy to be home. Benay is on a plane right now coming back home. If all goes as planned she’ll be home tomorrow morning. I ask that you pray for her safety.

A little over a month ago I had no idea that we would be able to see our family. A little over a month later I’m just floored at how God blessed us in such unexpected ways. He always does it , sometimes in huge ways and sometimes in subtle ways, but I confess that my eyes are closed to it at times. Over the last 5-6 weeks God has just heaped blessing upon blessing on our heads. I know life will not always be as good as it’s been over the last month. Sufferings come, pain visits, death occurs and test results don’t always come back with good news. Life happens and with it comes very tough days. But we have a Dad who takes joy in blessing His kids in so many ways. So unexpectedly at times. We have a Dad who knows how we hurt and when we hurt and it hurts Him too. We also have a Dad who likes to see us happy and joyful and sometimes He blesses us with a month like the one we just had. It’s not always as obvious as our last month but sometimes it is. We’re going to remember this trip, His kindness and how He pulled all things together to refresh our minds, bodies, hearts and souls.

We will choose to praise Him in the blessings and the sufferings. Easy to say, I know, when we’ve had an amazing month like this last month, but our God is with us through it all and He is good……always.

“Believe that God is good even when life is not.” Dr. Tony Evans