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

What I Know Now That I Wish I Knew Then by Dottie Schulz

My observations:
When my husband, our three children, and I went to work with a young church plant in Amsterdam, there were no mission training programs among churches of Christ.  We learned how to do missions the hard way: trial and error.  In the words of a fellow missionary at the time, successful new churches were planted in spite of the missionaries and not because of them!  

Tom and I knew nothing about culture shock, long term culture stress, and the daily frustrations that occur in cross-cultural living.  

  • We were not warned that the losses of relationships with family, home church, close friends, and trusted medical professionals would result in grief and require mourning. 
  • On landing in Amsterdam, we had become inarticulate adults! We spent hours every day trying to learn the language, eventually translating words in our heads during haltingly slow, simple conversations. We couldn’t understand why we felt so exhausted when all we did was study language. 
  • I remember feeling so useless because I saw no useful role for me to fill. I tried to write a children’s book for a Bible class but could not complete it without help because I did not know what pigs, roosters, or cows say in Dutch (knoor-knoor, kukelekoe, and boe-boe, if you were wondering).
  • No one told me that shopping for, preparing, and cooking food would take so much time. 
  • I didn’t know I would have to boil my baby’s diapers on the stove, rinse them and hang them to dry on flimsy wooden racks inside a small apartment because it rained 260 days a year. A helpful neighbor informed me that ironing them sped up the process. 
  • I had to learn that people in other cultures do not think like I do – that in many ways, I held different values.  This was a huge surprise.  I didn’t know it would take so long to make a non-American friend.  I didn’t know I would feel lonely.  I know now what I didn’t know then: first term missionaries live with intense stress.

Most of all, I did not know how difficult it would be to keep God first in my life, just when I needed that closeness and intimacy the most! My husband, Tom, and I came to work with a fledgling church plant.  It seemed that most of the people we met had given up on the God who had failed them during the War and allowed six million Jews to be murdered by the Nazis. They were ‘done’ with religion and were ready to argue God’s non-existence. In addition to a life filled to the hilt with the stresses of cross-cultural living, we were viewed as naïve. A few expressed to us that the U.S. must have an inferior educational system — why else would we profess faith in God??? This was particularly hard to take when living in liminality and dealing with identity issues. My need for the word, for time in prayer and for quiet became ever more important. 
 
In short, I knew missions would be hard.  I just didn’t know it would be this hard.  
 
My Reflections:  
We learned from our experiences as novice missionaries.  I now know we did some things right.
 
I learned feeling at home mattered.  We bought second hand furniture from an auction house. I did not find it particularly attractive, but adding homemade curtains from material bought at the open market improved the ambiance.  Paint also helped.  We hung pictures and paintings on the wall.  Researchers connected to International Business now tell us that we did the right thing. Feeling at home improves cultural adaptation and keeps people on the field. 
 
I learned that eating meals together as a family was essential.  Shopping became routine after I learned some language and made myself become more assertive, a trait the Dutch admire.  Cooking healthy meals from scratch got easier.  At mealtimes, we heard about our children’s day.  They often educated us, becoming our grammarians and teaching us Dutch songs, rhymes, and history as well as how to celebrate holidays. We developed rituals around all of the Dutch and American holidays. I would discover years later; these rituals were the glue that held our family together in hard times.   What we didn’t know then that we know now is that our children were becoming Third Culture Kids.
 
Tom and I learned that life was easier if we had a loving marriage.  A night out together, at least twice a month, became a habit that lasted our entire married life. My house always had two things: chocolate and flowers.  Tom never forgot a special nor a not-so-special occasion.  I know now that strong marriages reduce missionary attrition. To love your spouse is good self-care.
 
Caring friends helped us survive the early days of cross-cultural transition. Monthly letters and birthday and Christmas gifts sent by two couples from our home church refreshed us. Round-robin letters with best friends from college sustained me.  I poured my heart into those letters.  What I know now that I didn’t know then is that honest writing promotes good mental health. Also, monthly gatherings with other missionaries in our home or in near-by cities were life giving. They became our new best friends. We were blessed.  We were cared for by friends back home and by our fellow missionaries.
 
Taking a break from the work refreshed our souls. Life in an apartment, surrounded by concrete, with children playing kick the can and hide and go seek in the street below our little balcony became normal.  We learned from the Dutch that a few days away was a good thing.  A camping weekend in our one-room blue tent revived us.  Our children thrived when they could be in the woods or on the beach.  We also found that attending Bible lectureships and workshops edified and filled up the empty spaces in our souls.  What I know now, but didn’t take into consideration then, was that God commands His people to rest. Israel spent 21 days of their year taking part in festivals. Time away camping or at a lectureship became our festivals.  I now know that this is called Master care and mutual care, and that it is all a part of good self-care.
 
Learning the language made life easier. Learning the language made life easier. The process initially brought more stress, but later fluency relieved it. How wonderful it was to be able to express my thoughts and to be understood! Reading books written by national authors not only improved my vocabulary but helped me understand the culture better.  What I didn’t know then was that understanding the culture helped me appreciate and learn to love my neighbors and others that I met.  Loving my neighbors and being there for them, brought friendship – friendships that last until death and beyond, because being a friend meant allowing others to see your heart.  Those who saw our hearts sometimes also learned that they were deeply loved by God and that He was calling them to Himself. 
 
A Final Word:
Drs. Holmes and Rahe devised a stress scale in which different kinds of stress were assigned numerical values (for instance, the loss of a spouse had 100 points). A score of 200 was considered a high score. Their research discovered that fifty percent of those with a stress score of 200 or above were hospitalized with a major illness within two years! Later, Drs. Larry and Lois Dodd revised this scale to fit the missionary lifestyle and found that missionaries during their first year on the field regularly scored around 900.  Even veteran missionaries scored 600+ year after year (Joanes, David, The Mind of a Missionary)!
 
Missionaries – like everyone else – suffer from emotional stresses that can show up in physical illnesses. Losses continue to accumulate throughout the missionary life span, but they experience them far from home in a culture never completely their own, always conversing in a second (or third!) language, dealing with different values – all things that make stress more intense.  What I know now is that those who remain healthy we call resilient.  They receive care first from God, and, when they know that God really loves them, they in turn return that love to Him.  God’s love for them propels them to love others as themselves, even as others are moved to care for them in turn. Along the way, resilient missionaries learn to practice self-care and, by God’s grace, come to thrive on the field. 

Desafio Jovem

The last time we posted here we mentioned lots of good things that God was doing in the midst of the coronavirus.

We’ll confess that it seems harder to see some of those good things as we move into month 4 of quarantine.

We miss our church family. We miss our friends. We miss having people in our home. We miss our kids not being able to come home as planned. We are extroverts. We definitely get our energy from being with people so these months being mostly isolated has been tough on us both spiritually and mentally.

But even before this madness began God was opening up a door for us for just this time. We just didn’t realize it.

In 2017 our pastor, Olavo, asked us to be the leaders of the compassion ministry at our church. The ministry mainly consisted of working with men from a drug/alcohol rehab farm about 45 minutes away from our house. The name of the place is Desafio Jovem. At that time, in 2017, our church would bus in 15 men from the farm to worship with us every Sunday. A different cell group would then serve them lunch. The men ate, got back in the van and went back to the farm. That was the extent of the ministry. Olavo told us to make any changes we felt led to make. He told us that he would support anything we wanted to do.

We made some changes. Nothing too drastic. Just some ways to make the men feel like our church saw them as more than just a charity ministry. We began scheduling monthly visits to the rehab farm with people from our church. Along with the help of our co-workers in the ministry, Sandro and Catia, we changed the way the lunches were served to encourage more interaction with the men so that they would feel more a part of our congregation We needed to change the way our church treated them. We needed the church to see these men as having been made in the image of Christ. We needed some walls to get broken down.

The connection betweeen church family and rehab farm men improved. People from church would go up to talk to these men before worship. The men would do the same. We were learning together what being real family looked like.

As we visited the rehab farm we got to know Carlos. He is the president of the ministry. We love this man. He cries easily as he talks about those men and that ministry. His heart is so good and he is so passionate about the rehab farm. He’s become one of our favorite people.

In February of this year we were out of town. Sandro called and told me he had some news. Carlos had said he wanted Benay and myself to take over the day to day operations of the rehab farm. Benay’s first reaction was, “No way!” We have a lot on our plate already with the Hope House ministry, trying to get the American Cookies ministry started, our church responsibilities, our family responsibilities, etc. My first reaction was, “I like this idea.” I knew Benay was right but I just couldn’t stop thinking about how we could use our gifts there. I tried to play it down with Benay but I was already excited.

Last year was a hard year for me spiritually. Really hard. I/we were blessed to get some counseling from Harpeth Hills last year to help me get through the spiritual darkness. God, in His goodness, also brought unexpected people into my life during our U.S. visit who specifically dealt with spiritual warfare. It was kind of crazy how He moved. I came back renewed.

While there, as the missions committee was helping me deal with my stuff, our brother, Phil, encouraged me to start going to the rehab farm every week. He knew that would bring life. At the time I was still in a dark spot and I didn’t really fully embrace that advice, but I knew he was right. Being with the men at rehab farms has always lifted me up and been a blessing to me. This ministry is our passion.

Anyway, back to February. We were shocked with the request. We were not expecting it at all. We got back home and we got in touch with Carlos. We went to see him and talked about what he was thinking and feeling. He told us that he had been praying for a long time about changing things at the farm. For different reasons he didn’t want to turn it over to a church. He felt God tell him that he was supposed to ask us. That we were supposed to take over the day to day operations.

We were very open and honest about where we were and what our doubts were. He was open and honest and told us to take all the time we needed to pray about it.

So we did what we have learned to do when facing any big decision. We commited to pray and fast from something for 30 days to seek God’s response. We’ve done it many times and God has always been faithful.

As we began we knew that if we decided to do this we would never be able to do this on our own nor did we want to. God immediately put a few people on our hearts to ask to join us. We asked them to pray and fast with us and that at the end of the time period we would get back with them and see what everyone felt God was saying. We didn’t tell them but we had decided that if God did not unite all of us then we wouldn’t move forward. For this to be all that we envisioned it to be, we needed each one of them. At the end of the 30 days we called each individual, or couple, separately to see what God had shared. To a person they all said they felt we should do this and that they wanted to be a part of it.

We met again with Carlos. He was thrilled. So were we.

So we have begun to go there weekly over the last month. I can’t tell you the joy I have again to be doing what God has put on my heart. We are learning everyone’s name. We are spending much time with the leaders there. We want everyone there to know how special they are to us and to God. We are learning how things are done. We are letting the leaders know how much we value their leadership and counsel. We are letting them know that every new leader loves them and cares for this place. I’m blown away by the humility on all sides. We are already united in the Spirit.

The main person, Celito, is salt and light. He has been the leader there for 11 years. He cried last week as he talked about what the rehab farm means to him. He is humble and kind and eager to walk with us. God has blessed us with great people to join us.

It’s a beautiful place and we are excited to see what God is going to do there.

Every couple of weeks we also take a lot of food and clothing donated from our church.

In February it might have been hard to see how we could do this with everything else going on. God knew that when this was offered up the Hope House would still be stuck waiting on documentation. He knew that American Cookies could not be open until Hope House was open because the shipping container, where we make the cookies, will go on Hope House property. Until then we can’t get documentation to start the cookie company. He knew that our church responsibilites, kids’ school responsibilites, soccer practices, etc would be cut down to nothing because of the coronavirus. He knew that we would have the time right now to begin this ministry and begin it slowly and do it right because many of our other responsibilities would be on hold.

When we first talked to Carlos he told us that he had been praying for a long time. Asking God to show him who was supposed to take over that ministry. He told us that God told him that it was Kevin and Benay. When he shared that, I’ll be honest, we weren’t so sure. After praying and fasting and so much confirmation from God we have His great peace moving forward. His timing is perfect. Unfortunately, Carlos is now in the hospital with the coronavirus. He’s doing okay, but please remember this godly man in your prayers.

Please pray for the men at the farm, the leaders at the farm and for our ministry team. That we will always listen to the Holy Spirit, that this place becomes everything God wants it to be, that we will always be united in the Spirit, that there will always be love and humilty and kindess and eyes on kingdom as we move forward and that all that is done blesses everyone who comes in contact with this place. I know that it has already been an amazing blessing to Benay and myself.

God at work in the middle of all this junk.

Every week we get a midweek email from our home church in the states, Harpeth Hills, and it usually has a note from the preaching minister. His name is Chris and I always love his notes. I love them because he just shoots straight. We got a note about a month ago that I believe pretty much sums up how some of our coronavirus days can be. He shared about a friend of his walking on the street one night just praising God and the next minute he was losing his mind at his dog who had escaped the garage. Sound familiar? It hit me in the face pretty good when I read it because I’ve definitely had days like that since we’ve been locked into our house for the past two months.

But, if I just take a step back and take a deep breath, I can definitely see God doing something in the coronavirus madness.

Like what?

Like bringing a healthy new baby girl into the lives of our daughter Bronwyn and her husband Stephen. Her name is Winifred – “Winnie”- and even though I am six thousand miles away I can tell you for a fact that she is awesome.

Winifred

Like seeing our daughter Ansley and her husband Will get a new baby, Lucy, a dog rescued from Porto Rico.

Ans and Lucy

Like seeing our son Garrett graduate from the University of Memphis.

Garrett Senior Soccer Pic

Like seeing our daughter Carys getting accepted to nursing school.

Like having regular workout times and runs with our son Anderson that would rarely be able to happen in our normal, busy life before coronavirus.

Like playing UNO, Battleship and memory games with Giovanni.

Like riding bikes together as a family on empty streets.

Like playing the guitar while Benay plays the keyboard and trying to learn a song together.

Like doing a devo at lunchtime every day as a family.

Like watching a tv show with Benay that we’ve never heard of before and quickly getting addicted.

Like doing a devotional every week with two brothers, one here and one in the United States, that I love dearly. These devos are changing us.

Like using zoom to pray with some brothers from Harpeth Hills, and one brother from Ghana, weekly. It’s blessing me more than they know.

Like seeing my wife pray online Monday-Friday with some women from our church.

Like Benay and I starting an online Bible study with one of my closest friends and his wife, from Rio, after walking with them for eighteen years.

Like having zoom calls with our parents and kids and nephews and nieces and seeing everyone smiling and laughing.

Like seeing Benay start an online Bible study with some women who were a part of the church we helped to plant in 2002 but have since stopped going to any church. Hearing them say they want to visit our church when we are able to meet again.

Like watching our church load up our car with food and clothes for us to take to the rehab farm we work at and doing it often.

Like being presented, by God, with a new ministry opportunity at the rehab farm that just fits perfectly with Hope House and watching Him provide a ministry team that feels led to join us.

Like having our worship band leader and his wife come to our apartment, unannounced, just to serenade us from the street.

Like having our pastor and his wife show up, unannounced, to bring us a note, a bag of chocolates and then pray over us, through the fence, to thank us for being leaders of a ministry in our church.

Like having teachers from Giovanni’s school show up, unannounced, to bring him a book and a note letting him know how much they miss seeing him and how much he’s loved.

Like seeing my wife bake cookies for every family in our apartment building.

Like having people who have never been a part of a church family or who have been away for a long time asking us for the link to our church’s worship service every Sunday.

Like seeing people donate money, time and food to a neighborhood restaurant so that a hot meal can be delivered to people living in the streets every day. So far they’ve passed out over three thousand meals.

Street lunches

Like seeing the joy in Benay’s face as we have been able to fix up our apartment. Something she’s been wanting to do for the nine years we’ve lived here, but have been unable to do so until now.

Like seeing our church family continuing to financially bless missionaries, widows and people addicted to drugs and alcohol during this terrible time.

Like meeting online with our cell group every week and seeing their smiling faces and hearing how much that brief time together means to them.

Like seeing people greet each other on the streets as they walk by.

Like having our sister in Christ, Clarice, who is a doctor in Rio, opening up a field hospital dedicated to coronavirus patients.

Clarice's field hospital

Like our former teammate, Leslie, volunteering to work at the Samaritan’s Purse field hospital for coronavirus patients in New York City.

Like having our family, Alexandre, Dani and their girls, come to our apartment today to bring winter clothes and tons of food to donate to our church and rehab farm. So much stuff it completely filled up the big trunk in our car.

Like having one of Garrett’s best friends stand at our front gate and talk to us about spiritual things.

Like having good, real stuff talks with one of Ansley’s best buddies from high school.

Like having time to read a book.

Like realizing how good it is to slow down and just sit with God.

Wow. I started this thought with just a few things on my mind to share. Once I started God kept reminding me of just how much He is doing in the middle of all this. He’s right here, like always, in the madness and He’s working. Man is He working!

Will I yell at my dog over the next few days or have a jerk moment with my family? Probably. Ok, more than likely that will happen. These are stressful times. Life isn’t normal right now.

But maybe in the craziness we can allow God to open our spiritual eyes. It’s been something He’s been dying to do for a while now. Maybe we needed this madness, this upside down world to do just that…….let it turn us upside down. Honestly, that’s the way Jesus lived. His teachings turned everything on it’s ear. He turned everything on it’s ear.

As His church He’s giving us a shake. He’s waking us up to be what He’s always wanted us to be.

What would that look like in your life?

Like…………………

Why don’t you let Him tell you, then go do it.

Feet washing during the coronavirus

While in the states last year I read a book from John Ortberg. The title was, “Who is this man?” It’s a fascinating book that really opened my eyes to the dramatic changes and influence that have happened in our world because of the life of Jesus. Maybe you think you know how much His life did. I would bet you don’t know a lot of the stuff that is in this book. Just how far reaching His influence has been really floored me. It’s the best book I’ve read in a while. I would encourage you to read it as well.

I’ve been thinking about this book a lot this week as our city has been shut down and everyone is encouraged to be in quarantine. The news preaches nothing but fear and bad news. Many people seem to believe that the world is about to end.

It is a different time to be sure. Our church is no longer meeting on Sundays. We are no longer having cell groups in homes. Last night we had a group meeting with one of our pastors and other cell group leaders through a video call instead of physically being together. Malls are closing up. Businesses are closing up. Soccer stadiums are empty. Our flight this week to the amazon to visit our missionaries got cancelled because although we were promised a flight there, the airlines couldn’t guarantee us that the return flight home next week would not be cancelled.

Schools are closed and kids are doing classes online. The street our apartment sits on has a school on it. Our street is usually completely flooded all day with parked cars on both sides of the street and cars constantly driving down the middle. This is what it looks like today:

Coronel Camisao Coronavirus

Times are certainly stressful.

So what should our response be as Christians? Do we hole up in our homes, wash our hands every ten minutes, stock up on hand gel and pray for all this to be over quickly? Don’t get me wrong, we have to be wise, we have to take care of our families and we have to take steps to not spread this sickness. It’s a serious deal. I get that.

But is there more that God is asking of us during this time and, if so, what?

What is going on around the world and what has arrived in our hometown here this week has made me think of that Ortberg book. His third chapter is called, “A Revolution in Humanity.” In it he talks of how some Jesus followers have acted in times of great suffering and sickness.

Ortberg shares, in chapter three, that sociologist Rodney Stark argued that one of the primary reasons for the spread of Jesus’ movement from the beginning was the way His followers responded to sick people. Ortberg shares that compassion has become the “brand” of the movement of Jesus followers, not because it has attracted such wonderful people, but because they understood from their founder that compassion was not an optional piece of equipment.

Wow. How am I doing with compassion right now in the middle of the coronavirus? How are you doing?

Over the last few days I’ve seen ways that communities are coming together in isolation especially in big cities around the world. I’ve seen a man leading exercises on a rooftop as people, from lots of different apartment buildings that surrounded his, followed his lead on their balconies. I’ve seen people on their apartment balconies play music for their neighbors in other apartment buildings and then seen other musicians, in those other apartments, come out and join. Tonight at 8:30 everyone here is supposed to open their windows and clap together for the health care professionals who are on the front lines of this. At 9:30 tonight one of Ansley’s high school classmates, Rodrigo….an amazing musician, will be doing a show on Instagram and Facebook. He told me that he wants to provide a little fun distraction for people in the middle of all the craziness.

Very cool things all of them. Great ways to bless those around us as we all try to isolate from the coronavirus.

But what about compassion? How can we do that in the middle of all this? Is it our jobs as Christians to simply stay away from everyone and, if not, how can we be Jesus right now? How can we be His compassion in this moment?

Father Damien, a Belgian priest, worked in Hawaii in the nineteenth century and created a place where lepers could be loved and cared for. He used to tell them every week, “God loves you lepers.” And then one week he got up and said, “God loves us lepers.” He died from leprosy.

The world looks at a Father Damien and says he was crazy. How many of the lepers he blessed would say the same? I believe we wouldn’t be able to find one. How about Father Damien himself? I feel very confident that he would do it all again if he had the chance.

Since when, as Christians have we become so afraid of death? Since when as Christians have we become so attached to our life here that we can’t show compassion to our brother, whether we know them or not, in a time of suffering? Believe me when I say I’m preaching to myself right now. I want to be a true Jesus follower every day and at all times. I sure don’t act like it at all times but that’s what I strive for. We can’t let fear rule.

But again, in this moment, how do we do it?

As I think of that book I think our job is to boldly look for ways to be compassionate. I also think we have to be ready for it when the opportunity comes, literally, knocking on our door.

Two days ago I was painting our bedroom with headphones on. Seems quarantine also means lots of things will be getting done around our house. The first was to paint our bedroom. Anyway, I saw Benay come in and get some money. I asked why? She said someone was at the front gate door. In Brazil it’s not uncommon for people to randomly ring your doorbell to ask for food or money. Sadly, in times of crisis like this, bad people will also use the empty streets to take advantage of others. In just the three days the city has shut down some bad people who have already dressed up like health department workers, rang doorbells claiming to be there to do coronavirus testing, getting access and then robbing people. So I went to our bathroom window to see the main gate just to make sure Benay wasn’t opening the door for anyone. We are able to pass things through the front gate. I knew Benay would be smart but I just wanted to have a set of eyes on her. When I got to the window this is what I saw:

Benay with Regina Coronavirus

Before Benay had come back up to the apartment to get money she had already taken food and clothing to this woman. This woman’s name is Rejane and she has eight kids and four grandkids. She lives in a very poor place. A place with little or no health care. A place where, I fear, the coronavirus will blow through if it reaches there. I then watched as Benay held Rejane’s hand and prayed over her.

I ask you, and I’m just guessing, but what do you think Rejane will remember most about that day? The food? Maybe. The clothing? Possibly? How about the woman she had never met before who, fearlessly and with the love of God, held her hand in the middle of the coronavirus and loved on her and prayed for her and her family? Absolutely.

After Benay got back upstairs she told me two things. She told me that she had prayed that very morning for God to show her a way to show His compassion and love during this time. She also told me that a neighbor had seen what she had done and told her she should not have done that because this isolation thing could go on for a long time and  Rejane will just keep coming back to the building asking for things. What those two things showed me is that our God is so faithful and that our enemy is not happy when we leave fear behind. In fact, he hates it. Benay and I have said for years that fear wants to control. Fear is not from God. Satan was not happy with my wife that day.

Scott Sauls wrote the following words: “In a time like now, Christian neighboring looks less like fearful self-preservation and more like servanthood toward the elderly, those with HIV, autoimmune disease, or no healthcare, fatigued and under-resourced healthcare workers, etc. Wash hands, for sure. Then, wash feet.”

I’m so blessed to be married to a feet washer.

Crackland

When we came back home from our ministry visit to the United States last year, our pastor and his wife said they wanted to talk to us about a new ministry that had been started. We met together and they shared about a young family that had recently joined our church family. The man, Henrique, used to be addicted to drugs. He’s been free for the last two years and he is on fire for the Lord.

While we were in the states Henrique started this new ministry. It reaches out to young men in prison and to people living on the streets in the worst ways you could imagine.

Olavo, our pastor, asked if we could first, meet with Henrique and his family and second, walk with him in his new role in the ministry. Olavo knows how hard overcoming addictions can be and he wanted someone walking with Henrique as he ministers to those in addiction. Jesus sent his disciples out two by two and we know the importance of having God’s family around us to walk with us and fight for us as we go into the darkness with the Good News of Jesus.

We invited this young family over for supper and loved their hearts for God’s kingdom. It was very obvious how passionate Henrique is about sharing God’s love with those who are right now where he used to be.

Last Thursday I got a message from Olavo asking if I would go with Henrique to a place called Cracolândia or, literally, “Crackland” on Friday night. Henrique had visited this place a few times in the past with a group from another church. This group of men have been going to this place every other Friday night for thirteen years. They go to take food, give hugs, share Jesus, do spiritual warfare with demons and just “be” with those who most people want to just pretend aren’t there. I would be lying if I said I haven’t been one of those people in the past. It was easier for me to live in a bubble.

Henrique told me that the men fast for the twelve hours before they leave. I hadn’t fasted in a long time and I was amazed how easy not eating was for me, but as soon as the fast started I started having pains in my body. I knew the spiritual warfare had begun.

I was supposed to pick up Henrique at 9:30 to then go to the church where the men met before then going downtown. If you know us then you know that Benay and I are usually in bed by 9:30. We go to bed early and get up early. Last Friday morning I had woken up at 3:00. I thought I would die trying to start my night at 9:30. God gave me supernatural power that day and I never got tired.

It was obvious that God was wanting me to go and the enemy was using the pain and possible tiredness to try to get me to stay home, but God won.

I picked up Henrique and we went to the church where we met with the men who do his ministry. What a group of amazing warriors for Jesus! Some had already been there for a few hours just praying for the night. They all welcomed me warmly.

On the way to Crackland Henrique tried to share what it is like there. In our ministry here Benay and I have seen some really, really bad situations. I thought I was ready for what I would see. I was wrong. It was worse than I’ve ever seen.

The first person we met was a thirty-four year old woman. She was pregnant with twins. She was already the mother of nine. Henrique had told me about her and what to expect. Even so, I wasn’t ready for her appearance. It showed the devastating effects of long term drug use. I showed our kids her picture the next morning and asked how old they thought she was. They said 70. Here she is with Henrique:

Henrique with family in Cracolandia

None of her nine kids live with her and I think they have to be better off no matter where they are. The men told me these twins would not stay with her very long. She lives under a tarp with trash everywhere. Fifteen people live under the tarp which is about the size of medium sized tent. They have no running water, no bathrooms, nothing. I asked the men where they go to the bathroom. They pointed to the street next to the tarp. I’ve never seen anyone live in a place like that. This woman also has AIDS and syphilis. She continues to use crack.

Henrique and another man went right to her when we arrived. She came out of the tarp to greet them. Right next to her was a man who could barely move. He had the flu, honestly looked like he was dying and this woman was taking care of him. The guys in the ministry asked her if she went to get prenatal care from the free government health care. She said no. The guys went into the tent and prayed over the sick man.

We then went to see another woman who was also pregnant. She was late in her pregnancy and her stomach was only as big as my two fists put side by side. The guys I was with began to talk to her. She began to yell that everything was darkness. Everything is Satan. She’s ready to go and be with him and get away from all the darkness around her. She kicked a broom in the air about thirty feet. She was uncontrollable. The man she was living with just listened as we tried to talk to her. He watched and continued to smoke crack. He made a comment and she pointed to him and said, “See! Darkness all around me! Just let me go be with Satan!” The men decided there was no way to talk to this woman on that night. They were disappointed because the last time they were there they talked openly and freely about Jesus with her and she listened. She too is very young. She has cancer.

I then went with Henrique and Antonio, who is the leader of that ministry and who was also addicted to drugs at one time in his life. We walked two streets away from where the  ministry group was. We walked by drug dealers. We walked by all kinds of prostitutes that you can imagine. The two men were focused. We were going to a certain place. As we walked I was amazed at the amount of trash and cockroaches we stepped on and over. We ended up meeting five men who were living together on a corner. Trash was piled up around them for at least twenty-thirty feet. They had no covering at all. Just living in chairs out in the open. They listened to Antonio share his testimony. They listened as he shared how much Jesus loved them. They accepted Henrique’s strong prayer for them.

While many of the ministry men went from street to street visiting people there was a group of men who cooked out sausages. After the visits were done and the meat was cooked, everyone came to get the food. As they waited in line Antonio preached God’s love for them. As he spoke and prayed the rest of us went and touched every person in line and prayed over them as well. It was an amazing thing for me to be a part of.

After the food and soda was all given out, the ministry group got together in a circle. We held hands and Antonio talked to us and then prayed over us. As we prepared to leave almost every man came to me and hugged me and told me how glad they were that I had come that night to be with them. One older man cupped my face with hands and said, “Is your wife ok? Are your kids ok? Do they follow and love Jesus?” When I answered yes to all he said, “Then you are good aren’t you? You’re blessed. The other stuff is just stuff.”  He then gave me a big hug.

Olavo had asked me to go with Henrique to see exactly what this ministry does and see if it would be a safe place for Henrique. Olavo didn’t know much about the ministry and he didn’t want to put Henrique in any type of situation where he might be tempted if he happened to be alone.  I was told that night that none of the men ever travel the streets alone. They go in groups of two, but usually more, men.

Honestly, after being with them just one night, I couldn’t think of a better ministry for Henrique to be a part of. For me or any of those men to be a part of for that matter. The love those men have for the forgotten, ignored, unloved of our city moved my heart. It was incredible for me to be a part of.

I got home a little after two in the morning. I wasn’t hungry and I was never tired the entire day. God wanted me to be there and I’m so thankful that I got to see this incredible ministry in action.

After I woke up Saturday Benay wanted to know all about it. As I shared she said, “Wow. That’s what we are supposed to be doing as Christians. Shining Jesus’ light in the darkness.”

Later in the day I was sharing my experience with one of my best buddies, and old teammate, Sascha. He sent me this verse:

“This, in essence, is the message we heard from Christ and are passing on to you: God is light, pure light; there’s not a trace of darkness in Him.”

1 John 1:5

Friday night I went to one of the darkest places I’ve ever been to and I was blessed to see pure light shined on God’s beloved people who happen to live in a place called Crackland. I’m thankful for this ministry, I’m thankful for Henrique and I’m thankful for every person I was blessed to meet on Friday night. I’m going back.

Henrique and Kevin

Douglas, Cinara and Anna

“Suffering is unbearable if you aren’t certain that God is for you and with you.”

Tim Keller

About 9 months ago God brought an amazing family into our lives. Their names are Douglas, Cinara and their daughter Anna.

Douglas and family

I (Kevin) first met them at the rehab farm that we visit regularly. One Saturday, every month for the past 2 years, we take a group of people from our church to spend a few hours with the men at the farm. One Saturday, 9 months ago, no one went from our church except me, at least that is what I thought. Benay and our kids weren’t even able to go that day. There was a visiting pastor, Antonio, who spent about a year with our church. He and his wife are from another state but came here for dialysis for her with the hope of eventually having a kidney transplant. They got here and just jumped right in with our church including the compassion Ministry, that Benay and I lead, and the worship ministry. It was in the worship ministry where they met Douglas and Cinara who were new to our church. They invited them to come to the rehab farm. It was on that Saturday, just 9 months ago, that I first met Douglas and his family.

My first impressions of them were that they were quiet, kind, humble and just loved on the men at the farm. Pastor Antonio shared a lesson, I spoke just a bit and then Douglas and Cinara got up to sing. They were amazing. Beautiful voices. They blessed everyone that day.

Over the next couple of months we would see this couple from a distance in our growing church but didn’t really have much connection. That all changed when our pastor, Olavo, asked Douglas, and anyone fighting cancer, to come to the front for prayer. Olavo then asked his wife, Antonella, and others who had beaten cancer to lay their hands on those currently fighting it and ask God for healing. God touched my heart that day as I saw Douglas weep and cry out to the Lord for healing. I spoke to him after the service and that began our deeper walk together.

Douglas was on fire for the Lord. He wanted to be a part of Hope House. I had already asked him to be a mentor to the future residents. He was so excited to be a part of that. He visited young men in prison. He sang with the church band and in the coral. He was an incredible husband and dad. He was a role model to me.

Not long after our friendship began our family went to the states for a little over 3 months but Douglas and I stayed in frequent contact. His treatments were going well and he was feeling great. God was healing the liver cancer.

Our family got back in December. Douglas was doing great. He was excited to tell me that God was blessing them with a house. Just last month the doctors said they couldn’t even see the tumor because it had almost gone away. They were blown away. He called me one day to tell me that the follow up treatment was an amazingly expensive drug. Douglas had no way to pay it. His doctor told him that a previous patient had paid for the drug but was cured and ended up not needing it so he told the doctor to just give it to the next person who needed it. It was about $13,000 of our currency which is a little over $3000 US. Douglas was that next patient. God just seemed to heap blessing upon blessing on Douglas.

Two weeks ago he and his wife helped to lead singing. Every Sunday they were either in the coral or they were part of the back up singers with the band. This is a picture, from the church’s Instagram account, of that day. Benay was giving the welcome thoughts to start our second worship. Douglas is behind her ready to sing and Cinara is behind Carmen who is doing sign language.

Douglas and Benay

He left worship that day and began to have some discomfort in his stomach. He asked for prayers.

He hurt for 2 days before taking a bus to the hospital. They told him he had fluid in his stomach that would have to be drained. They also told him that he had an infection that needed to be treated with antibiotics, there at the hospital, for 7 days. I went to see him the Thursday before last. He was doing great. Missing his family but just praising God. No matter what was going on he was smiling and praising God. He told me about some amazing ways God spoke through his daughter Anna. He speaks to her through dreams in a powerful way. I just sat in awe listening to things God was doing through this 6 year old.

The morning of my visit they went to drain the fluid but decided to do an ultrasound to see exactly where it was. The ultrasound showed absolutely no fluid. No draining needed. More blessings. We praised God together. Now he just needed to finish the antibiotics and he would be ready to go home 5 days later.

I had no idea that my visit that day would be the last time I would see Douglas awake and alert.

Last Sunday night he called his wife and asked her to come back to the hospital because they were taking him to ICU. He had fluid in his stomach again and the fluid was blood. The area of his cancer treatments had begun to bleed. The doctors said it was too delicate for them to do a surgery. They told Cinara that they didn’t think Douglas would make it through the night. Our church went to work in prayer. The prayer request was sent out through all of our churches throughout Brazil. Douglas made it through the night.

Benay and I went to see him in the hospital. Benay talked on the way there and then talked to Douglas, who was intubated and sedated, about the woman in the Bible that had been bleeding for 12 years. She just touched the hem of Jesus’ robe and was healed. I began to pray for the hem of Jesus’ robe to come down and touch the spot of the bleeding. Benay sang over Douglas with her hand resting on his chest the entire time. She left and I talked to Douglas for a few minutes. I had asked the Holy Spirit to translate as I felt led to speak in my heart language of English. I know He did because Douglas only moved 2 times as we spoke. Both of those times were when I spoke the same specific words to him but at two different times. He moved right where my hand was both times. I know he was responding as best he could because other than those 2 times he never moved.

That afternoon I called my dad to share about Douglas and to ask him to have him in his prayers. He said, “Let’s just pray right now.” He began to pray for a man he never met and knew he would never meet this side of heaven. But he prayed as if he had known him his whole life. He thanked God for Douglas and his ministry and asked him to heal him because, “we need him.” Those words brought tears to my eyes and became the focus of my prayers. We need him God. Please heal him.

The next night Cinara called and asked if she could come to our house to take a shower and sleep a bit. She got to our house around 8:30. Around 1:30 in the morning I was taking her, and another sister from our church that we picked up, back to the hospital. I am so proud of our church for the way they loved on Cinara through every step. Our church loves so well.

About 8 hours later we got word that Douglas had gone to be with Jesus. We were crushed.

Brazilians don’t embalm the dead so most funerals are within 24 hours of the death. Less than 24 hours after Douglas had gone to be with Jesus we were at his funeral. We’ve been to a few funerals in our 18 years here. I’ve never seen so many people at one before. Douglas and his family are deeply loved.

Our pastor did an amazing job sharing at the funeral. His words were straight from the Holy Spirit as they blessed Cinara and every one that was there. Benay and others in the worship ministry sang. There were occasions when everyone there sang and sang loudly. The walls were literally shaking. Here is a picture of just some of the people following Douglas’ body to the burial site.

Douglas' funeral

I spoke earlier about Douglas telling me how God speaks to his daughter Anna. One thing Olavo shared at the funeral was how two weeks before his death Anna came into Douglas and Cinara’s room during the night. Douglas woke up and asked her what was wrong. She told him that God told her He was about to take Douglas to heaven. When Olavo said those words Benay gasped out loud and began to weep. Olavo shared that even that was God blessing as He was giving Anna time to get ready for what His will was.

The last lesson that Douglas heard Olavo preach was about heaven. It’s like God was getting us all ready for the coming days. One thing I know is that what the enemy hoped to use for his glory, with Douglas’ death, was used to glorify God’s kingdom.

The day after the funeral Cinara sent me a note. It said, “Look what I found.” It was a picture that Douglas had taken of us when I had visited him at the hospital. That picture was a present straight from God. It was healing for my heart.

Last photo with Douglas

This family has had so much suffering over the last few months but they never took their eyes off of Jesus. They have some of the strongest faith I’ve ever seen.

The day Douglas went to the hospital, in the middle of his pain, he sent a video of himself praising God to a ministry group that we’re a part of together. Click here if you want to hear his amazing voice.

Today Cinara and Anna were at church. Cinara sang with the coral during both worship times. I, honestly, don’t know how she did it. I imagine she was imagining singing with Douglas in heaven. Lots of tears today for all of us. Lots of hugs. Lots of love. Lots of prayers. It was all Jesus. Here are some pictures of those 2 being loved on and loving Jesus.

Cinara 1st Sunday without Douglas

Anna Praying

Cinara First Sunday without Douglas

The day before Douglas went into a coma and into the ICU he sent me this selfie…..

Douglas' last note to me

……with these words, “With Jesus on our side everything is going to be fine.”

We’ve had a very hard week. We lost someone we loved dearly, but Jesus is on our side and no matter what happens everything is going to be fine. Douglas wouldn’t trade places with us now for anything. He had such joy here. There is no way to explain to us how his joy has multiplied since he left us on Wednesday. He’s whole now. He’s with Jesus and we will see and sing with Douglas again!

The picture we shared of them at the beginning of this post was taken just 4 days before Douglas’ death. Life can change so fast. If you need to make things right with someone do it now. Forgive, ask for forgiveness, hug more, laugh more and love each other well.

“Joy is not necessarily the absence of suffering, it is the presence of God.”

Sam Storms