There are times in life when you feel like God is distant, wonder if he’s even aware of your existence and then there are times that you feel like He is orchestrating your every move.
Lately, we’ve felt more like we are in the latter experience. God seems to be connecting us to key people with shared vision, goals and dreams.
Recently we felt we should meet with the minister of a local Anglican church we have been visiting now and then. It’s a strange thing to be without a congregation for this long, the longest period of time we have not been regularly attending organized church since we became Christians. This Anglican church is very much like our beloved Vineyard. We have had several conversations with the minister who was recently made Bishop in the region. A few Sundays ago as we were leaving the service in a bit of a rush because I realized I had left our slow cooker on burning my baked beans, Phil was stopped by one of the ministers saying he had seen us praying for the girls. He said they wanted to know how they could help and be involved.
This week we met with Marcio, the bishop for the northeast region and shared our story. Half way through he shared a dream he had about giving a dinner for the women and men in prostitution, he described it as a very fancy dinner with tablecloths and nice dishes and that he was wearing a suit (rare for him). He said, ‘it was very honouring to them and it was like…like a banquet’.
At this point Phil and I started to laugh the kind of laugh that bubbles up when you realize God is speaking the same thing to others that he has been speaking to you. We shared the fact that doing banquets for these ladies is one of the things we are working towards.
He became very excited and offered up their beautiful space to hold our banquets in. He went beyond that and offered up the space for us to use as our Vineyard church family begins to grow and we need space to meet in!
He believes strongly that we, as Christians, should be more about being the body of Christ than our denomination. We can see a future of our two churches working closely together to expand the Kingdom here in João Pessoa.
I am continually amazed on this journey at the ways he guides, provides and loves us!
Hurt By The Church, Released by Forgiveness
What used to take us an hour is now taking about three or more hours. Spending time with the girls has gone beyond a quick prayer of blessing and request for health and protection to the girls sharing their hearts and lives. We talk, laugh, cry and pray together.
Some are more open than others. One of the women we met in the first few days is particularly closed off, she always allows us to pray but you always know that she is not really letting her guard down. A couple of weeks ago as we were praying for her to be freed from addictions she said she struggles with, I felt I was supposed to ask her if she had been hurt by the church.
She pulled back and looked at me like, how did you know that?
Yes, I was, she said. A pastor asked me to have an affair with him.
My heart sunk. Oh, how the enemy messes with the people who are supposed to represent a just, fair and loving God.
I was at a loss for words so I prayed quickly….’ok God, now what?!’ I felt that Phil was supposed to apologize and ask for her forgiveness on behalf of the pastor, the church and men in general who have hurt her.
So, there in the street with cars passing, some slowing down to stare, Phil put the power of forgiveness in her hands. She forgave and then, without prompting or asking leaned over and hugged Phil.
After that moment her entire demeanour changed. Her body language was much more relaxed, she smiled more, it was clear to see that a bit of her protective armour had fallen away.
As we were getting up to leave she said, ‘Please don’t stop coming here, we really appreciate what you do here, I always feel lighter and more at peace after you pray for me’.
All of these women have similar hurts. God knows what each of those hurts is and when he tells us it’s like he’s giving us the keys to open the door to the protective wall they have built around their hearts.
Daily they deal with hurt, rejection, jealousy and addictions. They are enslaved to a destructive lifestyle that, for a variety of reasons, they can’t see a way out of. We are continuing to pray that as God works on healing them physically and spiritually, that he will also give them new eyes to see hope for a different future.
We are so grateful to be a part of what God is doing on that dark street. There are so many stories, every time we go God moves in some way.
Next month we will begin our beach church. Stay tuned.
Below is a video of the making of a bench Phil made to install in one of the locations the girls wait for clients...
Running parallel to our ministry to the women we have been trying to crack through the hard surface of this concrete jungle to find the soil to plant a church. One of the ways to do this is using our skills as native english speakers.
Last month I started teaching at a local bilingual school where I have been able to incorporate Alpha into the curriculum, this encourages the students to have great conversations about what they believe.
Recently, Phil was invited to begin an Alpha course in the state university english class. University is where we are more likely to find people who are not part of a church or have begun to question their spiritual beliefs. Research says that only 30% of young adults who enter University as Christians leave as believers. University is a great education but it also is a setting where people are taught to question everything and discover who they are apart from their family.
Alpha is the perfect tool in this environment because it works best when there are people with different opinions and lots of questions. It’s also a great tool for people wanting to improve their english because instead of repeating simple phrases or learning grammar, it forces them to express their thoughts and opinions about a sometimes heated topic.
After the first video, at some points, the discussion became so passionate that the students flipped into Portuguese because expressing themselves and their thoughts won out over speaking in English.
Our goal in this is to identify people who are interested in continuing and perhaps starting a small group with friends or family, people who naturally meet. We are looking for ‘people of peace’ as the Bible refers to them, who will connect us to larger groups of people.
We keep following and walking through the doors as God opens them.
We have been blessed to have several visitors already in our first year here. Last month we had Allison, Ronã and their adorable baby boy Oliver visit for two weeks. Their visit had several purposes. Oliver’s birth needed to be registered, Allison needed to change her name in her passport, Ronã needed to apply for a visa and last but certainly not least, they are praying about whether or not João Pessoa is the next step in their missionary journey.
Please join us in praying with them that God will speak directly to them about where they are to serve here in João Pessoa.
LUKE FACILITATES ALPHA YOUTH
We were invited to start a youth Alpha in an apartment building where a member of our small group lives.
On the first night it was evident that Luke, without being asked, was facilitating the group.
It's exciting to see him stepping out in this way!
He's a teenager now, a time when he can either influence or be influenced, we are overjoyed to see him doing the former!
HELP! We need to build a team here to facilitate the growth of the ministry and the church. Please pray with us that those who’s hearts are stirred will begin to surface to help us.
Kids-Both our kids are nearing the end of their first year of studying here in Brazil, it’s been a really tough year for both them and us as we learn the ins and outs of the system, more of the language etc. adjust (AGAIN) to a new city, friends etc. this is a lot for them to process.
Finances/Resources-As a missionary one of the hardest things is to feel like you are always asking, but that is the reality! In order to grow our ministry and church we also need the resources to do so. Both people and finances are needed. We need to connect to the people who can help us further the ministry and grow the church
When we moved here in October we had a plan, so did God....they just weren't the same.
‘We Don’t Want to Be Here, We Need To Be’
It’s a phrase we hear often now, a prayer request to be freed from the life they are living. The women we are praying for twice a week have begun to open up to us more and more since we were robbed. What used to take about an hour now takes more than two as the women want to spend time and share their hearts.
When we introduce ourselves to girls we haven’t met before (and there are ALWAYS new girls) one of the first things they often ask is, ‘was it you guys who got robbed?’ The story is making it’s way around and, we believe, that because we have come back they are opening up to us more easily.
What could have scared us away has actually opened their hearts.
Before we go down we always spend time in prayer. We pray for protection for them and us, we pray for God to go before us and we pray for words of knowledge, things that only God can know about them. If God knows of any physical pain or illness or emotional need we ask that he would show us so that we can pray for them to be healed.
It’s always fun to see the look on someone’s face when they have been physically healed. There have been many of these in the past month and each one immediately goes and tells someone else what just happened. There is something spiritual that happens when someone is physically healed, that persons faith is increased immensely almost instantly and their trust in God and us is strengthened.
The walls they have built begin to tumble.
One particular story stands out. One of the days we went down I felt like someone was suffering from some kind of lower abdominal pain or infection. When we arrived we asked the first group of girls if any of them had this issue. They immediately said no, but that one of the other girls who usually waits with them has been in a lot of pain in her abdomen from a surgery.
But she was out with a client. We said we would make our rounds praying for the other girls and come back.
When we came back she was there and she explained that she had had a c-section three months earlier and that the incision still gave her pain, she had to start back to work soon after the baby was born. It was her second c-section in less than two years.
I asked her to put her hand where the incision was and prayed for it to be healed. After praying twice she poked around and said the pain was gone. This girl normally is very cold, she tolerates our presence there and usually allows us to pray for her but as I pray she usually stares me directly in the eyes, like she’s looking for the real reason we are there. There was a strong distrust.
After her physical pain left her body she started to share her emotional pain with us, she opened up her heart in a way she hadn’t before. She said she often feels that people are either hurling abuse at her or she feels invisible. We prayed again, this time for her emotional healing, we assured her that she is not invisible to us and definitely not invisible to God.
Before we left we gave her a copy of the Father’s Love Letter that we give to all the girls we haven’t met yet. She said she would read it when she got home.
When we drive home we have to drive down the same road where they work. As we passed her she was reading the letter.
The next time we saw her she looked like a different person, her face was lit up and she smiled at us with a warmness that I hadn’t seen before.
‘I loved the letter you gave me! Thank you!’ she said beaming.
I’m not a psychologist and I don't pretend to be an expert on what these women face every day, but I believe that they have to create an armour of defence mechanisms and that trusting people must be very difficult.
Before I left for our annual conference in Altamira Phil and I went down again to pray for them. As we were praying for one of the girls we met on that very first day, a car stopped and someone got out. It was another of the girls we have gotten close to. Her face lit up and she ran over to us.
‘I didn’t miss prayer did I? Because I want to pray for my enemies, the people who speak bad about me and who I have conflict with. I want God to work on their hearts, and our relationships.’
We often are asked, ‘where is your church?’ I have begun to tell them we are standing in it.
Our church right now is with these women, hearing their stories, praying for them and with them, sharing the gospel with them and seeing God begin to transform their hearts.
We are so grateful for how God is using us and blessing us with their trust to open up to us and how he is already moving in these women’s lives.
We are praying about next steps and how we can spend a bit more time with them, somewhere away from their work environment where they are often distracted.
One idea that the Shores of Grace project does in Recife is a banquet. Once a month they host a dinner, in an upscale hotel with a full buffet, the women and men are invited to take part and feel special. There is worship time, someone shares a testimony and there is lots of time for prayer and conversation. We had the blessing of being invited to one of the banquets last month. The thing that stuck out the most to us was listening to women who have left the streets pray for and speak into the lives of girls still in that world.
We hope to have the resources to some day host this kind of event here.
We are praying for knowledge and connections and ideas for how to help those who truly want to get out.
We appreciate your prayers along side us!
Right now we feel as though we are supposed to keep doing what we are doing, keep showing up and listening and praying and showing them the unconditional love of the Father.
NO PICTURES PLEASE
You may notice that our updates are a little void of imagery these days. For obvious reasons we don’t bring anything valuable to the streets when we go, just ourselves and our prayers. I also don’t want to, in any way, disrespect the women we are working with who are quickly becoming people we love. One day, when they are on the path to freedom I hope to have photos of their graduations or weddings or other triumphs. So for now, you’ll have to paint the images in your heads. I hope you understand.
Intervinha 2017 Regional Conference with Gary and Joy Best
I had the joy and privilege of spending a week with my Brazilian family and friends in Altamira last week. The only down side was that my family stayed behind in João Pessoa. We are finding the cost of flights makes it difficult for us to stay connected physically with the rest of our mission and church as they are more than 2,000km away.
This years theme for the conference was ‘Naturally Supernatural’ and we were so blessed to have Gary Best and his wife join us as the speakers. Gary was part of the founding fathers of the Vineyard in Canada was was the national leader for many years. He shared with us God’s desire for us to partner with Him in what he is doing, looking for where heaven is already breaking through and joining him in his work in those times and places. He spoke too, of servant leadership and that our whole point as Christians is to ultimately be ‘little Jesus’’ here on earth.
It was a pleasure to meet and spend time with him and his wife and my beloved Brazilian and missionary family.
Please pray with us for....
A team! We need people and resources here in Joao Pessoa to help us move along with our ministry and church plant
Pray for our kids as they continue to transition and study in a foreign language
Pray for provision for our ministries and in country travel to remain connected to our Vineyard family
Last week we had something new happen. We were robbed at gunpoint. Full story below.
I always wondered how I would react if I were ever held at gunpoint. Would I panic? Would I try to be the hero and karate style kick the gun out of his hands? Last week I got to find out exactly what I would do.
Two weeks ago we took a leap of faith, some red heart shaped balloons and The Father’s Love Letter out to the streets to pray for the women and men who work in prostitution not knowing how we would be received.
The initial response was so much better than we anticipated. We were ready for rejection, instead we found openness and a need.
The most common prayer request is protection, and for their children.
Last Wednesday, Phil and I headed out to pray while the kids were in school . As we headed down a laneway towards the street the women work on we saw a girl we hadn’t seen since the first day. She had been in tears reading the Father’s Love Letter that we had been giving to all the women.
Since then, while I was praying for all of them, God gave me a vision, specifically for her, so I was excited to see her and she seemed happy to see us as well.
I told her that I had been hoping to see her because I felt like God had something he wanted to say to her. She allowed me to explain.
I started to explain the scene that was painted in my head and part way through she interrupted me and said, ‘This is speaking directly into a situation in my life right now.’ She explained her situation and it did fit perfectly with what I had seen. She said she had prayed that morning that God would give her a sign, show her the way.
The next part of the scene was Jesus freeing her from bondage and showing her a new path.
We were both covered in goosebumps. I told her that I also felt like I was supposed to pray over her feet, if that wasn’t too strange, would she allow me to do that right here in the street? She said, ‘Yes, please!’. So I knelt down on the rocky sidewalk, and laid my hands on her feet and prayed that she would have the courage to follow the path Jesus has for her.
After I prayed, as we walked together she said, ‘You know, I had money in my hand ready to buy a piece of land, I know now that I shouldn’t, I believe God sent you’.
We walked together to the place under the tree where her and some other girls usually wait for clients out of the sun. There was a girl there we hadn’t met yet and as I opened my mouth to introduce us, our new friend did it for me. She excitedly explained who we were and that I had just given her a revelation that spoke right into a situation in her life.
That morning while we prayed at home before leaving, I had also felt like one of the girls was suffering from stomach pain, possibly gastritis. So I asked if that was anyone of these girls.
Guess who put up her hand? She has been doing tests and was waiting to do an endoscopy to see if she has gastritis. I prayed again for her, this time for physical healing.
We left the group under the tree on a huge high! We were so excited see what God is already doing in such a short time. We approached the second group and again they introduced us to a girl who hadn’t met us before. The first woman we met was there, she has not let us pray for her yet, ‘because she is Catholic and we are Christians’ (her words not mine). This same woman said she thought she saw some guys who were looking to steal things, and everyone asked if I had a cell phone in my bag. I responded that the only thing I had was the love letters we had been giving out and if someone did want to rob us they were welcome to them.
A minute or so later I started to pray for one of the women when two motorcycles approached us. I wasn’t looking at the road and honestly, people pass and slow down or stop often-it’s the nature of what is going on there. But one of them shouted, ‘Give me your cell phones!’ I looked over and saw that one of them was pointing a gun at us.
He pointed at my bag and told me to give it to him, I obeyed and said a prayer in my head that he would read the letters. Then the one who was driving the motorcycle looked at Phil who had his hands up and was trying to look as non-threatening as possible so as to not escalate the situation.
‘Wallet! He has a wallet!’ he shouted.
Phil was also carrying a heavy backpack full of water bottles making it awkward for him to reach for his wallet, so I reached back and handed it to the guy with the gun who, quite honestly, looked terrified.
After that they drove off and I said another silent prayer that somehow Phil’s wallet would find it’s way back to us. (Make sure you read all the way to the end of this story)
So here’s the crazy thing. During that whole thing Phil and I both felt an incredible, doesn’t-make-sense-when-you-have-a-gun-pointed-at-you, sense of peace.
After they drove off the women were understandably shaken up and we all headed for the main road in case they decided to try again. A man lent us his cell phone and one of the girls called the police.
Before leaving to file a report at the police station about Phil’s wallet we asked if we could pray for the girls, and they let us, all of them, even the one who previously wouldn’t let us.
Here’s the thing, every city has those streets you shouldn’t walk down, we are going to the places. We know this is a risk, and normally we don’t take anything of value, but that day Phil forgot to put his wallet in the car. But if he hadn’t had his wallet they may have searched him and found his phone or worse the keys to our car.
We weren’t hurt, and either were any of the women and we are so grateful for that.
We also know that what we are doing is rattling the enemy, we are trying to shine a light in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t want to flee that easily.
Ours is not a battle of flesh and blood…..
We have been back since this incident and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little more aware, Phil spend most of his time paying attention to the cars and bikes passing while I did the chatting and praying.
While we were there, one of the girls saw us and said, ‘Is it true? You guys were robbed?’
Word is spreading amongst them. They will now know too, that we came back.
They face these risks every day because they are doing the kind of ‘work’ that no one should have to do. And although it may be seen to some as a ‘choice’ I am willing to bet that not one of them dreamed of this life when they were a little girl. Do some research, you will find out.
UPDATE: Monday morning we planned to go to the Federal Police to begin the process to replace Phil’s Brazilian Permanent Residence card. But, when I woke up I felt like we weren’t supposed to go, that we were supposed to wait until Wednesday. Specifically, Wednesday.
Tuesday evening someone we don’t know tried to friend Phil on facebook. Sometimes that happens but this guy is from João Pessoa and we don’t have any friends in common. Then he messaged Phil saying something about documents he found that he thinks could be Phil’s.
I wrote back to him and we waited. Later my phone rang and it was the kids school calling, asking if my husband had lost some documents recently.
‘Yes, we were robbed last week’, I responded.
‘Someone found your daughters card from school and called. They gave me their number.’
I jotted the phone number down and called it.
As it turns out, this guy was driving down the highway and stopped at the side to wait for a friend, he happened to look in the grass and saw Phil’s documents lying there.
‘I have no idea why I stopped at that particular location, it must have been God’, he said.
We arranged to meet him the following morning which was…….
Coincidence? I think not.
All of Phil’s ID was there, including the credit card we had cancelled but that’s ok because the new one arrived, that same day!
Someone asked this week, ‘So, although this ministry is clearly something God is calling you guys into, how do you see this planting a church?’
About 15 years ago, under a tree in Altamira, Rick Bergen met with a few guys every week to pray and read the Bible. All of them were a mess, their marriages were breaking up, they were drinking heavily, sometimes even coming to the study drunk.
Most of those men are now pastors or leaders. Their marriages and lives have been restored.
All any of us can do is look to see where the Father is working and join Him. We spent months praying about whether or not to step into this ministry, it wouldn’t leave us. The way we have seen these women responding tells us that the Father was already there, working, we’re just joining Him.
Built into the Vineyard’s DNA is going to the dark places, looking for the lost and the broken and showing them the unconditional love of the Father.
Beyond being what we do, it’s who we are.
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me, for the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. Isaiah 61:1
Thank you so much for all of you who pray, give and read we are so grateful for all your support and love!
'They Are My Daughters'
'He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,' Isaiah 61:1
Our heart is to love our neighbours, whoever they are. We want to serve them as the Lord would have us serve them, because we know that only he can truly transform lives.
One Friday night we were driving back to our house and as we turned one corner a woman shouted out to us, we all turned and my son asked, ‘Mom, what is she doing on the corner like that? And why is she dressed like that?’
I said it was a conversation for later.
Another Friday night we saw five or six women and watched as a motorcycle pulled up and stopped in front of them.
My heart ached.
Another day, in another part of the city, in the middle of the day on a Tuesday we counted fifteen to seventeen women.
We started taking these routes purposely, at different times of the day. We started doing research. Prostitution is legal here in Paraíba, but many times minors fall pray to it, the average age of a girl starting is 12-14.
They are somebody's baby girl.
They've either left home or been turned out onto the streets. With little to no education or skills, it’s often chosen as a profession because they have run out of options.
We started to realize that we were both feeling pulled in a direction that we had no idea what to do with, but it kept tapping on our hearts, invading our thoughts, that still small voice was whispering....
‘They are my daughters.'
Only one problem. We have absolutely no idea how to start or what to do.
So, we prayed. ‘Lord, if this is you calling us into this, we can’t do it without your guidance, show us how to do this Lord’.
In our research Phil came across a website for a group in Recife, Pernambuco (the next state south of us) called Shores of Grace. They started working with prostitutes and others in the streets about seven years ago. They now have a comprehensive ministry who's priority is to show these women and men that they are loved. IF they choose to leave the work they are in, they have things in place to help them get trained and on a new path. But first, love them right where they are, no strings attached.
Last week I was able to make contact with Nic Billman, the founder of Shores of Grace. I told him how we had been feeling and that we would love to have a chance to chat with them, possibly learn from them. He invited us to come for a few days, receive training and go out with them when they minister.
We still really don’t know how this will look. Right now we have committed to praying for these women on a daily basis, praying that God would continue to show us what it is He would have us do.
Leaning on Him and not our own understanding. We will keep you posted as we move forward.
Living in the Amazon basin, seeds are easier to plant. In fact, we once had several different vegetables and fruits start to sprout up where a broken pipe from our kitchen spilled onto the ground.
Similarly, getting to know people happens more easily, walk around your neighbourhood as the sun is setting and you will find them sitting outside their houses, enjoying the cooler temperatures of the late afternoon and sipping cafezinhos. You sit and begin to chat, the seeds of relationship sprout.
Living here, in a big city, a concrete jungle, it’s difficult to find soil to throw seeds on, people tile the sidewalks. Walking around our neighbourhood here at sunset we find a few people, the ones with dogs, but our conversations are shorter, in passing. The seeds of relationship don’t sprout as quickly.
So, we have to have patience and be creative. Find ways to spend more time with people.
One of the ways missionaries in other parts of the country have done this is to fill a need by opening an english school.
Learning english is Brazil is a much desired skill. It opens many doors.
João Pessoa has as many english schools as any Canadian town has Tim Horton’s. Opening another one here isn’t really filling a need.
Saying that, having native english speakers to practice your english with is hard to come by. So, we’ve decided to use this angle to fill a need and also connect us to different groups of people.
The idea that came to us was to approach one of the english schools and offer a free bonus english conversation class.
Faith’s tutor mentioned that the english school she attends, Uptime, is a smaller school and run by a Christian woman, maybe we could approach her.
A few Sundays later, we were invited to attend an English service at a local Anglican church and started speaking to the minister. He has traveled to England several times and is very familiar with Alpha. Our idea about running an Alpha at an English school came up and he said, ‘well you should meet Erika, she owns Uptime english school!’
Well whaddya know....
We spoke with her and since their church is familiar with Alpha and eager to help us get started, she loved the idea!
Our hope of course, is that from this we can begin another small group and make more connections.
We have to break through the concrete here to get to the soil. It will take longer, but we have confidence in the one who sent us here that he is giving us the tools we need.
Raising Bilingual Kids
Recently the kids got what we would call interim report cards, kind of a dipstick look at how they are doing. They are doing amazingly well considering what we started with.
This is the result of many afternoons of blood sweat and google translate as we hack through the homework. All of us are learning more portuguese, spoken and written. We didn’t go to an official language school, we just sort of learned the language on the fly as we went, sink or swim, so this has been a great crash course.
It’s also been really tough, on all of us. It’s a big time investment too, it's almost like I'm still homeschooling but now in Portuguese! But we are already seeing results. Faith started as a blank slate. She struggles with reading in english as it is so we were concerned. But the crazy thing is, she is now able to read at a grade 1 level in portuguese and her english reading has improved immensely! On Friday, Luke tackled his Portuguese homework (by far the most challenging subject) by himself!! I cried real tears!!
We are so grateful that they are doing this, that they will come out of it on the other side fully bilingual. We have great peace that this was the right choice for our family. I love seeing them want to succeed! We are so proud of them!