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!
One Saturday morning in Canada shortly before we came back to Brazil, I was leafing through flyers minding my own business when I saw a picture of a golden retriever. For those who know us well, wed are often comparing ourselves to those overly friendly extroverted dogs.
But we also really want one and it represents home to me and to my kids who's only ever house that felt like home had a golden retriever in it.
At that moment as I looked at the golden retriever in front of a cage I felt the Lord say, 'so when you get to Joao Pessoa, you're going to find a house that looks pretty great early on. But, it's not the house I have for you so don't rush it, wait on me'.
I told Phil and then forgot all about it.
Two weeks into our time here, and the fourth house we looked at-we were in love! It was clean, bright, had an extra bedroom for visitors, a bit of space outside, great location. We were ready to rent it.
The next morning we had an appointment to see it again. I woke up feeling uneasy and couldn't figure out why. So, I said, 'what's up Jesus, why do I feel like this?'
That's when he reminded me what he had told me when I was looking at the flyer.
Seriously? But this house is PERFECT. It has EVERYTHING!
But I have something better.
I told Phil, his shoulders sloped and he sighed, 'Really?'
So, we didn't rent it. For the next week or so there was NOTHING new on the market. We started to panic a little, what if I heard wrong?
But, everything in me told me not to rent it. Trust, wait, He has something better.
Finally, one day as I was obsessively looking on the Brazilian version of Kijiji a house appeared I hadn't seen before, a new listing.
The initial picture had two large dogs that looked like golden retrievers in the drive way.
IT'S A SIGN! I joked, sort of.
I read the description, 3 bedrooms, and an 'annex'. I made an appointment to see it at the earliest opportunity.
The minute we walked through the gates and into the house we were all sold on it. It had so much outside space, which is nearly impossible find here. There was also the annex, which had a garage below for all of Phil's fiddlings, and above a full bedroom with ensuite for visitors. Separate from our own house for the visitors privacy and ours.
We really want our house to somewhere that pastors, missionaries and family and friends can come to find rest.
This place was just that.
Now that we are moved in, I am reminded every day that waiting on what God has for us is ALWAYS better. Jesus always has what's best for us, even when it doesn't look like it.
We just have to be willing to wait.....and that my friends is the hardest part.
This past Sunday we had the opportunity to share with our home church about what we feel God has placed on our hearts. I felt strongly leading up to our talk that this was supposed to be something other than a slideshow and stories from the Amazon. I felt God pressing on my heart that He wanted people to examine their hearts for the areas they haven't let him in, the 'dirty closets' they preferred to keep closed.
The worship left Phil and I undone as it spoke exactly of the message we felt pressed to share with our church family.
I posed the question, 'If Jesus asked you to say yes before knowing the question could you do it?' If you couldn't, why? Is there fear involved? Are there areas of your life that are off limits to Jesus? What are the fears? Fear of loss? Fear of lack?
When we hold back and live in fear we become paralyzed, stop listening to what God wants for us and in turn we choke off the blessings God has for us.
Our yes comes at a cost, sometimes it's a great one, but it also comes with great reward.
We shared a bit about some of the awesome stuff God has been using us for in Brazil and how we came to the understanding that he is indeed calling us to move on to Joao Pessoa where we will be part of planting a church and beginning new ministries that we are yet to discover.
We also shared our financial situation, where are we four years into this thing?
Reality is the numbers currently don't add up but we are pressing forward in confidence knowing that God has called us into this and requires our action to activate his provision.
We shared where the majority of our funding comes from, 80% from individuals who give anywhere from $25-$200/month. That maybe Jesus is asking them to say yes to joining our team, to trust that he will provide. We also stressed that although you may think what you can offer is just a bit, it's all those bits that make up the majority of our funding. Not to mention knowing we have a team of people rooting for us, praying for us and supporting us is invaluable.
I sighted Exodus 14:12-18 when the Israelites are whining that Moses should have left them as slaves, Moses tells them to be still but God responds, '“Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to MOVE on. 16 Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. 17 I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. 18 The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.”
God wants our yes AND our action. When we do that He gets the glory, people see the impossible become possible.
Sometimes being enslaved by our fear is comfortable because it's what we know. But that's only because we haven't given God a chance to show us what he is capable of. When we do, we taste real freedom and there's no turning back.
We are so incredibly grateful to the people who have been faithfully supporting us these last four years and to those who have just decided to join the team. We are still recruiting, if you want in send us a message and we'll get you set up.
We also shared a video highlighting some of the best moments of the last two years.