One Ordinary Night Turned Incredible

Have you ever gone to church on an ordinary Sunday night, expecting a normal service, with all the regular attenders, a few songs that you have sung before, a good Biblical message and a few minutes of visiting afterwards?  Imagine that you arrive at your church with that mindset, but something unexpected happens.  A group of guests arrive, 14 people in all.  You and your church family welcome them, of course, and ask who they are.  Some of them turn out to be missionaries, whose home base is in your city.  But the rest of them are Neno believers, from a native ethnic group that is hungry for more of God’s Word.

This happened tonight here in Ji-Pa.  We visited a regular church, which had an order of service and a scheduled preacher, but he invited one of the missionaries to share instead.

Before preaching, this missionary shared a bit of the story of the Neno people.  Forty years ago, they lived in the jungle, constantly at war with other people groups, living in fear and conflict and grief.  The missionaries working with nearby peoples didn’t even know that the Nenos existed.  This ethnic group didn’t have electricity or cars or clothing, even though they lived less than 150 miles from a city.  They didn’t know who created the world or what their purpose for existence is.  They had their theories and explanations for who they were and how it all started, but different accounts disagreed.  Worst of all, the Nenos had no idea that a man named Jesus, who was also the Creator God, had come to the earth nearly 2,000 years before.  He had died on the cross to pay for the sins of all mankind, to set people free from sin and fear and death.  But the Nenos didn’t know, because no one ever told them.  Generations died, without Christ, and without hope, in a lifestyle where killing and murder was commonplace.  How would you like to live that way?  They didn’t like it either.

Thankfully, things have changed.  Just a few short decades later, many of the Neno people are believers in Jesus Christ.  They are excited about God’s Word, and want it in their language.  Three missionaries (you know one of them!) are in the beginning stages of language and culture learning, with the goal of teaching God’s Word, and discipling our brothers and sisters.

 Tonight in church, one of their chiefs shared, in Neno, translated by one of the others who speaks Portuguese.  He lived in the “bad old days”, experienced the many changes, and said that now, his people have a better life.  And it’s not because of clothes and cellphones and cars.  That wasn’t even mentioned.  The chief gave glory to God and to Jesus Christ for His salvation.  And, contrasting native peoples with “white people” (not racist – just what they call the rest of us), he said that we used to be far, apart, separated from each other, but not anymore.  Because…NOW.  TODAY.  And FOREVERMORE.  We are one people in Jesus Christ.    

Afterwards, one of the church members expressed his excitement about what happened this evening.  Even though he has seen native peoples in the city, and knows some are living nearby, it was the first time he had met them personally.  Hearing their testimony impacted him greatly.  His enthusiasm, in turn, impacted me.  These are exciting times to be alive, my friends.  God is doing big things all over His world.  Would you be part of His work, through your prayers?

Please pray for the Neno people.  

  • Pray that they will grow in the knowledge and understanding of the One who is calling them out of darkness and into His marvelous light.  
  • Pray that we missionaries will disciple the Nenos through living with them and loving them.
  • Pray that we will learn the language as quickly as possible so that we can also disciple in word, teaching the Bible clearly.  
  • Pray for the Zeno who do not yet know Christ.  
  • Pray for the nearly 2,000 people groups who are waiting to hear the Gospel.
  • Pray that God will send more workers, people who know Him and believe that He sent Jesus for everyone.

And, one last prayer request, which I used to pray, if you dare to pray it:

  • Pray that God will send YOU to one of these people groups.  It’s easy to pray for God to send others.  But if everyone thinks it’s someone else’s job, who will ever go?

Don’t worry.  If it’s not God’s will, He could always say no, right?  On the other hand, He might take you up on a prayer like that.  But you want to know a secret?  If you dare, and if God sends you, and if you obey, you will not regret it.  Not only will you have unique stories to write on a blog someday, of other ordinary-nights-turned-incredible, you will be part of the Big Story God is writing.  This Story isn’t just for and about English speakers, but involves people from every tribe and language and people and nation.  And perhaps you could be part of reaching one more language group with the Gospel; don’t risk missing out on what God might allow you to do.

The Place that God Prepared

Surroundings – unknown. Setting – unaffected. Sounds – unfamiliar. Situations – unusual.

So how can I already feel like I belong?  Why does this scene seem so familiar and comfortable?

It has to be because God is the one who brought me here.  This wasn’t just some idea I came up with one day because there was nothing better to do in life.  No, all along the way it has been God, my loving Heavenly Father, directing my steps, preparing the way, preparing my heart.

Since returning to Brazil, I have read from Genesis to Judges.  This is one of the verses I underlined, “Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared.” Exodus 23:20

Starting in Exodus, God rescues His people from slavery to the Egyptians, and takes them on a long journey, an incredible adventure, a walk of faith.  The story is full of grumbling, hard hearts, doubt, and sin of all kinds.  Yet it also spills over with God’s grace, as He keeps and protects His people, leads them in miraculous ways, and brings them into the good, fruitful place He prepared for them.

You see, God hadn’t chosen the people of Israel because they were a great, numerous, special, lovable people.  No, they became the special people of God because He chose them, when they were few in number, to bring glory to Himself.  He set His love upon them and made them great, and brought them into the Promised Land, better than anything they could have imagined or achieved.  And it was not because they earned it or deserved it, but simply because He is a Promise-Keeping God who never gives up on the people He has redeemed.

Their story is a lot like mine.  Starting years ago, when God saved me from slavery to sin, He has taken me on a long journey, an incredible adventure, a walk of faith.  My heart has been hard so many times, full of grumbling, doubts, and sin.  Yet my story spills over with God’s grace, which has kept me and protected me, led me in miraculous ways, and brought me here, into yet another place that He has prepared for me.  And it isn’t because I was a great, talented, special, lovable person.  No, I became a child of God because He loved me first, and gave His Son, Jesus, to die in my place.  And He chose me out of the world, to be holy, to go and bear fruit, to be a soldier.  And none of this was because I earned or deserved it, but simply because He is a Promise-Keeping God who never gives up on a child He has redeemed.

And by God’s grace, I will live and fight and stand firm in this place, worshipping Him only, and loving these people He has called me to serve.  My prayer is that this will prove to be a good and fruitful land, that much fruit may abound to the praise of His glory: fruit in my life, and in the lives of these people He loves.

 

Sunday Morning Worship, Village Style

We sit in a pavilion, with a slanted tin roof covered by thatch.  Three sides are completely open, with the fourth side, where the platform is, walled by thatch strung between poles, forming an attractive design of triangles and rectangles.  The platform is high, the front covered only by thatch.

The only words I understand are proper names from the Bible, which apparently have been borrowed directly from Portuguese.  Other than that, my ears and brain are hammered by unknown sound combinations, nasal and tonal, trying to enter.  But my ears don’t even know how to process these sounds yet, and the varying musical tones on which words ride gently up and down.

Distractions are many during the one and a half hours of teaching:

  • A four or five-year-old child wanders into the pavilion from the front, dragging a little bedraggled suitcase behind.
  • A couple village dogs quietly invade the worship area, but their stench gives them away.
  • Villagers scold the dogs sharply with mono-syllabic intonations and animated gestures, shooing them out.
  • Whistling comes from the nearby hammock-pavilion.  In this language whistling isn’t just music, it is conversation.
  • Five or six chickens walk around the open areas of the pavilion, occasionally clucking.  One poops near the platform.

None of these things would happen back at Bethel Church of the Nazarene.  They wouldn’t happen at my Brazilian church in São Paulo either.  Nevertheless, an amazing realization overwhelms my heart.  This place is where I am supposed to be.  And these people, and their relatives in the other villages, are the ones I am supposed to do life with.  And even though I have never been anywhere like this and don’t really know what is going on, none of it is strange or foreign or shocking or overwhelming.  It is just everyday life here.

But how can I already feel like I belong?  Why does this scene seem so familiar and homey?  How can such unusual situations appear so normal?  The answer to those questions turned into five paragraphs, so I will save it for tomorrow.  Make sure to come back!

 

A Taste of Culture

Saturday morning church had just ended.  The Acci believers gather together on Saturday, Wednesday, and Sunday mornings, as well as Sunday night.  The teaching and singing lasted from about 8 to about 11, and ended with the testimonies and baptism of 3 teenagers.

Afterwards, it was time for some refreshment.  I walked past a line of people, sitting, ready to drink macaloba.  This is a staple in their diet, the first thing they consume in the morning, and what they offer to guests.  And I was about to try some.  It felt like a test, or a rite of passage, or a chance to prove that my first desire right now is to be here, to do life with these people, to learn their ways.  In my mind, it was a big moment.  In their eyes, maybe it was.  Maybe it wasn’t.  I might never know.

If it were a screenplay, some suspenseful, dramatic tribal music would have been playing in the background.  But in reality, the music coming out of a large boombox reminded me of upbeat, happy, foot-stomping music I have heard coming out of bars in Brazilian cities.  Oh well.  Not everything can be epic.

I wanted to sit on the empty stool at the end of the line, next to one of the ladies.  But knowing that a macaloba ritual has proper structure and etiquette, maybe even regarding order and seating, I played it safe and followed the missionaries.  So it was one of them who offered me a drink, not one of the villagers.  Again, not everything can be epic.

“But as the little newbie missionary Iifted the metal pitcher to her mouth, eagerly anticipating her first taste of real macaloba, her heart raced with the thrill of the moment.  And as previously expected, the drink sliding over her tongue and down her throat was delicious.  Of course.  She always knew she would like it.” 

This macaloba was made out of ground up corn.  It had sugar added to it, which was a surprise, since I had expected it to be salty.  Macaloba can also be made of manioc root, sweet potatoes, or banana.

(Heading back to the village in about 5 minutes, where I’ll hopefully get to try another type of macaloba after church today.  Will post a picture of me drinking macaloba tomorrow night)

11 days later…

From my lack of posting, you would think I’ve already gotten lost in the jungle, without internet or electricity.  However, right now I am in the city of Jí-Parana, which locals call Jí-Pa (if you say Jee-puh, you’ll be pretty close).

The eleven days since arriving here have been great.  Sometime soon I will post about the wonderful missionaries here at the base, who welcomed me warmly and have made me feel right at home.  But for now, let me get you caught up on what is happening.

How has my time been spent?

  • getting to know the missionaries here at the base (1 couple and 2 families)
  • spending time with Jesus
  • learning about the history and ministry to several indigenous groups in the region
  • unpacking and organizing
  • grocery shopping
  • talking with my family
  • visit to the Federal Police to inform them of my address change
  • opening a bank account
  • filing my tax return with assistance of a missions agency in the States
  • going along with missionaries as they minister to indigenous people in the city
  • cooking and cleaning and baking
  • city “tours” from other missionaries
  • walking around and trying to figure out where everything is
  • making friends at some of the local shops and places of business
  • dripping with sweat and taking an average of 3 showers a day
  • killing a cockroach and learning to hide food from countless indoor ants
  • listening to audio recordings of the language I’ll be learning
  • research and planning what I will need to buy and take to the village
  • spending last weekend in a village!

It wasn’t the village I’ll be living in, and not even the same people group.  The Neno* village where I’ll be living is about 6 hours down a dirt road, and my coworkers Wellington and Juliana will be there for another few days. We’ll call the village I visited Echo Lane, and the people group the Acci.

The Acci people have close ties with the Neno.  So visiting an Acci village was very exciting, and a great chance to hear a language very similar to Neno.  One of the missionary family lives here at the base, so their children can attend school in the city.  They spend every weekend in the village, and invited me to go with them as long as I am “stuck” in Ji-Pa.

We’ll be heading to Echo Lane again tomorrow, early, to get there in time for Saturday church, but I will try to get up early and post a story from last weekend.  Thank you for reading and for praying!

*name of people group changed to protect their privacy, since anyone can access this blog.