Many of our pastoral staff and congregation have grown accustom to foreign travel. Outside of eating dinner at the space needle, across from Niagara Falls in Canada, I have never set foot outside of the continental United States. So, last year, when I committed to go to Brazil, I knew the experience would be good (and challenging) for me.
One of our congregational members, who apparently knows me too well said, “Brent, you are not always comfortable with new experiences, so how did it go?!” After getting over my pride (that she could read me like a book), I responded that I was thrilled to have gone.
Steve Viars, David Selvey, Dan Wickert and I all traveled to the area of Sao Paulo, Brazil to teach at a Biblical Counseling Conference organized by the Association of Biblical Counselors in Brazil (ABCB).
Through this experience, God worked in my heart to solidify these convictions:
Language Exists in Order to Know Another Intimately
My first Saturday morning in Brazil, Sacha Mendes (FBS 2010 Graduate) gave me an opportunity to teach some Brazilian brothers in Christ. Afterwards, these brothers started to pray together. They were affirming each other in their prayers, but I could not understand nor unite my heart with theirs. Spontaneously my heart was filled with a profound sadness in not being able to share in their experience. My inability to enter their experience, through communication, formed a barrier between believers. For that moment, I felt isolated from my brothers in Christ—separate, unable to partake in fellowship even though I wanted to. I longed for the day when the judgment rendered at the Tower of Babel would be reversed and there would be no barriers in knowing one another as we have been known by God.
Language is the medium by which we gain an intimate knowledge of another. Think about it. Through accurate and vulnerable communication, we invite others to know us. Apart from communication, there is no intimate knowledge of one another. Those who can understand this blog post through its combination of symbols (i.e. letters) in a certain order (i.e. grammar & syntax) are obtaining a small piece of knowledge about me.
Because God exists as a TRI-unity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) communication has always been an essential attribute of God. God is a God who communicates—unlike idols that have mouths but cannot speak. When God created man in His image, He gave mankind the gift of language. Our communication is to be used to know one another in order to love and glorify God together. Remember, Christ is referred to, in John 1:1, as the “word” which communicates to us an intimate knowledge of who God is (John 1:18). Through Christ we may know God intimately.
Incarnational Ministry Shows Love
Feeling isolated, a natural response for me was to learn a little Portuguese. I learned the Brazilian phrase for “What is this?” Whenever I was with Sacha and Anna’s two-year old son, Pedro, I would point to various items and say “What is this?” I figured that my children used this form of questioning to learn English. So I employed the technique on Pedro to learn some Portuguese. I learned the words for “penguin” (the easiest one—it is just “penguin”), “airplane,” “up,” “down,” “shoe,” “hand,” “milk,” “juice,” “water” and “cup.” So, I felt confident that if I ever needed a sippy cup of milk with a toy penguin in Brazil, I could obtain them.
I should have asked Pedro about the Portuguese word for “bathroom.” On one of our team’s two-hour walks through the city, we had to learn that word the hard way. I know it now, and I don’t think I will forget it! Furthermore, “Thank you,” “your welcome,” “hello,” “goodbye,” “good morning/evening,” “Grace to you and peace from God our Father,” and “I will give thanks to God on behalf of you” formed my severely limited vocabulary.
In each of my feeble attempts to communicate in Portuguese, the Brazilian people would light up in appreciation. I did not expect this response. However, they interpreted these efforts as attempts to enter their world and love them. These attempts at entering their world reminded me once again of the love of God. God demonstrated the ultimate incarnational ministry to us. The God of the universe cared enough, not just to learn a few snippets of my language, but to become one of us and dwell with us in Christ. Christ became like us in all respects except without sin. What an act of love that causes my heart to rejoice! Cross cultural, or across the street, how are you connecting with your neighbors to incarnate the love of our Christ to them?
Equipping Godly Men = Investments In Heavenly Rewards
2007 was the year that Faith accepted the first group of pastoral interns. Faith took a risk by investing substantial resources for equipping men through a church-based seminary (Faith Bible Seminary). In Heaven all of us will see what treasures (in terms of souls) resulted from this investment. Yet, we may not have to wait until heaven to get a small taste of the fruit from that investment.
My heart delighted in watching Sacha and Anna Mendes minister in their native Brazilian culture. Sacha and Anna displayed an amplified confidence, boldness, and effectiveness in their natural setting. We all came to love our interns and appreciated their skills used among us. But for most of them, God did not call them to stay here. Seeing first-hand the ministry for which God had prepared Sacha and Anna, reassured me that Faith’s invested resources are faithfully being stewarded.
Unstoppable Progress of God’s Word to Call Out His People
Of all the “characters” in the book of Acts whom Luke develops, one remains constant throughout his narrative—the “word of God.” Luke summarizes sections of the book of Acts with the phrase, “the word of God increased/multiplied” (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 6:7; 8:4, 14; 11:1; 12:24; 13:49; 19:20). In these instances, the word of God about the Christ of God spreads throughout the known world. The word of God transcended cultural boundaries to communicate God’s good news to all nations. The word of God established growing communities of God’s representatives throughout the world.
In Brazil, I witnessed the progress of God’s Word first hand. God’s Word was alive and powerful among the Brazilian believers. His word stirred responses and transformed lives. God’s word provoked questions and reassured doubting hearts. One young man came to me and confessed a past of homosexuality and desired to handle his current relationship in a godly fashion. Furthermore, a contagious enthusiasm existed among the believers there. Shortly after my return home, Sacha informed me of a new church that now wants to be a part of the ministry of God’s word through Biblical Counseling. Sacha will present Biblical counseling to that new church partner in September. Isaiah 40:8 states, “The grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of our god stands forever.” AMEN
So, Faith family, thank you for allowing me to go to Brazil to be blessed by God through this experience!