Two special gifts came our way last month. And they point to larger gifts that guide our lives. A first gift came in the form of an old booklet of Brazilian recipes. It was a reminder to cherish the prayers of our friends. Read about that gift in another post on this blog.
The second gift was a trip to Brazil. It was a reminder that friends and networks broaden our world. Though we left Brazil 30 years ago, we still have Brazilian friends. Besides the friendship, they are a mature network of people who still take us into worlds we might never have known without them.
We left Brazil a long time ago. Since we spent 9 of the first 10 years of our life together, every trip back to Brazil has felt like a gift.
But this trip was special. My long-time friend and colleague, Marcos Amado, invited me for 10 days with him in Rio and São Paulo, Brazil. He invited me was so that I could consider participating with him to further develop Martureo, the new Brazilian Center for Missiological Reflection.
As with the gift of the cookbook, the gift of this trip pointed beyond itself to something more valuable that I have been entrusted with and that guide my choices about how to live.
The story of the larger gift is this.
When Lois and I moved to Brazil we were 25 and 23 years old. We found ourselves on a team of experienced missionaries. But the other team members were well established in their work, and it was difficult to figure out what our own work would be. They trained church leaders, but we weren’t old enough to have had much experience of our own at leadership. Plus, we could see that there were plenty of really good Brazilian Christian leaders already, who had enough experience to teach us a thing or two.
Brazilian friends.We discovered our way only because Brazilians our age entrusted us with their friendship. The people in the black and white photos helped us figure out what we were supposed to do, and did it. Friendship came first. Then the relationship grew because they showed us how to see and engage with the world from Brazil.
They took us into their churches and homes and they made us part of their families. Our new friends invited us to their weddings. We had kids together. We stayed in each others homes. We played cards together until late at night, and we shared our music with each other. We took vacations together. Their parents became our kids’ grandparents. We grew up together. They transformed us and changed how we understand ourselves to this day. To our Brazilian friends: You opened your lives to us widened our world forever. You helped us see God and to enter the world from a different place.
Vocês sabem quem são. Abriram para nós as suas vidas e o seu mundo e assim transformaram as nossas vidas. Até hoje vocês e os caminhos que seguiram sido um incentivo para nós no sentido de confiar na fidelidade de Deus. Hoje, por causa de vocês, abordamos o mundo desde outro ângulo.
We learned to not think that we trained leaders. Instead, one look around taught us to think of ourselves as participants in new generation of Brazilians who took Jesus seriously. We cut our teeth together with that generation.
Together we thought deeply about the implications of the story of Jesus. We thought together how we might open new avenues for people to work for a changed world in Jesus’ name. Some of our new friends pioneered new paths. Some started writing—from Brazilian perspectives, and from their own experience and reflection—about following Jesus, and about leading people. So we helped find ways to publish their work. We travelled together and in churches, in pizzerias, camp meetings and on the beach we discussed with each other about how we could follow Jesus to the ends of the earth.
It wasn’t always easy, over the next 30 years, to keep up with our friends. The places where we went changed us. We matured and we grew new friendships. Our Brazilian friends did the same.
And they didn’t need us to help them become a thoughtful generation of followers of Jesus.
Several of them became world-class Christian leaders.
In dependence on God they developed contexts from which Brazilians could live for the good of others.
Many of them are now in places of significant influence—seminary presidents, alliance builders, social service agencies, church planters, philanthropists, pastors, and musicians—men and women of God who continue to think of themselves as followers and servants of Jesus, and who lead others to do the same.
Under their leadership Brazilian evangelicals dream of a better world, and work for it. They rescue abandoned children, fight poverty, provide support for single mothers who want to work, help the poor create jobs for themselves, fight human trafficking, heal abused people, call corrupt officials to account, invite people to follow Jesus, fight for the rights of native peoples, protect the environment, promote literacy, all in the name of Jesus. They don’t do these things just in Brazil, but around the world.
They are helping in the resettlement of refugees in Europe, North Africa and back home in Brazil; they are sharing Jesus in the Muslim World; they give their lives for young people in slums of major cities, they are agricultural specialists; they serve in peacekeeping missions; they pray and work for revival in the United States and Europe; they train leaders in some of the most impoverished areas of Africa; they care for abandoned children and provide medical care for families in parts of the world where it is unavailable. My great privilege is that I can count as my friends many of the leaders of these efforts. Their strong sense of joining God in his mission infects and involves other people in that same mission.
The gift: they made us part of their lives 40 years ago, and they haven’t given up on us yet.
On this trip, I became more aware of my place inside a valuable network. They may be “important” now, but these long-time friends still let me into their lives. They continue to allow me to participate with them in the story of the gospel in and from Brazil.
As a result, I am working on my part of the answer to these questions:
- How can we be useful to a new generation who are responding to the Spirit of God?
- In what way can our friendships support new initiatives, from a new generation of Brazilians who want to create a better world by walking in the way of Jesus?
- In what way do my relationships in Brazil connect with other places I fit in (such as Spanish-speaking Latin America, and the United States)?
- Nós devemos as nossas vidas, a nossa família e muitas das nossas capacidades aos amigos que nos acolheram no Brasil e nos confiaram oportunidades para desenvolve-las.
- Foram fundamentais os anos com vocês no Brasil para que pudéssemos madurar como família e como pessoas dedicadas ao serviço de outros.
- Estamos sorpreendidos que ainda podemos contar com o respeito imerecido de vocês. Tal respeito parece persistir a tal ponto que ainda podemos ainda servir para conectar alguns brasileiros com outros na causa do evangelho de Cristo.
- Se nós com vocês continuamos assim, quero pensar que estas nossas conexões nos foram confiadas para que as fôssemos utilizar a favor de uma nova geração. O jovens de hoje recebe a sua vocação para seguir a Deus na sua missão em un contexto global ainda mais acessível que aquele que nós encontramos e no qual Deus tem nos permitido caminhar com ele, atuar na sua missão e produzir muito fruto.