June 29, 2009
I am turning off the computer, and will be offline for about a week. Tomorrow morning we will be leaving for the city of Petrolina, and from there to Treasure Island camp where our puppet team will be helping with a camp for street kids. I will be sure to take lots of pictures, and post them as soon as possible. Lots of unsaved kids will be there, so this is a tremendous opportunity.
I would also appreciate your prayers, as I am battling a severe head cold, and tomorrow is going to be a BUSY day. This is my theme verse right now.
June 28, 2009
Thoughts on Today's Game
Today, Brazil beat the US in a soccer match. Nothing new there. What is new is that the US had Brazil 2 to 0 at the first half, thus providing their fans with the hope that they might actually pull it off.
This was not to be. Brazil showed up in the second half and showed their true colors, and the US team folded like a styrofoam cup in a microwave. Final score, 3 to 2, Brazil.
A few random thoughts:
Random thought #1: In all truth, it should have been 4 to 2. The ref missed what was clearly a goal by Brazil. I was super impressed with the way Brazilians kept their momentum after that.
Random thought #2: Kudos to Brazilian coach Dunga for not putting any "celebrity players" on the roster. One could argue that Kaká is a celebrity player, but as the announcer said during the game, he doesn't act like one.
Random thought #3: Those horns the South Aficans play make the stadium sound like a swarm of flies. Hope that doesn't catch on worldwide.
Random thought #4: If the US team keeps developing the way they have been over the last couple of years, they will be a serious force to be reckoned with come World Cup time.
Random thought #5: God forbid that the US should meet up with Brazil in the World Cup. I don't know if I can handle that kind of stress.
Random thought #6: The most beautiful of all goals scored game was the second one made by the Americans during the first half. It was a work of art. Don't believe me? Check it out:
Random thought #7: I am constantly told by Brazilians "you have to cheer for Brazil, because you are in Brazil". A quick scanning of the statuses of my Brazilian friends who live in the US reveals that they were, without exception cheering for Brazil. Anybody care to explain?
June 27, 2009
Vintage Post: That Vision Thing
August 16th will mark six years of continuous blogging here at Comings Communiqué. In commemoration of that august event, I am going to resurrect some of the best posts buried deep in the archives of the blog. This one comes from the first month of the blog's existence:
Vision for the Future
When God gives somebody a vision of what He can do through their lives, it becomes an overbearing passion that grows stronger with each passing moment. I thought that today I would take a little time to share with you (and the vast sea of humanity that comprises the regular readers of this blog!) the vision God has given me.
Let me quickly add that this is not the last-night-I-had-a-vision-that-I-must-gather-a-following-of-people-and-lead-them-in oxcarts-to-Utah kind of vision. I say this in case anybody happens to be reading from here or here or even here. This vision is, rather, a deep desire that is the product many years of prayer and supplication. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
June 24, 2009
Barbalha During São João
The June festivals here in northeast Brazil bring out the creative and decorative aspects of the culture, more than any other event. Though they are sadly steeped in Catholic tradition, they are very colorful and festive--and I enjoy walking the streets this time of year.
There is one street in particular that I have always been fond of walking in June. It is one of the main streets in the nearby city of Barbalha.
Barbalha itself is filled with old buildings, and has an almost European, old-world feel. The June festivals really accentuate this mood. Yesterday I happened to be in Barbalha, and snapped these pictures of that street.
I am not sure what the story behind this guy is. He looks to me like a cross between a Knight Templar and a beekeeper. I asked a passerby to explain, but he was unable to do so.
The Difference One Letter Makes...
Last night I was going perusing my student's blogs, and came upon this post. I know he meant to say "encarnação", which would have meant "incarnation". But he left out the letter "r", and so it became "encanação"--plumbing. Thus, the title of the article reads "The Plumbing of Christ".
Upon hearing of this, one of the guys in the class quipped "I knew Joseph was a carpenter, but had no idea that Jesus was a plummer."
June 23, 2009
Book Review: Jonathan Edwards, A Life
After reading some biographies, the reader comes away feeling like they know more about the subject. As I turned the last page of George M. Marsden's Jonathan Edwards, A Life, I felt like I actually knew Jonathan Edwards. So in-depth and personal is Marsden's treatment that there is no doubt the author knows his subject very well. The only way it could have been more personal would be if Marsden had actually sat down with Edwards for a one-on-one interview.
Not content with a simple blow-by-blow of the events of Edwards' life, Marsden goes to great lengths to paint an accurate and vivid historical/philosophical background of the times that surrounded and precipitated said events.
In the first chapter, we learn in great detail about the influential and colorful family into which Edwards was born. Marsden details their involvement in the politics and wars which punctuated Edwards formative years. The fact that politics and religion were so tightly meshed gives us insights into the formation of Edwards' later theology. As Marsden puts it when describing the French-English conflict, "The real war was among spiritual powers, a nation God had favored with true religion versus peoples in Satan's grip, Catholics and pagans."
We also learn in the first chapter about the household in which Edwards grew up, the temperament of his father, the prominent role played by the women in Edwards' early years, and how "the household was an economy in which everybody shared."
Despite a Puritan background, we find that the legendary preacher's family had its share of skeletons. As Marsden points out,
Edwards is sometimes criticized for having too dim a view of himan nature, but it may be helpful to be reminded that his grandmother was an incorrigible profligate, his great-aunt committed infanticide, and his great uncle was an ax-murderer.
The following chapters continue in this vein, faithfully tracing the spiritual, theological, and philosophical development of the man who, perhaps more than any other, shaped American Christianity.
The book is long (505 pages, not including the appendices), but the potential reader should not be put off by this. Marden's writing is in no way superfluous, and his style is engaging, to say the least. He includes so many things that are of tremendous interest (Did you know, for example, that Edwards worked among the Indian tribe immortalized in James Fennimore Cooper's "Last of the Mohecans"?) that I found myself devouring each page. In fact, this reading was my second, and it was as fresh to me as the first time I read it, roughly five years ago.
I also found Jonathan Edwards, A Life to be quite challenging on a ministerial level. There were many times when I came under conviction of areas in my own spiritual life and ministry that need to be developed.
Marsden has written what will perhaps become the definitive biography of one of the greatest theologians of all time. He has come as close as any one author can to doing justice to his subject.
June 17, 2009
Many of you will remember that back in October we had an adventure in the state of Minas Gerais, which involved our truck breaking down on our way to a conference. While stranded in the little town of Curvelo, I was asked to speak at a small Baptist church. After the service we met the young man pictured above. His name is Eder, and he was interested in studying at our seminary.
To my great joy, he showed up here on the first day of classes. His arrival made some sense of our Minas Gerais mishaps.
Since his arrival here, Eder has demonstrated the clear call of God on his life. He has thrown himself into his studies, and into his practical ministries. He has a gift for evangelism, and a servant's heart. Everybody has been thoroughly impressed with this young man.
When he arrived here, he shared with me that before our appearance in Curvelo he had been praying that God would bring someone along who would show him where he should study for the ministry. Our arrival there was a direct answer to his prayer.
I asked him to give me a "heads up" the next time he started praying like that.
Right now God is taking Eder through a time of uncertainty of his own. He came here with the promise of full support from his church. Through a completely unforseeable series of events, his church no longer is able to support him. This leaves Eder uncertain as to whether he will be able to return next semester.
All of us here at the seminary would like to see him come back, and he definitely wants to return. Would you please pray with us for this matter?
Also, it is possible (and quite easy) to help seminary students financially. Even with a weak dollar, a little goes a long way. If you are interested, contact me here.
June 15, 2009
Come Help Us: An Appeal for Northeast Brazil
The following is the transcript of a recording made in 1955 by pioneer missionary Jim Willson. It was transcribed by our colleague Jim Leonard. It is surprising to see how much of the information is still quite relevant to the field today. I am posting it in its entirety, along with a few footnotes.
We are coming to you from the Baptist Bible Institute of Juazeiro,CE. I am Jim Willson, I personally would like to give my greetings to the folks at Everett, WA. For a long time we have had an interest in the Calvary Baptist Church of Everett, WA.
I’ve been asked to say a few words about Brazil and the need that we have here. If you will bear with me a bit, I would like to tell you a little bit about this country. First of all, Brazil is quite a country. It’s larger than the United States. 1 In 1950 the population was about 52 million people, and at present time it might be around 57 million people.2 Each year the population increases a million. In this country we have about 3 1/3 % Protestants; so you see that we have a challenge before us. 3 Actually we have one of the most open doors that there is in South America. Brazil is half of South America both in size and in population. We speak Portuguese here instead of Spanish, and it is the key country of all of Latin America. And it is a country in which we have the opportunity of preaching the gospel.
The Evangelical cause has grown more in Brazil during the last 50 years than in any other large country in the world. And so you see we have an open door. Our work is progressing constantly. I have been in this state for over 14 years and I’ve seen a great deal of progress during that time. And yet even with all of this progress we have a real challenge before us. Actually here in the state of Ceará which is about the size of Illinois, and has a population of about 3 million people, but here the percentage of Protestants is less than 1%. There are about 54 cities in this state of over 2000 people, and I would say that perhaps we do not have the Gospel in 10% of them.
So, we have a real challenge before us. But it isn’t an easy challenge. Our work here in Brazil is much like that in the United States. We do not need specialized missions so much as we need young people who have the courage and the ability and the stability to stay with a job that’s very difficult. The job that we have is this: you go into a town where there are no believers more than not, and that is a town in which you are to bring an evangelical church into existence. And that isn’t easy. You live alone, you speak a foreign language, you live with a foreign people, you have to become accustomed to foreign customs. And the job of winning Roman Catholics is not exactly an easy job; although it is not as difficult as many people think, because the Roman Catholic accepts the Bible, and yet he’s a long ways from the Bible. And if he can be introduced to the Bible, in time he either becomes an indifferent Catholic, or a convert to the Gospel. Many times we find that missionaries have a very difficult time here. It isn’t the case of the climate. You can find any climate you want in Brazil. As far as I’m concerned, the climate is better than what you’d find in the United States. Here in Ceará we have what I would consider almost an ideal climate. So it isn’t the case of climate. But it’s the case of a past that’s difficult. I would say that the characteristic that a missionary should have would be that which would make of him a good pastor in the United States. Because much of his work is that type of work, of bringing churches into existence and making grown and prosper. Let’s remember this one thing about this vast country: that it receives very little emphasis from the evangelical cause. 4 We, our missionaries of Mid-Missions, outside of the possible exception of Japan, Brazil is the most important and the largest mission field that Mid-Missions has today. We are not the only missionaries in Brazil. But nevertheless we have here close to 60 million people, and yet we receive relatively few missionaries; very few, in fact. And we need missionaries. It isn’t that the church here doesn’t have a certain amount of power. But it’s that the time is short. We never know how much time we’re going to have. And when the door is open we should make use of an open door. And the country is so vast that the national church needs help in this expansion program and that is the thing that we can offer them.
We have a school here in Juazeiro; really we have three schools. We have a primary school, a prep school, and a Bible School. We have in the 3 schools between 40 and 50 young people. And our job is that of preparing young people for His ministry. And we’ve had many a blessing in this work, and we have seen that consolidate the work that missionaries have done in this state. And so here in the State of Ceará we have seen the work of the Lord go ahead. At the present time we are opening up churches in five different cities. We have churches in four different cities. And we have a few more missionaries to come, perhaps even this year to open up work in this state, and yet, it isn’t only this state in which we find interest. We would like to have some older missionaries that we could take from this state and open up work in neighboring states.
Because here in Brazil we are starting a new movement, that of the General Baptist of Brazil, a movement that would compare to the General Association of Regular Baptists in the United States. And so we would ask your prayers and your help, and we’d ask the interest of you young people here in this cause.
If you are a young person interested in meeting this new-old challenge, please contact me. You can also join a Facebook group that we have set up specifically for those interested in serving with us here in northeast Brazil.
1. Brazil is larger than the "lower 48".
2. Now around 180 million.
3. For the current numbers, see here.
4. While there was an upswing in missions after this, the pendulum has swung back the other way in the last decade. If anything, Jim Willson's appeal is much more urgent today than it was in 1955.
June 11, 2009
Al Qaeda in Brazil
Note, this article is part of a translation of the original Portuguese article by a reporter for Veja magazine. The source for this is not fringe, crackpot, conspiracy theory.
Sources in the Justice Ministry said that the Al Qaeda member is already free, and that he should not be extradited. Among the alleged motives for permitting him to stay in Brazil, according to ministry sources, was proof of his stability in the country — as indicated by his marriage to a Brazilian woman.
June 8, 2009
A Little Time Travel
By my calculations, Itacyara and I are part of the third generations of BMM missionaries to serve in this part of Brazil. It is always helpful to me--especially when I am tempted to think that times are tough--to go back and look at how the first generation lived and worked.
Recently Philip McLain--son of Guy McLain, one of those first-generation pioneers--posted some great pictures of those days on his Facebook page. He has graciously granted me permission to reproduce them here.
Let's start with this picture of the Fortaleza Academy as it looked in the 1960s. This was a school started by our missionaries to meet the educational needs of their children. Missionaries from all over Brazil would send their kids (even elementary-age!) to Fortaleza so they could get a good education.
With the development of home-schooling materials and the evolution of the Brazilian school system--not to mention the diminishing number of missionary families with school-age children--Fortaleza Academy has gradually outgrown it's usefulness. It is currently holding it's last semester of classes.
What amazes me about the picture of FA is how much the area has changed. The picture above shows how that neighborhood looks now.
Speaking of schools, this is a Christian school started by the first missionaries who came to this region. One of it's main purposes at that point was to complete the primary education of young men who came from the interior to study at the seminary.
And this is the Colégio Batista as it looks now.
While most of our churches now have baptistries, we still have the occasional outdoor baptism, like the early one shown here. One of the nice things about Brazil is that baptisms like this can be conducted year-round.
And here is a "baptism" of another kind. According to Philip, this was his father's Chevy Carry-all, on the way to Varzea Alegre. This trip now takes a little more than an hour. I wonder how long that one took?
I am going to stop for now, but there are more pictures on their way, and I will be sure to post them here from time to time.
June 7, 2009
This afternoon we were practicing a song for tonight's service, and decided to sing the first verse in English. One of the vocalists does not speak English, but, undeterred, he asked one of the girls to sing it for him while he wrote down what he heard.
Here is the result:
Sentuere for you.
Anybody recognize the song? Leave a comment...
June 3, 2009
Music to my Ears
Itacyara is teaching the English I class this semester. As part of her curriculum each year the students learn some choruses in English and perform them in chapel. The video below is this year's presentation.
Book Review: John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace
If you think you know all about the life of John Newton, you probably want to read Jonathan Aitken's "John Newton, From Disgrace to Amazing Grace". You will most likely discover many new facts about the life of this amazing individual. And even if you don't, Aitken's presentation cannot fail to impress you as he relates how God reached down and took this "wretch" and made him one of the most influential Christian leaders of all time.
Though I had a rough knowledge of Newton, this book opened my eyes to many important details I did not know.
I did not know, for example, that Newton was impressed into the British Navy. And while I knew that he had spent some time in Africa as a slave, consistently mistreated by his African mistress, I did not realize that he later returned to that place as a ship's captain and ate fruit from the very trees that he had planted.
Perhaps the thing that surprised me most was discovering that Newton's stint as the captain of a slave ship came after his dramatic conversion. Only later in life did he renounce the slave trade.
Of course, when he did renounce it, he became one of its most vocal opponents, influencing the great William Wilberforce.
Speaking of Wilberforce, did you know that Newton first met him when he was a child attending the church Newton pastored? I didn't.
Aitken spends a lot of time explaining the background of Newton's most famous work--the hymn Amazing Grace. Once again, I was unaware of the fact that Newton probably never heard it sung to the melody we all know so well. In fact, the hymn, which was part of a collection of hymns Newton wrote in collaboration with William Cowper, was hardly sung at all in Newton's native England. Ironically, it only gained popularity when it was adopted by the African community in America--among them the sons and daughters of slaves Newton had brought over on his ship.
This is just a smattering of the interesting things you will learn if you read this book. Added to his prolific research is the personal "baggage" Aitken carries himself. The story of John Newton is written by a man who himself has known the depths of despair and experienced firsthand God's amazing grace.
If you know nothing of John Newton, or if you think you know something about him, you should make the investment to read this book. You will not be sorry.
June 2, 2009
Puppets in the City of the Gonzagão
Over the weekend I made yet another trip to the city of Exu, this time with our seminary puppet team, the Amiguinhos de Jesus (Little friends of Jesus). Our team worked very hard, both in preparation and presentation. We did four separate performances, one in the main square of the city, one in a school, and two at the church plant. Many contacts were made for pastor Edson to follow up on, and one lady accepted Christ during the evening service.
Accompany our adventures with the pictures below:
Our trips with the puppet team would not be possible were it not for the generosity of missionary colleague John Peterson in loaning us his trailer. Last week I installed a hitch on our VW, and now we are able to take our equipment to places outside the valley.
In the above picture Eder adjusts the canvas on the trailer.
Pastor Edson and his wife, Marli, are recent graduates of our seminary who are serving as missionaries in Exu. Their ministry has a special place in my heart because I placed them in Exu for their internship in 2006. They have been there ever since.
Our first presentation was Saturday morning in the public square used for an outdoor market. At first it threatened to rain, but we prayed, and then watched God send rain in all different directions. At only one point in our presentation did we get any sprinkles, and that was just as we were finishing up one segment.
To begin each segment, Misael and I played some peppy little numbers on the trumpet (Misael played for the Brazilian Army band before coming to the seminary).
Then it was puppet time!
The crowds came in droves.
Some let their curiosity get the better of them. This is usually an issue with kids, but this elderly lady also wanted to see what was making these puppets "tick". She took a peek, and then pronounced herself "astonished" (abestalhada, for all you Portuguese speakers).
That afternoon we put on a presentation at a local school where Pastor Edson has begun a kid's club.
Once again, the kids hung on our every word.
Notice the loudspeaker in this picture (the box in front, not Renata). We were able to purchase it as a result of a generous donation from a couple in our home church. It was used for the first time this weekend, and it worked marvelously!
Exu is a very historical city, with numerous interesting places to visit. I have been there many times, and made a point of taking our seminary students to see places like the Saint John the Baptist chapel...
...or the Luiz Gonzaga museum.
When we were shown a collection of items allegedly used by 19th century Brazilian outlaw Lampião, I could not resist getting into the spirit myself.
On Sunday we did a puppet presentation for the Sunday School opening, and then I gave the lesson. At night, I spoke on Romans 2. God was gracious and a lady who we had invited to church that afternoon accepted Christ.
After a weekend like this, the next picture is self-explanatory!